If you’re like me, you spend less time on websites that contain lots of clutter and have an uninviting layout. Websites can be customized in any way we like; however what we think is suitable for our viewers very often misses the mark completely. To create a user experience that is both immersive and purposeful it is important to understand the expectations of users and their habits (Baehr & Schaller, 2010).
Effective destination websites enable visitors to easily obtain relevant information, navigate through different textual and graphic elements, and form a virtual first impression (Palmer & McCole, 2000).
As visitors form website impressions within seconds, destination websites should evoke a favorable initial impression from the moment an individual accesses them, as visitors can easily leave the site with one click to find another potentially more persuasive website (Kim & Fesenmaier, 2008).
Here are some useful tips to help you evaluate your destination website.
- Ensure that your website is responsive on all screen sizes.
According to comScore.com, tablet Internet usage increased by 30% during 2013 and 2015. On the other hand, smartphone Internet usage increased by 78% during the same period. The key lesson here is in order to offer a truly great user experience, your website must be compatible with different devices as well as the operating systems and browsers that your visitors are using. This means investing in a website structure that is extremely flexible—one that has a responsive design. With responsive websites, content is automatically resized and rearranged to fit the dimensions of whichever device your visitor is using. Here’s an example of Belize’s responsive tourism destination website. No wonder this is one of the top choices on Skift’s list of 20 Best Designed Tourism Websites in the World!
- Use video on your home page banner.
As a tourist destination, using video for your desktop banner view has several benefits. Video can tell your story more effectively than images (Senshi Digital, 2016). It shows your visitors the type of experiences you provide in an impactful and persuasive manner. However, make sure video doesn’t work against you! For tablets and mobile, replace the video on your website with an image. This is crucial; you will avoid visitors leaving your website because you’re sucking up their bandwidth. Barbados and Belize used the video approach to provide these captivating scenes on their desktop homepages; www.visitbarbados.org and www.travelbelize.org.
- Use appropriate imagery.
Great photography and full screen images are highly recommended. Avoid stock photos. Unlike stock video, visitors can usually tell if the image is stock (Senshi Digital, 2016). This gives the perception of being false, and as a result can make your destination or business seem unauthentic. You will likely lose your visitors’ trust at this point. If you feature an image-sliding banner, ensure that you have no more than 3 slides. Most visitors will not flick past the first 3-4 images. Also, using 3 will help your site maintain its speed, especially when using larger images. Saint Lucia does a great job at promoting high quality authentic images on their website, www.stlucia.org.
- Showcase your specialties.
Below your main banner, consider showcasing some of the main tours, rooms, or attractions you offer. Promote your best selling assets in this area. Caribbean Region Specialist in the U.S Pacific Northwest (Washington and Oregon), Molly Sumption from Molly’s Caribbean encourages DMOs to feature and refer to travel agents on their website home pages as Destination Specialists. DMOs should also refer Destination Specialists by zip code or by state (with at least a 50 mile radius), instead of alphabetically, because in her experience, travelers prefer reaching out to local contacts when possible.
Questions continue to surround the issue of whether tourism destination websites should feature their own booking engine. Some experts on consumer travel behavior claim that very few consumers actually book on DMO websites because when consumers visit DMO websites, they are typically in the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey and are trying to gather information about a destination before they decide to book. When they reach the decision stage, they would tend to visit a travel agency’s website to make the booking.
Opinions vary widely on this subject. According to this article featuring comments from Ashwin Kamlani, President & Founder of Regatta Travel Solutions, obtaining online bookings is a very serious and competitive business and online travel agencies (OTAs) have fully grown pockets—huge financial, technological, and human resources dedicated to increasing online bookings. Studies also point out that consumers visit up to 22 sites on average before they make a booking. This demonstrates that consumers are willing to check sites that are not so well known as the major OTAs in hope of coming across a good deal or discovering something unique.
Generally, DMOs invest considerable amounts of time and money in developing strong, recognizable and credible brands that resonate well with consumers. With the right strategy, tools and partners, a DMO can develop ways to educate consumers about visiting the destination’s website before they book their travel. Molly Sumption asserts that “trip planning is as much fun as the actual trip, so I make it a practice to reference DMO websites, recommending the sites as places to educate potential Caribbean travelers for the purpose of engaging them in the process.”
The island of Dominica www.dominica.dm provides an effective way for visitors to search for flights and to receive more information on available tours.
- Let’s scroll, baby!
Enabling intuitive navigation on your site is imperative to ensure visitors can find what they’re looking for. Hubspot (2016) recommends that visitors should be able to land on your site and not have to think extensively about where they should click next—moving from point A to point B should be as simple as possible. With regards to clicking and scrolling, Senshi Digital (2016) reports that some customers feel that pages should not scroll. They think they are too long and businesses should try and fit everything on one portion of the screen. This was a trend in the early days of the Internet. Technology as well as user habits and expectations have changed this. Due to the introduction of tablets and mobile devices, users prefer to scroll rather than click their way through your website.
