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Tourism boards ask a lot of their websites: They must include updated, accurate information. They have to show off a destination in the best light. And they need to cater to diverse audiences while increasingly making each visitor feel like a site was designed specifically for them.
Even as the trend toward more personalized websites has taken root, concern about data security is growing around the world. Despite near-constant news cycles of data breaches and cybersecurity threats, many tourism boards are still betting that travelers want to share information about themselves on destination websites to help plan their trips — and more websites are being redesigned accordingly.
Most of the information that some newly redesigned tourism board websites ask travelers to share isn’t too personal, such as whether they prefer sun over snow or adrenaline to relaxation. But cookies, for example, are used to track how travelers engage with a site and analyze their online behaviors.
Skift has tracked the world’s best tourism websites since we launched six years ago. Our past coverage has focused on sites that add new bells and whistles as they get redesigned but continue to make it simple to plan a trip. As consumer technology gets more advanced, tourism boards are trying to keep up with redesigned websites and content that prioritizes personalization. Skift examined a handful of sites that were redesigned this year – and talked to one group developing a brand new site – to explore the latest trends and the way privacy is playing a part in redesign conversations.
The Miami Model
The Greater Miami Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, Miami’s tourism board, said its newly redesigned website, which went live earlier this month, considers its new site as an “experience engine” that will personalize the site for each individual traveler and each part of a trip.
“Our new site will allow for hyper-customization,” said Rolando Aedo, chief operating officer of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Beyond using typical cookies, we will then empower the user to go deeper and let them tell us a little bit about themselves so that content they’re served, the visuals they see, and the mapping they see will be driven by their customization.”
If a site isn’t mobile-friendly, or images are dated, or answers take too many clicks to get to, it’s virtually game over for a tourism website.
Miami last redesigned its website about six years ago. Considering nearly 60 percent of site visitors are on a mobile device, the site was long overdue for an upgrade. “When you look at a destination, you want to ensure that the experience you’re paying significant dollars to have aligns with your expectations,” said Aedo.
The new site has chatbots for meeting planners to message the organization, and the bots could be available for leisure travel depending on how travelers use the new site.
The organization shot video and photos in 43 locations around the destination and leveraged its ongoing #FoundInMiami campaign in doing so. Some 20 writers are also writing articles for the site.
Part of the website’s redesign is a “Personalize Your Experience” feature that lets travelers decide how much 10 categories, such as family-friendliness and nightlife, apply to them by dragging a dot along a scale under each category (pictured below). Travelers then submit their results and can create an account on the site to get their personalized itinerary results.
Discover Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico’s month-old tourism board, is an anomaly as Puerto Rico is a mature destination and the tourism board is creating a brand new destination website — a rarity in 2018. Puerto Rico is still trying to overcome the devastation of Hurricane Maria as it marks the one-year anniversary of the storm in September.
After Puerto Rico’s tourism industry was restructured earlier this year, the new tourism board inherited two sites, one for leisure and another for meetings and events, that had both been underperforming. Discover Puerto Rico is in the early stages of integrating both sites and cleaning up the back ends while the current version of discoverpuertorico.com is a placeholder.
Due to high executive turnover and lack of consistency, the old websites hadn’t been updated since 2010, said Leah Chandler, chief marketing officer of Discover Puerto Rico. The organization essentially had no insight into how travelers used the old sites. Its research shows that about 30 percent of visitors to Puerto Rico currently visit discoverpuertorico.com.
The old websites were directly run by the government, which led to lots of political tussling over what they should include, Chandler said. “Research that we’ve done so far showed that there was no equity in the old sites and the bounce rate was 87 percent because of lack of content,” she said. “We had no Google authority whatsoever.”
Personalization will be a cornerstone of the user experience for the new site.
“There are many tools that allow DMOs to assess information about consumers without directly asking them for personal information, and we intend to explore those,” she said. “Certainly, if we decide to pursue a route in which we ask consumers to supply the DMO with personal data, we would take every precaution to ensure that information was protected and secure.”
Visit Bend, the tourism board for Bend, Oregon, did a soft launch for its redesigned website in May and has since seen a 15 percent increase on returning site visitors, said Nate Wyeth, vice president of sales and marketing for the organization.
Wyeth said part of the redesign also involved some personalization for Bend’s hotels, restaurants, and attractions. Local tourism businesses can create their own branded landing page within visitbend.com for the first time, and the site currently has about 3,700 branded pages.
“One of the nice things about being a non-membership organization is that we’re not beholden to our members,” said Wyeth. “We can really promote what’s best for the user and not what’s best for members.”
Bend is working with Boston-based [customer data platform] agency BlueConic on making its site compliant with current and future privacy legislation. “BlueConic’s tool allows us to collect and manage all user profiles in one database,” said Wyeth. “This tool also will allow us to deliver personalized sessions on our website.”
