Tourism website design in 7 steps: How we made Slovenia shine

A case study of Slovenian official tourism website

According to Google more than 65 % of leisure travelers begin researching online before they decide where or how they want to travel. What is the role of a destination website in their decision-making process? With a myriad of online resources the travelers can access, does investing in a tourism website make sense? And if yes, how to make it effective?

In the visitor’s mind, a tourism website acts as a destination’s digital personality. This virtual travel experience becomes the closest representation of what the “real thing” may feel like, something that social media can’t deliver. After checking what previous visitors have to say about the destination, eventually, every traveler becomes curious about what the destination has to say about itself. This is a great opportunity for a destination brand to smile and say “Hi, this is me!” and start building an emotional relationship with a potential visitor. This first impression profoundly impacts how the visitors perceive the destination’s brand - whether right or not.

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The case of Slovenia

It was exactly for these reasons that the Slovenian Tourism board recently concluded that their website needed a makeover. The current site was outdated, with lots of banner ads, generic descriptions, and superficial information. It was clearly unable to compete with well-established destinations and larger countries (with much larger budgets), many of whom have just recently updated their user experience.

The Slovenian Tourism Board wanted a content-first, mobile-first tourism website design, aligned with the latest trends in destination marketing. They wanted a pulling mechanism that will attract, persuade, and speak to the hearts of modern visitors.

And they wanted it in six months.

After they had thoroughly worked out the goals of the future website, they invited web agencies to come up with their best ideas.

Creatim seldom takes part in open contests. Without having a chance to discuss the business context with the client, the participating contenders are often left with vague project descriptions that provide little insight into the real user problems. Without clear requirements, such contests are closer to a raffle than to a serious approach to solution design.

This time, it was different.

The Slovenian Tourist Board had set firm project goals. They presented all the participating agencies with the basic site structure, corporate identity guidelines, user personas elaborate, old site fit-gap analysis, and various market insights.

We had a clear picture of what we were expected to bring about.

The challenge was simply a perfect fit for Creatim. It required just the right mixture of user experience, visual design, and implementation expertise that enable us to show all our muscles.

The competition selection board was most impressed by Creatim’s solution.

How did we win? True, our designers and the UX team did a great job. But the point is, you have to do many things right in order to carve out an effective destination website. Here is the list of the 5 most important objectives and how we approached them:

Our idea presentation for the competition selection board

1. Set clear goals

As mentioned above, before addressing the project, the Slovenian Tourist Board (STB) had set a clear picture of what they want to achieve.

There was a clear focus on six foreign markets. The main goal was to inspire the future visitors and ignite their desire to visit Slovenia. The website did not aim to directly sell tourist products. Rather, it should encourage visitors to proceed to partner sites in order to make reservations.

Creatim further dissected these inputs into the user’s life-, experience- and end-goals. On this basis, our user experience team started to work on user scenarios, adjusting and fine-tuning our initial proposal. In the meantime, the technical team laid out the site’s architecture to meet the performance, scalability, and security targets.

2. Make it attractive

According to research, a website has 7 seconds to engage a visitor. To do so, you have to employ an eye-catching design, impactful headlines, and a benefit-oriented copy. In case of the website slovenia.info, the copy was provided by the STB team while Creatim was in charge of the visual part of the equation.

Slovenia has something to show, so the images were a clear focal point of the design concept. We combined large, high-quality photos with the user-generated ones so as not to lose the authenticity dimension.

On the other hand, leveraging big pictures and social media is not nearly enough to reach a visual differentiation. All modern tourism websites do that. So we employed the visual principles of the Slovenian tourist brand “I Feel Slovenia” to reach the site’s distinctive visual identity, making it easy to memorize even for non-frequent visitors.

3. Make it usable

EASY TO NAVIGATE

Rule No. 1: Keep it simple. Creatim’s designers used modular design, flat architecture, and streamlined navigation to make researching the site a pleasant experience. Users can land at the content of their interest in no more than 3 clicks.

Alternatively, they can research points of interest directly on the country’s map and filter them according to their preferences. They can simply click on an icon on the map to discover highlights, general information, and related comments on social media.

Many users do not visit the site frequently, so we aimed for zero learning time. They should always have a clear picture of where they are on the site and what’s behind the link they are going to click next.

