Embracing the digital traveller.

How digital technology is paving the way for visitors and customers in travel and tourism.

By Craig Cartwright2nd June 2016

The "five stages of travel” has been talked about across the travel and tourism industries for some time. But the framework is dated and doesn’t support a holistic customer-destination viewpoint. It defines certain steps within the user journey in too much detail: booking and sharing is featured with prominence but there's more to it. To go in with just these approaches would be to go in blinkered.

We have shaped our own framework which addresses these five steps from a digital perspective and provides a better perception of the actual user journey. One that dives deeper into how that visitor thinks and is influenced during those stages. We’ve called it RACER.

At #DigitalTourism2016 we presented ideas and thoughts on how tourism-based destinations can use these stages to build rapport with travellers and potential visitors. We’ll present those in order below.

Content-led approach to search.

The first port of call for many visitors will be a search engine. Therefore, for destinations, it’s key to understand and analyse the behaviours of that audience. Specifically, how your destination appears in their minds and in their search results (if they’ve found you).

When it comes to SEO, it’s search terms that we need to assess. Begin by looking at how your current traffic have come to your website. Then look at potential keyword variations (and don’t forget spelling mistakes) on Google to map how competitors are ranking. Keep a close eye on your SEO as most traffic coming into destination websites are organic from search engines. Travelling usually starts here and written content for Google is a must-have.

Creative social media.

If the majority comes in organically, it’s followed closely by social. And social is a great place to connect with potential visitors for the first time as it’s a medium where you and your visitors can promote your destination. It's a trustworthy source.

But in a world where more and more people are using social media, the harder it is to get the message over. So your social content must stand out. Explore various hashtags, and look to get your audiences – old and new visitors - engaged where possible. Be creative with social. Use high-quality imagery - but not stock images.

We recently built a Visit Wales campaign site specifically to showcase user-generated social content which is used to inspire future visitors and reward those who post to encourage such social sharing.

Showcasing the experience.

The visitor’s experience with your destination starts here. This is where you’ll see a repeat website visit where the user generally spends quite some time on your website browsing through your content. Consider it a part of the physical destination and travel experience itself.

Rich imagery, slick interactions and interactive features are needed to really show the visitor that your attraction is worthy of a visit. The grouping of content through personalisation is highly effective in these instances as it likely to create a lasting impression with that user.

Providing answers to questions.

What the user is really doing at this stage is looking to verify the purchasing decision. Looking for answers to justify spending time and money in making that visit. Therefore, certain content and pages would need to cater for this type of visitor; content that would need to focus on conversions.

Once again, think creatively with how you present your FAQs, testimonials, maps and itineraries – can you communicate key information with more effect? Look to challenge the user, and explore the methods in which you tell the story of your destination and brand. If you can inspire your audience, they become engrossed within your destination. Travel does start for real at this analysis stage.

Open University wanted to promote their Welsh-based courses in a different and unique way, so what we came up with was Hafan: a campaign site that has the ability to inspire visitors by showcasing interactive stories and then challenging them on their newly gained knowledge of Wales.

A welcoming feel from the first interaction.

For the most, all it takes is to make your website visitors feel welcome from the first instance. Customers make decisions and form their opinions based on the first contact with the destination at this progressed stage. Be it with a representative of the company or via a website feature, make the introductions pleasant. This could just mean a friendly tone of voice within your website copy.

Making it easy to book and to talk to you.

How many websites have you visited where the user experience has been so poor that it has put you off progressing through the website and booking something? There’s plenty out there. This is a problem that Amazon, for example, doen't have where they have really worked on and continue to work on (after all a website is never 100% complete!).

Keep your call-to-actions, booking forms and methods of contacting you simple. Good clean design with clearly signposted directions and information is vital to making that conversion. Visitors will not travel to your destination if your digital presence isn't up to scratch. The user journey needs to be well thought out - presented in a way where the customer feels they are personalising their own visit, just like the VisitBritain Shop website.

On-site interactions.

By combining digital with the physical aspect you are able to bring people even closer to your offering. Where possible, look to bring digital attractions to your destination. People are familiar with such technologies - or at the very least aware of them - therefore, look to bring them to your destination. They will get used.

The Cannes Lions Festival is an annual celebration within the creative industries that sees over 40,000 entries considered for awards. Lions Festivals, the event organiser, used a Windows app running on 300 interactive kiosks to give festival delegates access to all of these entries.

An infrastructure to encourage engagement.

Ensure that your attraction provides connectivity to all its visitors. Wi-Fi in this respect is the bare minimum. Mobile is becoming the dominant device used to connect with people and organisations. Destination providers shouldn’t be derailing visitors from this, but rather encouraging it further whilst they are experiencing. Digital doesn’t replace physical, it enhances it. Look at your own travel behaviours: how often is your mobile in hand?

Capturing data (as much as possible via as little as possible).

Using data captured during the booking process and subsequent visit, you can start tailoring how you reach out in the future. If you capture demographic information – age, hobbies, and interests - by asking it explicitly via a registration or feedback form, you can start creating campaigns that will appeal directly to them.  But you need to make sure you offer something in return – if people see a value they will part with their details.

If you have CRM data available you can make assumptions based upon their last visit – even the food eaten, upsells taken, rooms booked, number of guests, rides ridden or gifts purchased. It could provide additional information to drive reengagement.

Capturing travel via digital.

Key to attracting future visitors is having those who experience your offering capturing moments that have the ability to inspire other visitors. We have mentioned social sharing at the beginning of the journey, but it is here where that sharing of moments happen. Therefore, it’s the beginning of a circular travel journey.

Look to provide an easy way for visitors to keep their memories associated with your offering or brand. Equally, look at how you can encourage visitors to post socially when they are with you. Your next wave of visitors and travellers will be looking out for them.

Always look to embrace the digital traveller at all points of their experience with your destination. It's how you will remain successful in an environment which is being transformed by digital technology.

For more on digital tourism and the stages of digital travel, request a copy of the Guide to Digital Tourism.