It can be tempting: a website from an agency that only builds for DMOs. The problem? You’re locked into an ordinary experience that is difficult to update — and hard to navigate.
By Tina Kelly
As a destination marketing organization, your job is to serve many masters: The hotels, restaurants and local businesses that you represent. Your internal managers. Most important, but often overlooked, your customers. Yes, that time-honored cliché, "The customer is king,” is as true today as it was when it was first put into use by early mega-retailers like Marshall Field and Harry Selfridge.
But those guys never had a website.
Today, every viable organization in the world has one, but many are doing them wrong, most notably by utilizing sites from a cookie-cutter agency. It is true that these are simple to build, but they are limited in scope as well as cumbersome to the user. And if your site doesn’t put the user first, which most DMOs do not, then you are failing in your mission to serve your customers and, by extension, your partners.
It doesn’t have to be that way, and building your own, unique site doesn’t have to be anxiety-inducing or even all that difficult. Here are six tips to help you redesign your website to be as inviting, effective and utilitarian as it can be.
One size does not fit all.
Your website should be as unique as your destination and, as you know better than anyone, no two destinations are the same. Don’t settle for a site that mimics other DMOs just with different photos. Do your homework when considering a new agency. Look through their portfolio to identify if they carry over design and functional elements across multiple sites, or if they create singular sites for their clients. You do not want to be just one in a long assembly line of DMO websites.
Your site’s layout should have clear user flows for each of your core target audiences and encourage an easy-to-navigate path for site exploration.
It is in your organization’s best interest to invest in a solution that will easily enable you to grow and scale.
Re-evaluate directory listings.
When DMOs were first developing websites, they naturally turned to print travel guides as their model, resulting in mere digital versions of the guides. Since then, the web has evolved, and users’ expectations have changed. Clients often ask if we think directory listings should be a part of their website and our answer is always the same: Do they serve the user? Is a user going to plan a trip around a restaurant? Unless it’s one of the top restaurants in the country (or the world) the answer likely is no. They aren’t going to make this decision based on limited listings information. They are going to go to the restaurant’s website, social media channels, Yelp or Trip Advisor reviews.
Another issue is the fact that maintaining directory listings for all the businesses in your area is a massive undertaking, especially if you want to provide information beyond hours, location, etc. Spend your time instead creating articles and itineraries that feature the best of your area, and link users off to the sites that truly provide the best information. Remember, you can’t be everything to everyone. Focus your energy on creating content that highlights what is unique and special about your one-of-a-kind destination.
Make content a top priority.
Your articles, itineraries and things to do/attractions should be woven into the core pages of your website. Engaging and entertaining content that inspires users to dream about visiting your destination should be at the heart of it. Building tagging into the backend will allow you to easily serve relevant content on all key pages of your site versus only providing content via a blog or separate site.
Travel outside the industry for inspiration.
Working with agencies that only work with DMOs will limit the creativity of the design, user experience and functionality. See what other sites are doing that excite you and incorporate those aspects into your site. Find trends that travelers crave and use that to your advantage.
Plan for growth.
If you lock yourself into a website that is not open source, you likely will be stuck with the agency that originally designed and developed your website until you do a redesign. This isn’t ideal for long-term growth. These agencies are looking to shackle you to their platform and keep you for as long as they can — in addition to charging you monthly services fees. It is in your organization’s best interest to invest in a solution that will easily enable you to grow and scale. In thinking of the best long-term scenario for your DMO, open-source solutions are the most cost-effective way to go.