Digital Tourism: the journey starts long before you leave home

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Last month, the region of Navarre in Spain welcomed senior members of the travel and tourism sector from across the globe to the eighth International Congress on Rural Tourism. The conference brought thought leaders and specialists together to discuss and debate key themes including sustainability, digitalisation and technology, innovation in service offering and the value of partnerships.

Over two days in Pamplona, delegates heard from a range of keynote speakers and panelists from over six countries, including the managing director of Glasgow-born agency After Digital, David Johnstone. We caught up with David to find out more...

For the past eight years, this international gathering has supported the development of stronger international business links and knowledge share, ensuring the sector firmly focuses on what lies ahead. María Ángeles Ezquer, president of the Navarre Federation for Rural Tourism, stated: “Long-term sustainability is all about sharing resources both natural and other (people, financial, etc) and sharing the wealth. This goes beyond eco-tourism to also incorporate education and communication."

With travel more affordable and accessible than ever, rural tourism brands are faced with the challenge of competing with the major cities and being heard in a very noisy marketplace. These, often small in resource and headcount, businesses are having to evolve rapidly, adopting new marketing channels and skills, and being innovative to make budgets go further.

Internationalisation has meant that these companies can now reach people on the other side of the globe. But, herein lies a new hurdle – how to talk with the East when all they know is the West? This goes beyond language and culture. It requires businesses to learn about whole new platforms of communication and take themselves out of our ‘Western bubble’. If we wish to truly operate globally, then we need to understand the technological divide between East and West.

Why? Because, the journey to a destination starts long before a consumer packs their bag and leaves the house. The average trip will be researched and planned months in advance, with Google predicting some 400 interactions occurring within these stages. This presents a host of opportunities for tourism brands to connect with users in these ‘micro moments’, encouraging people to progress through the typical stages within a search journey for travel – researching to planning to booking to experiencing. This means that having a joined up digital strategy is key, ensuring that both the means by which you capture people’s attention online (whether it be through organic search, PPC, social media, affiliates, blogger outreach or another medium) and your website itself are both optimised and user-friendly.

However, being user-friendly goes beyond providing a simple interface, it means having an understanding of your users’ needs and being able to facilitate this, whilst serving other related information, through the design and presentation of your content online. This takes research and UX design. Each landing page must support that visitor on their journey, encouraging them toward completing their ultimate goal in the most intuitive way possible.

In an increasingly competitive space, rural tourism brands are recognising that their landscape and their people are their number one asset. The conservation of both is, therefore, of the utmost importance to the longevity and prosperity of the sector. So, how do we balance the wish to drive more visitors to destinations and the need to preserve these destinations? We need to focus on encouraging responsible tourism. This is where working with the local people and destination marketing organisations (DMOs) comes in. Developing strong partnerships and networks of networks. And, technology can facilitate these links, enabling remote relationships to flourish and providing supporting resources. It can also be applied to develop educational resources that inform tourists and encourage a sense of shared responsibility.

It’s clear that tourism can work wonders when it comes to development in rural areas; both maintaining and enhancing economic activity whilst creating jobs, amongst other benefits. However, this can only be achieved if we continue to talk about smart, sustainable tourism that also engages the local population. Tech is allowing us to appeal to both new and responsible tourists; who actively care about the heritage and culture of the places they visit; people who want to experience the places.

Adapting to circumstances is a necessity. The first step to consider is the output we would need, then sourcing the tech that best suits our needs rather than technology dictating. Once we have established the output we want, we can then go on to design a product, upon which we can test the feasibility, and then build the solution and implement the technology.

David Johnstone is managing director at After Digital.

Andy Black

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