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New Trends in Municipal Tourism Websites

Why are municipal tourism websites proliferating in North America and becoming ever more creative and technically sophisticated? Because they are recognized as one of a community’s most important economic development tools.

Many communities, especially in small to mid-sized population regions, have turned to tourism as a way to combat declines in traditional industries. The economic impact of municipal tourism promotion reaches deeply into the community, increasing the growth and retention of tourism operators and the spill-over effect of tourism spending, which is re-invested throughout the community.

Dollars spent developing tourist attractions and promotions can bring significant returns. Research in the Province of Ontario, Canada, by its Ministry of Tourism shows that every $1 million spent by visitors generates $553,400 in wages and salaries.

Websites are the first place that tourists go to find places to go and things to do. The impact of the web on tourism success was explored in an earlier series of Tech Trends articles, under the heading “The New Face of Tourism Promotion” (May 5-26, 2009). To summarize the trend succinctly, we can simply quote TravelWeekly magazine: “Google is the new travel agent.”

And of course a travel agent provides interactive communication. So a website that functions merely as an online brochure will not satisfy today’s travel consumers. Modern tourism websites compete by employing such tactics as:

  • Providing one-stop, real-time tourism sites that enable buyers to investigate, and plan their trips online;
  • Posting stories, written by tourists, about various activities and destinations they have explored;
  • Making use of online interactive marketing by posting or linking to video and photo sharing collections, blogs, social networking sites and consumer ratings.

Another important trend arises from the realization that tourists do not necessarily come from far away. Often they are interested to know what’s available in their own neighborhoods for a weekend getaway. Tourism websites need to cater to a variety of audiences including local visitors, regional visitors and out-of-the-country visitors.

To turn website visitors into visitors to your municipality, your tourism website should offer practical trip-planning tools including:

  • Searchable directory of attractions, accommodations, activities;
  • Event calendars;
  • Lots of fresh content about things to see and do, including testimonials and third-party commentary;
  • Lots of photos and videos;
  • Extra promotion of primary area attractions;
  • Ability to create itineraries and view maps.

For an excellent look at how these ideas can be put into action you can visit Durham Tourism, the colorful and attractive website of the Economic Development and Tourism Department of Durham Region in south-central Ontario.

This site invites interaction by visitors on every page. There are links everywhere. Visitors can click just once to find travel guidesphotosvideos and the tourism department’s Facebook page. Information throughout the site can be bookmarked and linked to a wide variety of social-media services, helping to build a community of interest centered in Durham Region.

For people unfamiliar with Durham Region or who live some distance away, there are sections of the Durham Tourism site labeled in a user-friendly manner about “Things To Do”, “Places To Stay” and “Where To Eat”, with introductory information and lists of tourism products arranged by categories of experience. For those looking for entertainment and activities, there’s a comprehensive events calendar, links to local festivals and special events, and an “Explore Durham” blog by a travel writer talking about nature, culture, history and food in Durham Region – and a long list of other bloggers who respond and contribute their own home views.

The site has other imaginative ways to keep viewers engaged: a link to a computer desktop calendar that provides a new wallpaper image of Durham Region every week; registration for a Durham “Smarthost” discount card with exclusive offers, promotions and discounts for tourism products; a “Go Green” page with top 10 tips on how to organize environmentally friendly events – reflective of the Durham tourism motto of “Good Natured, Good times.”

It’s clear that Durham Region understands how the web can be used as a promotional foundation for tourism. Does your community have a website to compete with one like this?

In the next few articles we will explore some of the current web tactics for bringing tourists to town.

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