The more clicks you feature, the more likely they are to leave your site. This may be because your site loads slowly from page to page or your navigation is so bad they get lost. The additional benefit of scrolling is that it feels like a more natural process.
- Landing pages are your best friends.
Landing pages add the spice to your website. A landing page is any page on the web where a visitor lands, has a form and exists solely to capture a visitor’s information (Hubspot, 2016). A form on a landing page is an opportunity for a visitor to be converted to a lead. This conversion takes place by having visitors fill out a form for an Ebook, submitting their email address so they can subscribe to your blog, or filling out transactional information to make a booking on your site. The landing page, featuring one field or multiple fields, allows visitors to give you specific information about themselves so you can give them something in return.
Here’s an example of a landing page used by www.bahamas.com. Notice how the site features specific Subscription Preferences options; nice job Bahamas! This approach helps to strengthen your customer relationship management (CRM) database so you can create more targeted campaigns to appeal to different market segments.
- Consistency is key.
The overall look and feel of your site should be consistent across all pages (Hubspot, 2016). Backgrounds, color schemes, typefaces, and even the tone of your writing are all areas that should be consistent with each other to have a positive impact on usability and user experience (UX). This does not mean that every single page on your site must have the same layout. Instead, you can develop different layouts for specific pages (i.e. a layout for landing pages, a layout for informational pages and so forth) to make it easier for visitors to understand what type of information they will likely come across on any given page.
Also keep in mind that the frequency of updating the content on your site would depend on how often you change specific details of your service offering. For instance, if you are promoting an upcoming event, content should be updated during the pre-event, during, and post-event stages for consistency.
- Keep it user-centric.
The main point here is that usability and user experience rely on the preferences of the end users. After all, if you are not designing for them, who are you designing for? Ensure that your website provides the kind of user experience to allow visitors to find exactly what they are looking for. Don’t bombard them with advertisements. Your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts may have brought users to your site, but if they can’t find the content to match their search query immediately after landing they will leave (Standard Marketing Ltd., 2016). If your ads (especially pop-ups) are getting in the way of this content, your site has too many. Put yourself in the shoes of the searcher. Have someone with fresh eyes review your site to identify whether or not users are able to see the content as soon as the page loads. If not, begin removing those ads!
Bringing it all together
According to Vitamin T, 68% of visitors fail to convert because they don’t think you care about their experience. Don’t let your website visitors think this about you! Put yourself into the shoes of your visitors and keep them in mind when developing and evaluating your website.
Baehr, C.& Schaller, B. (2010).Writing for the Internet: A guide to real communication in a virtual space, Chapter 10.
comScore, Inc. . (2016, March 30). Presentations & Whitepapers. Retrieved June 11, 2016, from www. comescore.com: https://comescore.com/Insights/Presentations-and-Whitepapers/2016/2016-US-Cross-Platform-Future-in-Focus
Hubspot. (2016, April 28). 8 Guidelins for Exceptional Web Design, Usability, and User Experience. Retrieved June 11, 2016, from http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/30557/6-Guidelines-for-Exceptional-Website-Design-and-Usability.aspx#sm.0001qkp0av8gdf4wu2h1bd4lor40d
Kim, H., & Fesenmaier, D. R. (2008). Persuasive design of destination web sites: An analysis of first impression. Journal of Travel Research, 47(1), 3–13.
Palmer, A., & McCole, P. (2000). The role of electronic commerce in creating virtual tourism destination marketing organizations. International Journal of Contem- porary Hospitality Management, 12(3), 198–204.
Park, Y. A., & Gretzel, U. (2007). Success factors for destination marketing web sites: A qualitative meta-analysis. Journal of Travel Research, 46(1), 46–63.
Senshi Digital. (2016, June 6). Anatomy of a successful tourism website-part one . Retrieved June 11, 2016, from senshi.digital: senshi-digital/blog/anatomy-successful-tourism-website-part-one
Skift. (2013). The 20 Best Designed Tourism Websites in the World. Retrieved June 11, 2016, from skift.com: https://skift.com/2013/12/20/the-20-best-designed-tourism-websites-in-the-world/#1
Standard Marketing Ltd. . (2016). How many ads is too many – Does your website violate the page layout algorithm. Retrieved June 11, 2016, from http://www.standardmarketing.com: http://www.standardmarketing.com/2014/09/many-ads-many-website-violate-page-layout-algorithm/
Tnooz. (2013, December 10). Booking engines on tourism websites-they’re good, not evil. Retrieved June 11, 2016, from http://www.tnooz.com: https://www.toonz.com/article/booking-engines-good-tourism-websites
Vitamin Talent . (2016). Are you a UX statistic? Retrieved June 11, 2016, from http://www.vitamintalent.com: https://vitamintalent.com/ux-statistic/#Introduction