“Our soon-to-be beefed up privacy page will cover everything from how we collect and use their data, to what we collect, who we share it with (no one right now), how long we keep it, and who they can contact with any privacy questions,” said Wyeth.
Visit Philadelphia, the city’s tourism board, took its own approach to personalization when it launched its uwishunu blog in 2007, which is designed specifically for Philadelphians and people who live in the region.
The organization created a blog specifically for locals because half of its main visitphilly.com site traffic has historically been local. “So unlike other places where it’s all visitor, locals look at our stuff,” said Meryl Levitz, president and CEO of Visit Philadelphia. “So VisitPhilly.com is a little more visitor-focused. Then the blog is more locals and what to do this week.”
The website was redesigned earlier this year with new elements such as better responsive design for mobile devices, simplified navigation, and more blog integration. In 2017, visitphilly.com had 29 million page views, 3.5 million clicks to restaurant, hotel, and attractions partners, and generated some 35,000 new email subscribers.
Travelers want to know where the rooftop bars are, new brunch spots, and how to eat famous Philly foods, said Levitz. “At first, I thought, that’s news? she said. “And so our team had to educate our hotels and restaurants on that. People want to know the ten most popular ice cream flavors in Philadelphia right now. The most popular video viewed on our site is how to eat a Philly cheese steak.”
For Puerto Rico’s new tourism website, Chandler feels the organization has some advantages by building from the ground up. She said just 30 percent of visitors to Puerto Rico currently visit discoverpuertorico.com before they arrive. “We’re not having to overcome a site people use in a certain way,” she said. “We don’t want to get too far out in the realm of what will be cool and what will be relevant to the user. Generally, you land somewhere in the middle.”
Puerto Rico is considering testing voice-activated interfaces, still in experimental mode with many brands, for its new site.
The organization also worked with Miles Partnership, a marketing company, to visit 50 places around the island to capture photos and videos for new content. “When you’re in clay, you get to try some things like this,” said Chandler.
Destination D.C., Washington, D.C.’s tourism board, is automatically targeting its New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles markets. Washington.org visitors with IP addresses from those four cities currently get customized content to inspire them to use some summer vacation time on a trip to D.C.
When someone from New York City visits the site, they’re shown a box that tells them to click to view the ultimate summer D.C. guide for New Yorkers. While it’s not individually personalized, it makes New Yorkers feel like valued customers and the site includes content such as “what to do this weekend” since Washington, D.C. is an ideal weekend trip from New York City. D.C. also created customized landing pages for the four markets, such as showing Los Angeles travelers D.C.’s waterfronts.
Getting Google on Board
Another challenge tourism boards continue to face is keeping their websites and content in the good graces of Google.
Keeping up with Google’s algorithms is never-ending, said Aedo, but it’s often beneficial for tourism boards to work with the search giant. More destinations are supplying content to Google Destinations, a product rolled out in 2016 that puts destination content such as local attractions high up in Google results.
If a tourism board has an ace SEO strategy, its own website should be one of the first Google results to appear for general destination search terms. But a link alone isn’t enticing enough for some travelers who are visually stimulated, which is where Google comes into play.
For a generic “Miami” Google search, travelers click on the destination guide like the one for Miami, one of the top results, and navigate to a page with current photos, flights, hotels, articles, and videos of the destination, all of which are uploaded by a tourism board. Google doesn’t charge for the content.
“I’ve been a little suspect of Google in the past, but now they’re allowing DMOs to understand how relevant content is even if it’s not on their websites,” said Aedo. “We are proud of where we rank in almost all combination of various search terms. We’ve partnered with them now on a few different programs, which doesn’t hurt to bump us up.”
websites setting the bar
Here are some other tourism sites from different regions that we think represent a trend and speak to how destinations want to get more data from travelers:
MyHelsinki: The website of Helsinki Marketing, the city’s tourism board, lets travelers save events and things to do that they like and also prioritizes locals and reads more like a site that people who live in Helsinki would use. Travelers who want to get a glimpse of what local life is like have found their portal.
Chile.travel: This is a visually compelling site that demonstrates how Chile has grown up as a destination on the world stage. Beautiful images and video capture your attention and show how diverse the country is. It’s unclear how useful the site actually is to plan a trip or quickly access pertinent information. But for a destination still building name recognition in markets like North America, it’s pulling us in.
For Africa, we’ll include Zimbabwe and Rwanda together to highlight how more countries in sub-Saharan Africa are turning to tourism to grow their economies. Zimbabwe is still dealing with political unrest and Rwanda continues to overcome images of ethnic cleansing from 20 years ago, but both countries are maturing as destinations. Both sites also have some elements of personalization and highlight how to do business and invest in the country as well.