Initially slow to embrace the Internet, tourist boards are now catching up and incorporating blogging, reviews and interactive functionality on their sites. Beverley Fearis looks at some of the developments worldwide.
Just as particular airlines, operators and agents have been quicker to embrace the Internet than others, the level and quality of online marketing activity by international tourist boards varies widely.
With some notable exceptions, tourist boards have been relatively slow to catch on to the potential of e-marketing, but they are now catching up – fast.
Kevin Harris, consumer marketing director for Hills Balfour Synergy, says online marketing is now a major part of its tourist board clients’ strategies. “We are doing more online work, integrating this with other elements. From a basic website and newsletter, we are now trying to move it forward with digital audio and video content.”
Hills Balfour Synergy’s clients include Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, Hawaii Tourism Europe, Kenya Tourist Board, NYC and Company and the North Carolina Division of Tourism and Film.
Harris says budget size is not necessarily the overriding factor that determines the level of online marketing.
“A lot of clients don’t have big budgets, but what they do have is rich product and content,” he adds. “We’ve got some small clients with small budgets who are very forward-thinking when it comes to marketing online.”
Mostly run by their respective governments, many tourist boards struggle not just with inadequate funding but also with bureaucracy and internal politics, and the difficulty of keeping all of their local and international partners happy.
“Many are quite bureaucratic and have to report back to the head office in their respective countries,” explains Fiona Canavan, head of marketing for Netizen Digital. “But they’re getting to the point when they are realising they have to be competitive and they need to have reviews, blogging, interactive maps, videos and Google Earth locations.”
Canavan says tourist boards are recognising they cannot simply develop one website to cater for all incoming markets and many are now investing in spin-off sites. Aside from language, each incoming market will vary in terms of its interests, requirements and familiarity with the destination. Marketing to your neighbouring country, which shares a similar culture and geography and where people pop over the border for the weekend, is different to marketing to first-time visitors from the other side of the world.
“The head office will be based in their respective country but most will have offices worldwide. They need to have a website for each individual market too,” adds Canavan.
Many tourist boards have dedicated sections on their websites for their trade partners, while an increasing number are effectively competing with their trade partners by offering travellers the opportunity to actually book their flight, hotel and tour trip through their website.
However, most are concerned with creating awareness, inspiring people and providing practical information.
Here, we look at some of the latest developments in online marketing by tourist boards worldwide.
In March, the European Travel Commission launched a tourism website bringing together all 34 countries.
VisitEurope.com features pages dedicated to individual countries which link through to their respective websites, and users only need to click on three or four to see how each country is at a different stage when it comes to e-marketing.
ETC chief executive officer and current president Dr Arthur Oberascher was instrumental in the development of the Europe-wide site. He is also chief executive officer of the Austrian National Tourist Office, which claims to be leading the way in Europe when it comes to e-tourism marketing.
ANTO has two websites, one for consumers (Austria.info) and another for the trade (Austriatourism.com). It also has sites for specific campaigns, such as Mozart2006.net to promote this year’s 250th anniversary of the composer, or the recently launched Winteropening.at to highlight the start to the winter sports season.
Oskar Hinteregger, regional manager UK and Ireland, says: “We have up to 34 country specific domains delivering up-to-date information for potential visitors in the corresponding source markets. Central features of the sites are brochure downloads, a brochure order service, newsletter subscription, destination and product news, tour operator listings, weather reports and webcams.”
Alongside this, ANTO is undertaking ongoing search engine optimisation programmes, banner and cost-per-click campaigns and regular e-mail newsletter campaigns.
Germany, which has an enormous outbound market, is working on its online proposition to coincide with its high-profile offline media campaign for inward tourism, especially from the UK.
Information portal Germany-Tourism.co.uk also acts as a feeder site to Germanyfaces.co.uk – a platform for operators, airlines and hotels to showcase their products. Like many tourist board sites, users are sent to suppliers to make a booking.
Across the border in France, tourist board Maison de la France has just revamped its main website and is now in the process of updating its market specific sites.
