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Monday, May 18, 2009

12 Tips for Designing a Successful Vacation Destination Website

By Robert D. Thomson

For the purposes of this article, we will assume that you know how to get your domain registered, how to upload your site to the server and have someone (even if it's your alter ego) who can put the site together with sufficient tech savvy-ness and a little artistic flair.

The tips, then, are not about Flash or Cascading Style Sheets, but about positioning, servicing customers and building the all-important relationships that form the heart of every business. Again, there are many more than this dozen, but you can get a pretty good start with these 12 tips for designing a successful vacation destination website:

Tip #1, Navigation Options: If you are in the business of getting people to "dream spots" around the world, you obviously need to be an expert at navigation. In this case, however, it's navigating your website and not the seven seas that is the first challenge. Clear, simple navigation schemes are a must.

Tip #2, No Media Barrage: Except for some short video clips of a few highlighted destinations, it is wise to keep the animated entertainment to a minimum. Not only will you keep the focus on the destinations, you will keep the pages loading faster, a major concern for web surfers even in this "broadband" era.

Tip #3, Quick Answers: Your site should have a search function to make navigating to the desired information as fast as possible. Also make a general FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) list, and as many specialized ones as necessary, making sure the former is available from everywhere and the latter are available where needed.

Tip #4, Be a Problem Solver: Using your experience in the business, you should be able to anticipate the nature of the problems people will have vis-a-vis travel, from packing and planning to jet lag and diarrhea. Be quick, clear and accurate with your suggested solutions.

Tip #5, Trustworthy Source: Again, the tone and style of your site copy is important in creating trust and making your visitors comfortable enough to become customers. Having original "how to" articles on your site will also build your reputation for trust and expertise.

Tip #6, Trustworthy Links: The links that you make available at your site say a lot about you and your business. You certainly do not want to link to competitors, but it is a good idea to list various government agencies (regarding passports, visas, etc.), consumer protection sites and sources of great deals on luggage, clothes and so on.

Tip #7, Sign 'Em Up: Don't let the visitor leave your site without a great, valuable, informative and/or money-saving gift. It's a free one, too – a subscription to your biweekly or monthly "dream destination" newsletter. You can give the latest info on money-saving travel, great resort deals, package discounts and plenty of travel tales from around the globe. You will also be able to ask for referrals to send out the "e-newsletter" to a recipient's friends, family and coworkers.

Tip #8, Testimonials: Have some testimonials from satisfied customers. Another good testimonial would be from a resort or famous hotel, lauding your firm for the way it takes care of its customers or handles its affairs in general.

Tip #9, Be a Leader: Use the shapes, colors, copy, links, buttons and other components of your website to lead visitors the way that you want them to go. There is a whole new scientific discipline growing up around how to "make" people do what you would like them to do at your website, although there are varying degrees of success, of course. Still, as this knowledge is refined, you should use it where you can.

Tip #10, Identify Core Customers: This is a challenge at all times for all businesses. To the degree that you can add to your customer profile and understand the different kinds of people that you attract and satisfy, you may find that the small refinements to your website will have disproportionately positive affects.

Tip #11, Tailor the Messages: Tied in with several other tips (particularly about navigation and leading the visitor, Tips #1 and #9), this one advises you to change the tone and goals of your copy you identify customers' needs and move them in the appropriate directions. Tailoring the copy and massaging the messages are standard undertakings in many web marketing/sales strategies.

Tip #12, Build Relationships: Actually, this could be listed as Goal #1, too, since relationships are key in any business. People really do buy from other people, not nameless monoliths with a logo. Building relationships means building business, period.

You are never "finished" with anything in any business. Products change, services change, technologies change and, most of all, people change. The best you can hope to do is stay abreast of all the many changes, and that takes a lot of work. As you have to do in every other area of life, make sure to define your goals clearly, take a step-by-step approach and keep your fingers crossed. Success is overwhelmingly about working hard, of course, but a little luck can't hurt.

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