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Niche Tourism Websites

A major reason why the web has become the predominant medium for destination marketing is that it permits a community to do far more than just cast a wide net of information and hope that it picks up some interested tourists. Today’s website technologies and social networking services combine to enables a destination to communicate interactively with highly targeted groups of potential visitors and even with individuals.

This explains the recent growth in the number and variety of themed tourism mini-sites. You might want to consider allocating some funds in your tourism promotion budget for building such mini-sites because they effectively fulfill the potential of the web, and make it increasingly easy for potential tourists to find what they want. That adds value to your message.

As noted in an earlier article in this series (“Directories and Itineraries for Tourism Websites,” Jan. 19, 2010), people visit tourism websites with personal goals in mind for their trip. Their choice of destination often depends on whether a site reveals desirable characteristics in a tourism offering.

Mini-sites take advantage of this personal-shopping aspect of the web by suggesting new ways for people to enjoy their vacations in keeping with their personal goals.

For a guide to how these ideas can be put into action you can examine the tourism strategy of the City of Enumclaw, Washington (pop. 11,470). The city is developing an ingenious strategy based on the brand, “Washington’s Equestrian Capital.”

The objective of the tourism strategy is “to use the unique brand for Enumclaw based on the equestrian-themed Expo Center as the lure to bring visitors to both the center and the town in general to engage in a concentrated rural atmosphere of activities and events, spend money and have a good experience.”

The strategy identifies and appeals to three groups: local visitors up to 30 miles away, day visitors to a distance of 60 miles and overnight visitors coming from a radius of 120 miles.

And the web? The Enumclaw strategy identifies it as a key marketing tool, with a website specific to the equestrian brand. It recommends the following characteristics and content for the site:

a. Organize it by interests and activities.
b. Make photographs compelling.
c. Draw in the viewer with:

  • Videos and podcasts
  • Opt-in e-newsletter
  • Press room
  • Printable activities guide and “best of” brochures and maps
  • Links to class registrations, hotels, dining.

It’s clear that Enumclaw understands how a themed mini-site can be used as a foundation for a successful tourism strategy. You can download the Enumclaw, WA Marketing Plan & Style Guide here.

Niche Marketing

Micro-, niche- or mini-sites can be the key to implementing niche marketing in a way that still reflects a cohesive, consistent brand. An outstanding example is http://www.traveliowa.com/, the official tourism website of the State of Iowa.

This site, though unified by a modular design and the logo “Iowa Life/Changing,” is really a collection of mini-sites. It deliberately presents no generic information, but invites the viewer immediately to express personal preferences by clicking on topics according to a variety of criteria: location, timing, type of experience or specific destinations.

Pages devoted to vacation themes, such as Iowa’s history, are structured around maps and linked descriptions of attractions that fit that theme. Individual attractions are promoted by large rotating photos that link to in-depth sites with interactive capabilities such as ticket purchases. On all pages the viewer can consult an events calendar and express personal viewpoints using Facebook or Twitter or RSS feeds. This is a site that invites visitors to dig deeply into their own preferences to make their vacation plans.

Mini-sites can serve any number of purposes within a tourism strategy. They can guide tourists through activities related to hobbies, historical figures and places, music, local products and special events. They can effectively promote initiatives that would be difficult to present comprehensibly in any other medium.

The Town of Markham, Ontario, for example, has an innovative festival every August called Doors Open Markham. It is an annual showcase of the community’s historical and architectural heritage sites involving many institutions, historic buildings, heritage homes and private gardens. How can such a multi-faceted event be marketed in a bite-sized package? The answer is a mini-site, www.doorsopenmarkham.ca, that captures the spirit of the event while serving the key function of tourism websites – to answer viewers’ questions.

These examples demonstrate that a single tourism website does not need to be all things to all people. It can serve as a gateway to mini-sites designed for specific purposes and to appeal to audiences that your community wants to target in its destination marketing strategy.

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