All websites evolve over time, and sometimes due to resource limitations it’s necessary to start out on a basic scale with a website. In the destination marketing industry there’s a real dog eat dog competition going on starting with website design and including the entire advertising mix; online and offline. In this second part of our three part series, we’ll examine how extraordinary photography can help destination marketers enhance their web designs.

There is nothing more deflating for a user than to click on a search result expecting to find ‘everything he or she always wanted to know about their vacation destination + trip booking info’ and then arrive at a disorganized website. Most destinations will already have a website presence, and perhaps some fairly entrenched ideas about its design from previous marketing efforts. The existence of a website does not a marketing campaign make. Even if resources are tight for web development, there are very serviceable tools, templates and plugins that can help a marketer create a respectable upgrade to a destination’s web presence. Let’s take a look at some ‘must haves’ for a destination website, and some advice if resources are tight for website updates:

1) A destination website should give people a window into an experience

With that goal in mind, it’s imperative to get the very best photography available. Photos that are blurry, too small, dark or otherwise unappealing are an immediate turn off for visitors to a website.

2) Video is emperor

If content is king then video is emperor. Short, personal videos work well because they give people a feeling of ‘I can imagine myself in this place’. These types of videos work great versus more corporate videos. How short is short? Aim for 90 seconds – 2 minutes. Take videos in a variety of areas; try natural sights, scenes in town, inside restaurants, and near attractions and shopping. It may take a few attempts before you get two or three videos that match the destination’s brand voice. The key point is to give people an authentic snapshot of the area. Don’t worry about making the video ‘professional’. It’s actually better to make it accessible — offbeat and even humorous.
Here’s a great example of a destination video that lets prospective travelers know what to expect when they visit Charlies Bunion in Gatlinburg. This video was created by TwoGearGuys

3) Showcase photos and videos in galleries on the website

Depending on what CMS is used to create the website, plugins and gallery templates are available that can attractively display multimedia.

For WordPress there are many choices, including:

  • The ever-popular NextGen
  • Cincopa; a full suite of multimedia enhancement and management tools

For Drupal the Juicebox module offers a terrific solution as the slideshows and galleries are resized to work on any device.

4) Review the home page’s design

Now that the photos and videos and methods of displaying them have been sourced, it’s time to examine how they can be used to re-vitalize the home page.

It’s important to lay out the page with users in mind. A home page slider that showcases images offers a familiar experience. Apart from the slider, a longstanding usability strategy based on eye tracking research instructs that the most important content on the page should be placed on the upper left of the screen. Depending on the website template and each destination marketer’s preference, this particular content can be rotated on a regular basis (every few weeks is a good rule of thumb, unless it needs to be updated more frequently to showcase special events or announcements).

Explore Design Alternatives

There is a growing group of SEO experts that is looking for slider alternatives. Some travel marketers have created highly usable and visually appealing work without home page sliders. This example should offer some inspiration:

Joyce Grace’s ManageWP blog post from Feb. 17, 2014, Alternatives to Using a Slider for Better Home Page Conversions, discusses Wildcoast Kayak Tours and Vacations, which offers users a choice of navigation. Its’ slider is present on the page, but it doesn’t dominate it. Large, circular navigation buttons make it easy to enter the website. Ideas like this can deliver an exceptional user experience and still allow marketers to showcase photography in a slider, if they choose.









5) Interior page content tips

Some of the most engaging elements marketers can add to their travel websites come from user generated content. Whether these are FAQS with very personalized responses, or user submitted travel blogs, photos, or videos, site visitors will appreciate the point of view of someone who has already been to the destination. Destination websites often feature itineraries and adding user submitted photos and commentary to these sections can give them a unique authenticity that can increase visitor engagement.

We hope this blog provided some fresh ideas for creating and updating destination websites. The third part of this series will examine how to deploy organic and paid search strategies to attract website traffic. We’ll conclude the discussion with a look at how apps can deliver an exceptional user experience.