MOBILE FIRST

Mobile is key to travel inspiration. Sixty-nine percent of leisure travelers with smartphones research on their phones during spare moments. According to BookingSuite, 60% of all travel destination searches come from mobile. And this is exactly where most user experience challenges crop up. One typical example is points of interest on the country map. Even if there are not many, on the mobile phone, the map may quickly become crowded, making it hard for users to click the right POI with the finger. The priority-based algorithm behind the zoom feature promptly removes less important POIs to make the remaining ones clickable as the user zooms out.

SEARCH

While first-time visitors are likely to use standard navigation, returning users can opt for the search feature to skip the clicks and jump to their preferred landing page directly. This is even more true on mobile devices where clicking through the classical navigation (while driving on a bumpy road, for example) can be pretty annoying. The search engine must be smart enough to search for and present results in the user’s language only, even if the input is a name of a place that is the same in various languages.

HELPFUL TOOLS

Exciting as it may seem, vacation planning can be a chore. One way to make it less stressful is to provide the users with useful tooling to help them explore, compare, and save the favored content. On slovenia.info, users can save their favorite things to do and see by simply clicking a heart icon and then retrieving those saved experiences by clicking on that icon at the top of every page.

4. Make it social

This interesting infographic from Internet Marketing Inc. shows how user-generated content creates a social ripple effect.

Slovenian tourism already has a strong social presence. It features vivid communities of friends and followers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and elsewhere. It is only natural to invite them to visit the Slovenian tourism website to share and like the topics of their interest.

Every page on slovenia.info is equipped with social media buttons. A click on each button will enable the user to share the content with the specific social media outlet and vice versa: STB social media editors frequently showcase user-generated picture and video content on slovenia.info. Integrations with trustful third party services like TripAdvisor drive traffic to the site, create social proof, and promote the partners at the same time.

Credo CMS

5. Make it a hub

To be conceived of as a vivid, value-added place, a tourism website has to provide accurate and up-to-date information, provided by various stakeholders and information sources. If we wanted to bolster the information exchange between the STB and its local partners, we had to make the new tourism website a digital heart of this cooperation.

We knew the business partners would use the site’s business tooling only if it provides value-added content, requires no learning, and conducts relevant information that is easily accessible.

After our UX team had carved out the applicable user scenarios, we leveraged Content Management Framework Credo to build all the necessary system components. The processes were partly highly customized, so off-the-shelf products were out of the question.

While the public face of tourism website is all about enticing and attracting, on the flip side, there is a working horse we dubbed Credo Explorer CMS. It sustains various business-user operations to keep the content up-to-date. It enables them to register, upload and manage their offerings and link to the content that is relevant for their businesses.

The system also links to the various social media platforms, feeds marketing campaigns, and provides analytical insights.

Rich media content is managed through Media Library, a powerful content repository used by photographers and video makers. They can upload their work to be consumed by STB and its business partners.

For an increasing number of tour operators, service providers, local destination partners, and media, the slovenia.info website has become a part of their business routine.

Credo CMS

6. Make it work

As the saying goes, “The design is only as good as its execution." Choosing the right framework, and above all, the right people on the agency as well as on the client side are crucial elements of successful tourism website implementation.

IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO

In effective tourism websites, the technical aspects and content-related features are closely intertwined. You cannot have a good design and neglect the content, the users’ behavioral patterns, and the technical framework of your future website. Similarly, there’s no use in creating elaborate code if the content is out of place. It all has to function as a whole.

To build such solution in just six months can be a daunting task. At first, we consoled ourselves it was just a Minimal Viable Product that we had to deliver.

But then, we took a closer look.

Once we laid out a central plan with all the dependencies across the portfolio of components and integrations, it became obvious the project was not that minimal at all.

OK, we knew it was coming, and we prepared accordingly. But at the beginning of a project, there are always uncertainties and dependencies that are beyond control. Missing content. Poorly defined processes. Insufficient specification. Misunderstandings. Regardless of the planning efforts, things never take the ideal path. After all, that was the reason for introducing agile development, wasn’t it?

Nevertheless, we still managed to deliver the solution on time. How?

Sure, our guys did a great job as they always do. But the crux was in the project management.

Early in the project, the cooperation was conducted according to JAD (Joint Application Development) principles. There was no specification, just the guidelines. The absence of detailed documentation was actually a good thing. It encouraged creativity and prompt decision-making in close cooperation between STB and Creatim. I consider purposeful and transparent communication between both parties in all project stages a major factor of project success.

