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 audiences: 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 companies never had a website.
Today, every viable organization in the world has one, but many are doing them wrong, most notably by using sites from a cookie-cutter agency. It is true that these sites are simple to build, but they are also limited in scope as well as cumbersome to the user. And if your DMO’s website doesn’t put the user first, then you are failing in your mission to serve your customers and, by extension, your partners.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though, and building your own, unique website doesn’t have to be anxiety-inducing or even all that difficult. Here are six reasons why you shouldn’t hire a DMO-only agency to build your new travel and tourism website.
1. Cookie-Cutter Design
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 website design that mimics other DMOs, just with different photos. Do your homework when considering a new agency. Look through their portfolio to see 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.
2. Nonexistent User Journeys
Your site’s layout should have clear user flows that are built specifically around your core target audiences and your destination’s specific offerings. These user journeys should lay out an easy-to-navigate path for site exploration — and include a heavy dose of content (more on that later) to draw users deeper into the site.
3. A Misguided Focus on 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 so have users’ expectations. 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 is likely 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 and location. 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.
4. Content Disconnect
The content you’re creating (think: articles, itineraries and listicles) should ladder up to an overarching content strategy and should be woven into the core pages of your website — not relegated to a hard-to-find blog. A DMO-only website agency won’t be able to help you identify the engaging and entertaining content specific to your destination that will inspire users to dream about planning a visit. Creating and building a unique tagging structure in 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. But, again, you’ll need to bake this functionality in during design and development. A content-focused web partner can help you do that.
5. Limited Expertise
Working with agencies that only work with DMOs will restrict the creativity of the design, user experience and functionality. By working with a vendor that does work outside of the travel space, you’ll have access to a broader range of experience and ideas, as well as knowledge of best practices that are applicable across verticals.
6. Lack of Scalability
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.