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How Competitive is Your Tourism Website?

“If we don’t get the Web right, no matter what we do with everything else that is on the list of tourism issues, we will lose our competitive position. The Web is at the heart of our industry on a go-forward basis.”

— Dick Brown, Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association, quoted in the Ontario Tourism Competitiveness Study report, “Discovering Ontario: A Report on the Future of Tourism,” released February 2009.

When people travel today, they research destinations and book on the Web. Maintaining your community’s competitiveness as a tourist attraction means first and foremost having a website that attracts people and anticipates their traveling needs.

A tourism website must have certain characteristics to be competitive. Those aren’t necessarily the same characteristics as a municipality’s site or an investment-attraction site. To follow best practices, the tourism site should be managed as a distinct entity. There are three main reasons for this:

  1. Tourism has a unique target audience. The majority of tourists will not be interested in municipal information.
  2. Multiple sites for a municipality, including a tourism site, increase search engine rank and the ability to be found due to targeted content,
  3. Tourism information easily gets crowded out when buried in a general site.

What sorts of information should be specific to a tourism website to make it competitive? Perhaps surprisingly, the first priority need not be to show off outstanding scenery or a national historic site. Effective marketing on the Web can bring tourists to your community for many reasons and help build its reputation for attractiveness.

Start with bread-and-butter facts. Where are the places to stay, to eat, to shop, to get away for a quiet time? A surprising number of communities in Ontario do not offer one-stop access to such information on their websites. Collecting it and keeping it up to date is, of course, a big job – all the more reason to devote specific resources to it, rather than asking the municipal webmaster to put something together when there is time.

But don’t be content with just lists or brief descriptions of tourism offerings. A competitive tourism site does more than present information in words and images. It helps visitors make decisions about where they would like to go, based on their own situations and preferences.

What are the price ranges of the accommodations and restaurants in your region? When are they open? How far would people have to travel from their home towns to reach your tourism attractions? Are tours or packages available? By providing answers to such questions you will encourage visitors to drill down into your site.

A useful aid to decision-making is to group tourism attractions by their appeal to different age groups. Another is to offer a trip-planning tool so that visitors can go through the site and add various events and attractions to their itinerary.

For special events, fairs, festivals and other scheduled attractions, include within your listings a link to a dedicated Web page for each one. Imbed keywords such as “midway rides” or “folk music” in the descriptions, headlines and page headings. These techniques elevate the scores that your pages will receive on search-engine results pages. The better your website information matches the search criteria entered by Internet users, the higher up the list your link will be displayed and the more likely the search engine is to direct traffic to your website.

Another important characteristic of competitive tourism websites is that they should be interactive. Interactive features let visitors enter in specific information to generate personalized responses. For example they can type in search preferences, travel dates and location coordinates to obtain specific answers to questions, find out what events may be on during their visit, participate in polls or contribute evaluations of places they have visited.

Today’s website visitors want to participate in online discussions and evaluations with other people as part of their decision-making process. For that reason don’t design your site to be viewed by one person at a time. Design it as a redistribution mechanism, so viewers can easily pass the information around through social networks and discussion sites.

Does your site contain videos that can be viewed on YouTube? Does it have news releases that visitors can post on Digg? There are a growing number of such Web 2.0 sites as people increasingly use computers as their first choice for travel research. Including social media features keeps users involved and up to date with what you have to say about your community’s attractiveness.

Invite tourism through an inviting website experience!

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