Treats, Trips and Tourists
Tourism is big business for Devon and Somerset, and as well as visitors from other regions, many of our residents stay close to home for adventure and days out. How is the tourism industry embracing online opportunities and how can we all make the best of our holidays and days out by going online? We spoke to some local experts to find out.
The tourism industry is vital to our region. Visitors spend money here supporting our shops and restaurants and return home with happy memories of time away from the stresses and strains of everyday life. However, the way we take holidays is changing. We are all familiar with the idea of staycations and daycations and this reflects an increasing tendency for many of us to stay close to home in our free time.
What shall we do today?
One of the first things many of us do when planning a day out or a holiday is to go online, searching for “days out in Devon” or “things to do in Somerset”; leading us to discover local attractions and places to visit that we may not have thought of. We can find out where to park, what to do, where to eat and what the weather will be like with a few clicks of the mouse and we can leave the house fairly confident that a good time will be had by all.
Almost without exception, tourist attractions and visitor destinations are seeing their online presence as crucial to attracting visitors. Rosie Bates, Economic Development Manager for Devon County Council agrees that this is vital. “Six or seven years ago, many smaller tourism businesses didn’t have a website but it’s now an essential part of the marketing and promotion of any business trying to attract visitors. From the smallest B&B to the larger visitor attractions, having a strong online presence can make a massive difference. Many businesses focus on driving customers to their websites which are their main source of information. The days of the brochure are disappearing fast for a lot of businesses.”
Online resources are also getting better. Good quality websites, particularly portals where several information sources or connected organisations can be accessed, are quickly bookmarked and people visit them again and again to research things to do. Devon County Council is one of a number of partners behind the Visit Devon website. Rosie explains how this is evolving to reflect the needs of today’s increasingly sophisticated web user. “Visit Devon is a great website for anyone planning a day trip or a longer stay in the region. It’s the first port of call to find out what’s happening in the area, look for accommodation or places to visit. We are currently improving the website to make it more user friendly and it’s a great way for us to promote our region. It also helps event organisers and tourist organisations reach as many people and potential customers as possible.”
John Carter, Economic Development Officer for Somerset County Council, confirms that online information now underpins much of the region’s tourist trade. “Customers have very high expectations of the information they are seeking online and businesses are reacting to this. Potential visitors want to be able to find good quality and up to date information with videos, photos and maps that indicate what their experience will be if they chose that location or venue. The Inspirational Map at visitsomerset.co.uk is a really popular feature. People research a holiday or day trip in the same way that they make online shopping purchases, examining details and reading reviews and they expect similar quality information to help them make their holiday decisions.”
Visitors also want to be able to access information while they are out and about. This might mean stopping for lunch or a coffee and checking a venue’s website from a smartphone, ideally through free wi-fi in a café or at their accommodation. Another challenge John highlights for businesses is that, “people are used to having information at their fingertips and want to be able to go online to find last minute details or even offers and incentives. Some websites are either not compatible with mobile devices or have complex tools that don’t work on smartphones and as such they are missing out. Venues with their own smartphone apps or mobile-friendly websites have a real advantage here.”
The flip side though, is that data roaming charges can mount up. So should tourist venues provide wi-fi for guests? John continues, “some people see wi-fi as essential, while others are happy to avoid email for a while. Ultimately, people want to make their own choice and having no broadband access in a venue can put people off.” Many venues find this a struggle to provide as limited capacity means their broadband can’t cope with guests. Thankfully, superfast broadband will have a major impact on this in the future.
Is it possible to save money by going online before we head out? Some larger tourist attractions offer discounted tickets if they are booked in advance online while other businesses offer different kinds of incentives. Rosie explains, “when the film War Horse was released last summer some venues were very creative at linking the region with the film in their marketing materials. I saw one accommodation provider offering visitors free cinema tickets to see the film while they were staying in the area. What a great incentive. This definitely helped make the business stand out from the crowd.”
John agrees that it’s all about adding value, “many venues offer creative benefits such as free tea and cake on arrival, or tailored local information such as cycle routes, walking tours or guides to local wildlife. Visitors are looking for a rounded experience that they can talk about when they get home and extras like this that enhance their experience will make a venue more appealing.”
How was your trip?
One area where opinion is divided is where online reviews are concerned. TripAdvisor and similar sites encourage visitors to update others on their experiences which can prove controversial.
Rosie offers the following advice, “people love going online and sharing their experiences, and that’s unlikely to change. Businesses need to engage with social media so that they know what’s being said about them and can interact directly with customers and potential visitors. While you can’t control what is said about you, a professional and thoughtful response can reassure others about your approach to problems and generate good will.”
Come again soon…
Underpinning all this online activity of course is the need for good broadband connections. Better broadband will help businesses monitor and engage with social media, while visitors will be able to access online content more easily. After all, what better way to share the joys of a day out in Devon and Somerset than through amazing photographs, videos and stories.
Don’t forget to upload those holiday snaps…!