The Changing Role of the Website in Destination Marketing

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Destination marketers are in a curious position. On one hand, they are in the inspiration business, tasked with showcasing the best that a destination has to offer in a way that captures people’s attention. On the other hand, they are measured like any business, by clicks and conversions on the website. I recently had the opportunity to talk with two destination marketing experts, Kylie Boring from Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau and Karen Lau from San Francisco Travel Association, about the changing role of the website in destination marketing.


Without a doubt, technology and the introduction of mobile devices have played a large role in the evolution of websites over the last few years. Both Tupelo CVB and San Francisco Travel Association overhauled their sites a year ago based on Google Analytics data that confirmed that visitors were doing travel research across multiple devices. Karen Lau, Manager of Advertising and Promotions in San Francisco explains, “We need to showcase our city in the best way possible. Without a mobile responsive site, we weren’t providing the best experience we could.”


Content is also playing a much larger role in destination marketing sites today. Tupelo used the launch of their new responsive site in 2015 to also add more engaging features. Kylie Boring, Director of Marketing, explains, “When we launched the new site we wanted to make sure that we showcased engaging content. We added an ‘Ask a Local’ section and the option to custom build or use one of our pre-built itineraries inside one of our many getaway categories. Destination marketing sites need to work harder, today, than ever before, to hold visitors’ attention.”


But content on its own isn’t enough. Both sites also use new technology to segment their website visitors and dynamically personalize content. Content can be personalized using behavioral data, such as whether the visitor previously clicked to get more information about event venues, or geolocation data. Both San Francisco and Tupelo use geolocation targeting to create unique hero images and messaging on the homepage to speak directly to their different visitor segments. For example, the headline for Californians on the Tupelo site might read, “Is it true Californians love Elvis?” The headline for New Yorkers on the San Francisco page might read, “Escape the cold. Visit San Francisco.” 

Website personalization has made a positive impact for both sites in terms of pages viewed, time spent on site, bounce rates and goal conversions. But it has also affected the visitor’s experience. Kylie says, “We want our website visitors to discover Tupelo through our content and make the choice to stay with us. They need to feel something when looking at the content. It needs to resonate.” Lau agrees, saying, “First and foremost, the content has to be as relevant as possible or no one will click.”


While both Boring and Lau are focused on today’s goals, they are always thinking about the future and how they can continue to evolve the website experience. Boring says, “I would love to expand our itinerary section into a virtual video tour that includes a video montage of all the stops you have selected for your tour, whether it’s a trip to the Buffalo Park, lunch at Johnnie’s Drive-In where Elvis dined, or even a visit to the Tupelo Hardware Store where Elvis bought his first guitar.” 

Likewise, Lau is also looking at different ways to keep visitors engaged on the website. Having seen success with website personalization, she is looking to go deeper and develop more content to ensure that messages resonate with every visitor, both foreign and domestic. She explains, “Right now we are generating more content based on different market interests. We are creating bite-sized :30-:60 videos and testing 360 degree videos and live streaming to showcase all that our city has to offer.”

Whether you are marketing a special small town, like Tupelo, or one of the most visited cities in the world, like San Francisco, the website is the main portal for potential visitors to discover your destination. As Lau and Boring show, the site needs to both reflect the diversity of the attractions and appeal to all types of travelers. Staying on top of trends and emerging technology is one of the keys to success and can make the difference between a site that drives conversions and a site that just informs.