The changing landscape of tourism marketing
There’s nothing better than working with a client who’s open-minded enough to take onboard ideas that challenge the norm, which is exactly what we’ve discovered with organisations operating in the travel and tourism sector.
We work with great clients across numerous industries, but what’s been setting destination brands apart lately is their willingness to challenge convention by allowing their web design team to create something fresh and inspiring for their audience.
This hasn’t always been the case, of course. For a long time, destination websites were fairly similar in their structure, content and – in some cases – look and feel. One of the reasons was to do with funding, with the vast majority of ‘Visit’ organisations generating significant revenue from commission on accommodation bookings and then, in some instances, having that revenue matched by Regional Development Agencies (RDAs).
Changes in user behaviour
However, last year the Government took the decision to wind up RDAs – therefore slashing revenues by half. Consumer behaviour has changed too, thanks to the rise in popularity of low-cost third party booking engines like ebooker.com, lastminute.com, and Late Rooms. Prospective visitors are fully aware that these sites often provide the guaranteed lowest prices available and so are happier using them to book accommodation than the destination’s own website.
While the loss of revenue has brought about new challenges, including managing significant cutbacks, it’s also provided some organisations with the freedom to focus on what they’re best at – promoting what their town, city or region has to offer.
Inspirational web design
With greater flexibility, comes greater possibilities and many destination sites have used this as the catalyst for change. From a design point of view, this has been a welcome opportunity. Destination marketing is about inspiration so the freedom to create designs that capture the imagination of site visitors is an exciting one for the sector.
Over the last twelve months, we’ve been involved in some fantastic projects for the likes of Visit Kent, Destination Brecon Beacons and Anglesey Heritage. They’ve all been hugely rewarding to work on and we believe that’s reflected in the designs we’re producing.
One of the reasons is that clients are bringing their digital agencies a brief that embraces their organisation’s unique ethos and core values, both of which can be instantly reflected in the design. They are passionate about getting their site to stand out from the crowd and demonstrate exactly why their destination is the place to visit over others. As such, designers are able to bring through beautiful, inspirational photography to tell a story – an approach that the likes of New Zealand, Philadelphia and Austin have all put to great use.
Tourism marketing challenges
However, tourism marketing isn’t without its challenges. All organisations have different objectives for their digital marketing, including increasing visitors to the destination, growing website traffic, encouraging online engagement and, in some cases, continuing to convert sales and bookings.
Choosing the right photography is therefore crucial so that it tells the right story, as is making sure any images the in-house content team adds after launch remain consistent with the original tone of the site. For example, some destinations lend themselves better to secluded imagery than they would group shots of families (and vice versa) so it’s important to get it right from the beginning and ensure this is still the case a year or more down the line.
Lots of interesting content is also an important part of any tourism website, so it’s essential that information architecture is considered early in the design process. Otherwise, you could be left with an overbearing navigation that hinders the user journey; a problem that many tourism bodies have fallen foul of in the past.
Other important considerations that can influence the final designs include taking into account any pre-existing print collateral that carries the brand or meeting the needs of multiple stakeholders who have a say in the final product.
But in our experience, tourism organisations are increasingly looking for something truly remarkable from their digital presence. They want to ensure they achieve stand out in a cluttered market so that the appeal of their destination shines through.
For designers, these are exciting challenges to take on. With forward-thinking marketers at the helm, we’re able to produce tourism websites that not only meet objectives but which break the mould and inspire their audience.
Suzanne Clarke, senior web designer