Tom Marchant, co-founder of luxury travel company Black Tomato, talks about how innovation is as important as ever in the digital age of travel
It seems innovation is the name of the game and a subject of great discussion and debate at the moment in the digital travel space.
And never has it been more crucial than when it comes to website development. But so often, travel brands do not embrace new technologies and change at the same pace as other industry sectors.
After coming to the market in 2005 with a website that made waves in the industry for its unique look and representation of luxury, bespoke travel, it was important for us to not rest on our laurels and stay at the forefront of innovation in digital travel by re-designing our website, taking learnings from its award-winning successes to date and improving.
With the wealth of information out there becoming greater and greater, our aim was to curate our site content and remain an authority, handpicking the very best trips and recommendations for our visitors.
Unlike many travel sites, our booking and travel planning is handled by phone. This works for our business model as we operate a bespoke service; you can’t buy our trips and expeditions off the shelf.
But it means the website has to work extra hard to whet the appetite and drive someone to enquire. Over the last seven years we have constantly evolved the site behind the scenes and embraced change in response to client feedback.
Anyone in the field of digital marketing will know there is no standing still when Google is involved, but small revisions and amendments are not enough to remain truly progressive.
For businesses thinking of going through a website overhaul, it’s about so much more than front-facing design. Be sure to do some thorough research first.
Are you keeping up with best practice on the web? Our recent website re-launch was partly triggered due to the advent of Google Panda and was especially timely due to us just securing the .com domain.
Any business looking to optimise their site as effectively as possible to withstand the search giant’s ever-changing algorithms should be sure to do plenty of background reading and go right back to basics.
We ironed out our user-journey and ensured our site structure and hierarchy was at its optimum for search engine visibility.
This meant stripping back old content and installing new functionality including an interactive map tool and ‘departure board’, communicating visually our ‘travel by need’ search functionality, which has been an anchor of the site and our approach to travel since the company started.
The devil really is in the detail too; don’t assume all pages are right – re-examine and go through your site with a fine tooth comb ensuring quality control on copy and accurate content.
Building from the ground up and incorporating search functions that work technically whilst also communicating your brand is what it’s all about.
But it’s not all about the techy nitty gritty; evolving the aesthetics of any online travel business is also key. Be sure to update the design and styling of your site, think carefully about what the design says about your brand and what you want to convey.
Ask trusted advisors for feedback, conduct focus groups and consult client ambassadors. Research what other brands are doing outside your sector to ensure your design and aesthetic engages with its target audience.
For us, branding and design has always been imperative in communicating our exclusive bespoke services and unique take on experiential travel.
Our aim was to bring Black Tomato to a wider audience and uphold a contemporary look.
Moving away from the trademark black background to a crisper clean design and fresh look which allows the photography (surely one of the most important sales tools for any travel business) to do the talking.
When it comes to aesthetics, detail really is everything – right down to the font.
Of course, the job is never finished in digital. And we have a number of new developments and innovative tools we’re planning to add in 2012 to constantly evolve not just the functionality but our customer service and user journey.
It’s a work in progress but the number one golden rule is to never get to a point where your consumers feel your brand and website look tired. Time for a spring clean.