With the UK its number one incoming market, it is high on the agenda. A number of features have been added, including a more effective search engine and an online booking service. At a later date, a holiday database will be added that will feature the products of selected UK operators.
“MDLF considers online activity to be a very important part of its communications strategy,” says a spokeswoman. “Approximately 70% of our advertising activity is online, including 30 million advertisement page impressions so far this year as well as newsletter sponsorships and advertorials.
“All campaigns include the option to sign up for the UK franceguide e-newsletter, which is currently sent to 62,000 subscribers.”
Meanwhile, Spain has set up a specialist division focusing on marketing through new technology. Called SEGITUR, it works alongside the tourist board, Turespaña, running its international website, Spain.info. A dedicated web page for the UK
market features UK specific content but has the same design and functionality of the main site.
As well as practical information and news, the site features videos of major attractions, a photo gallery, audios of typically Spanish sounds, commentaries on selected museums and monuments, and panoramic, 360-degree views of key landmarks. Visitors can also plan a trip using an animated, interactive ‘Infograph’.
In the East, Turkey has also made great strides in attempting to provide as much information as possible on its site. Jill Guest, trade relations manager, says: “Our website is the point of first contact with our office for many and so it’s important that it is up to date, clutter-free and that visitors can find exactly what they are looking for .
“We have recently added a section that deals with common enquiries including passport validity and currency recommendations. The site also has a brochure request facility, a hotel guide (currently being improved and updated) and an image gallery.”
Middle East and Africa
The standard of websites varies in this region depending on the maturity of the destination’s tourism market. For example, Abu Dhabi, a relative newcomer to tourism, does not yet even have a website.
But Kevin Harris, consumer marketing director for Hills Balfour Synergy, which handles PR and marketing for Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, says this does not mean it is behind the times. “Having worked with them, I would say that they are waiting to create the best website in the world,” he says.
Despite the UK being a key market for Dubai, the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing does not have a dedicated UK site, but instead operates a global site – Dubaitourism.ae. The website can be read in six different languages and offers a new interactive street map of Dubai (launched in September) and an online hotel booking facility operated by Worldres.com.
A webcam over Dubai shows live footage while videos on the destination are tailored to both leisure and business audiences. Visitors can also send e-postcards and see 10-day weather forecasts.
Baerbel Kirchner, DTCM director of the UK and Ireland, says: “There is no doubt that the Internet has become a key feature in the distribution of travel product. The DTCM is aware of these changes and extensive resources have been invested in our online training programme, Dubai Expert (Dubaiexpert.co.uk), for travel agents who might integrate and sell their own holidays to clients either via the Internet or traditional means.
“We also recognise that the Internet allows operators and agents to provide information as added value to their key services. We therefore need to ensure our information is correct and up to date. In terms of Internet marketing, we work closely with our partners, the majority of which have transactional websites. So, this facility is also provided on our international website.”
Morocco’s latest multi-million pound campaign in the UK and Ireland focuses on driving all enquiries to its new website VisitMorocco.org.
“The Moroccan Tourist Office has joined forces with leading online tour operating companies to run joint marketing ventures to further promote online bookings to Morocco,” says Aziz Mnii, trade and media officer.
“Also, the MNTO has made it a priority to have a presence on all websites of tour operators featuring the destination, supporting and encouraging them to boost online sales to Morocco.”
For tourist boards in Asia Pacific, a major part of their UK e-marketing strategy is based on working with local partners, both within the travel industry and also with other sectors.
Being long-haul, exotic destinations, it is more vital than ever that they have spin-off sites and campaigns dedicated to the UK market.
In conjunction with UK tour operators, the Hong Kong Tourism Board sends e-mail blasts and operates microsites within its own pages. From its website, DiscoverHongKong.com, it provides contact details for UK tour operators and promotes their latest deals to Hong Kong.
“We have also promoted some of our mega events and festivals through online operators such as Lastminute.com, on which we had skyscrapers/banners and a microsite promoting the Hong Kong Arts Festival,” says a spokeswoman.