From the STB side, the project was conducted by an assertive project owner who had a clear understanding of priorities and was willing to compromise on some less important functional or technical requirements that could otherwise defer the development or even put the delivery at risk.

As the project moved to the development phase, the work process became more structured and controlled in accordance with our standard project guidelines. In each iteration project status, quality checks and risk assessments were performed to reduce the risk for late introduction of defects. Intensive cooperation between the client and Creatim’s UX, DevOps, and testing teams reduced the development clutter and enabled us to deliver the solution on time.

KEY SYSTEM COMPONENTS

Credo Explorer

The tourism website www.slovenia.info is built on a Credo, a Content management platform based on Symfony full-stack framework. It is designed to build and run multi-language applications and websites. Its high-level architecture is to be fine-tuned or custom-coded later in the process. Without such platform, it would be impossible to build a site at this level of complexity in the given timeframe. By leveraging Credo, our developers saved time, which enabled them to focus on custom-crafted components and to test their code extensively.

Master Catalogue

Credo’s Master catalog is a repository that contains all the content templates (maps, galleries, ads, interfaces, etc.), making it easy for front end developers or even business users to combine them into new experiences and promotional tactics.

STO Business Site

The single sign-on (SSO) service allows business users to create STB Business accounts as well as to sign up for events, use the Media Library, and upload promotional content.

Media Library

Since the client did not find a suitable product on the market, Creatim developed a custom-tailored web application for managing media files (photos, video and audio clips, documents). Through its scalable architecture, Media Library can manage large amounts of content. It provides business users with a comprehensive overview, advanced editing tools, and the automatic file processing to serve the media and the tourism industry.

Integrations

Integration with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform provides valuable data for STB to target travelers with relevant content, learn which partners provide the best return on investment, and leverage the site as a testbed for online.

In addition to CRM, the site is integrated with various third party value-added services such as the Slovenian Environment Agency, TripAdvisor various Social media and analytics, to name a few.

Quality Assurance

In Creatim, quality is not owned by a particular person or a testing team. It is a philosophy that is embodied in every phase of development. Developers are responsible for the quality of their work, so they code with testing in mind.

As we built slovenia.info, the results of every iteration were re-checked by testers to avoid unpleasant surprises later in the project when the system test was carried out.

Before deployment, the STB team conducted user acceptance testing on a limited number of real users. Creatim supported the process, fixing bugs and removing minor incongruities. No major issues were reported. After four weeks of testing, the project got a green light to go live.

Team working hard

7. Make it better

The launch of a tourism website is not an end; it is a beginning. Usually, the initial version is not perfect. Of course it has to work seamlessly when you launch it, as not to provoke discontent among the users and imply a bad picture of the destination it represents. But it helps to know that the end result is not carved in stone.

Welcome to the world of continuous optimization.

It means all stakeholders must embrace the philosophy of change. The users expect some fresh content every time they visit the page anyway. Hence the most important component of the initial build should be a flexible and scalable content framework that can handle all future modifications.

Now that the website slovenia.info is up and running, we can focus on searching for the obstacles in the user flows. We build optimization strategies around them and act upon them. Many optimization tasks are performed directly by the STB operational team, as the powerful CMS tooling does not require any technical expertise. Leveraging user data, STB editors can quickly distill the content that provides the best return on investment and use the site as a scaffold for larger marketing initiatives.

Conclusion

The tourism destination website typically involves many stakeholders and pursues many goals. You can’t excel in all of them; some prioritization in the process is inevitable. Nevertheless, in every stage of the project, you must make sure not to lose the big picture and user-centric character of the final solution as you tune your tourism website with these guidelines. Just remember to:

  1. Set clear goals
  2. Make it attractive
  3. Make it usable
  4. Make it social
  5. Make it a hub
  6. Make it work
  7. Make it better

In the development process, it is vital to see beyond the initial delivery. Focus on carving out a strong, flexible technical foundation that will make your tourism website capable of coping with ever-changing user expectations way beyond the MVP phase. Sure you need expert developers. But even more importantly, you need a thorough project management and goal-oriented mindset on the agency as well as on the client side.

To wrap up, the most decisive factors behind the successful implementation of the website slovenia.info were:

  • The client’s proactivity, teamwork, and the pursuit of a common goal
  • A capable, creative team
  • An experienced technical team

In the end, it is not the technology; it is the people who deliver.

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