“Other online marketing activities included a microsite and online competition on Handbag.com to promote the Hong Kong Shopping Festival and in-store/online promotions with Bentalls, which included links to DiscoverHongKong.com plus a Hong Kong microsite.”
Meanwhile, Tourism Tasmania’s UK marketing strategy for 2006/07 includes several online campaigns with trade partners, including specialist tour operator Austravel on Times Online, Lonely Planet and the Discovery Channel, using footage from a DVD that is due to be shot shortly.
It relaunched its main website, Discovertasmania.com, this summer with a new look and an interactive travel planner and has upgraded its online visual library, launching a moving images service, so that registered users can search, view and order its new film footage directly from the website.
Tourism Tasmania is the first state tourism authority in Australia to use podcasting, initially commissioning a podcast to encourage its domestic market to explore cultural Tasmania. As a result of the success of the first one, about the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Tourism Tasmania has commissioned a series of further podcasts aimed at both the domestic and international market.
These include two new podcasts – one on art in Tasmania and one on food and wine – both to be available by the end of October. It is planning a series of eight podcasts targeted at younger travellers covering a variety of areas including pub culture, food and the arts.
New Zealand launched a dedicated UK site last month and increased its online advertising spend by three times this year. “Some of this advertising will be joint tactical work with the travel trade,” says a spokeswoman.
“TNZ’s website has a ‘smart’ travel planner that allows users to zoom down to street level details of maps, pick up attractions, accommodation or transport that may appeal to them and drop them into what is effectively a shopping basket. Selected activities and locations can also be placed into a calendar allowing users to e-mail their itinerary to friends and family. The Travel Planner can also be used by travel sellers to plan and research New Zealand itineraries for clients.”
The content on NewZealand.com can be exported to external websites with the agreement of Tourism New Zealand.
North America and Caribbean
Both the US and the Caribbean have online portals for the UK market that act as a first point of call for visitors and the trade.
For the US, VisitUSA.com has a special section promoting its trade partners, allowing visitors to see the latest deals, order brochures and find their local US specialist.
It also links through to individual tourist board websites for each state through an interactive map.
Meanwhile, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation runs DoItCaribbean.com, which has a special section for the trade and also links through to each island’s tourism website.
As web-savvy US visitors are the number one market for both the Caribbean and the US itself, the level and quality of online presence is generally high.
Tourism Massachusetts, for example, has recently launched Usamass.tv, making Massachusetts the first US destination to use Internet television for promotional purposes.
William H MacDougall, president and chief executive officer of Tourism Massachusetts, says: “The network will mean international visitors can view programming on Massachusetts’ attractions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Broadband TV is a perfect tool for the tourism industry because it reaches a global audience and provides a more dynamic and personal relationship with the consumer.”
But UK visitors, both agents and travellers, will sometimes find that the information provided on US and Caribbean websites is geared more towards the US market and that direct bookings will not be with a UK-based agent or operator.
Some of the more popular destinations for UK clients, however, have dedicated UK sites.
The Bahamas Tourist Office’s website, Bahamas.co.uk provides practical information but also allows direct hotel and flight bookings powered by Opodo.
Giovanni Grant, London-based district sales manager, says: “This shortcut/search facility provides the public with direct access to holidays in the Bahamas, accommodation and flight availability in addition to the comprehensive list of operators.”
Meanwhile, Trinidad and Tobago is focusing its efforts on joint e-marketing campaigns with UK tour operators. “Having allocated just under £1 million to advertising this year, we seriously intend to start moving away from consumer print media unless it is co-opted with our trade partners. In the future any advertising promotion we undertake must encompass some form of online marketing. Benchmarking and sales has been far, far greater online,” says a spokeswoman.
This year, Trinidad and Tobago has worked with a number of operators, airlines and agents, including First Choice Retail, Hayes and Jarvis, Kuoni, Travel Counsellors, Tradewinds, Virgin and Excel.
“Our advertising is geared towards driving people to our affiliated sites. You can even create or download brochures from our official website,” adds the spokeswoman.
“Promotions with Lastminute.com over the past two years have also been successful, with sales for this winter compared to 2005 up 58% in January, 144% in February and 33% in March.”