Guest Article and Video

Charlotte Moore, Digital Project Manager, RTO4

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Whenever I do a presentation on digital transformation in the tourism industry, I always start by asking those in attendance, “How do you travel?” 

I’ll ask the same of you. Think for a moment like a visitor. How do you dream about where to go? How do you discover what to do? And where do you share all of your amazing and not-so-amazing travel experiences? 

No matter your replies, I can guarantee you thought about at least one digital application: Instagram, Google, Tripadvisor, or a blog post. Visitors navigate many different digital applications throughout their travel journey, and because of this, highly successful destinations are those whose stories are widely told.

When we talk about digital technology, if there’s one constant — it’s change. The digital climate constantly evolves, and destinations meet visitors where they dwell, which is online. Truly progressive destinations will recognize the need to be excellent at digital.

Expectations online are high. No one wants to wait for that slow website to load, to follow a broken link, or to share a blurry photo. Before a visitor even lands in the destination, they have directly or indirectly interacted with the destination’s stakeholder network, be it the small vegan restaurant they’ve earmarked to visit and now follow on Instagram, the reviews they read on Google about the boutique hotel they booked, or the website experience of the vineyard rated in the ‘top 10 things to do’ on Tripadvisor. The visitor's online experience is directly impacted by the level of digital excellence a destination and its network has.

Ugh … That Bowling Alley Closed How Long Ago? 

This reminds me of one particular top-things-to-do list on Tripadvisor where the number one thing to do in the destination was a bowling alley that was no longer in operation and had been closed for several years. From a visitor's perspective, I’d perceive this to mean that there was nothing to do in this destination, but as someone who works in digital within the tourism industry, I see this sort of thing often. The question is, who’s responsible for ensuring such information is updated? I’d argue that this ultimately harms the online reputation of the destination and should be part of the core responsibilities of the destination organization through improving the overall digital hygiene. 

Now you might be thinking, okay, I’ve worked with our stakeholders to fix the slow websites, the broken links, the blurry photos, AND the no-longer-in-operation bowling alley listings — now what? Remember, digital is constantly changing and evolving, so digital maintenance is an ‘always on’ issue. Beyond that, engaging your network through digital excellence not only fixes the digital hygiene needs of your destination but allows your network to understand their individual roles in the tourism landscape of their community. 

Incremental Digital Gains Lead to Outsized Success

Elora Fergus is a beautiful village perched on top of a soaring gorge in Ontario, Canada.The destination is a case study of how the online presence didn’t match the strong in-market tourism experience and could benefit from better alignment.

Here’s an example of how one business stepped forward with its digital transformation. Working with the destination on a digital excellence program, One Axe Pursuits spent time improving its digital presence and skillset. Through this process, the adventure attraction made incremental digital fixes that ultimately accumulated to the investment of a new website and booking system, an improved organic SEO presence, and the adoption of new social media platforms. Moreover, One Axe Pursuits used knowledge gained through understanding basic analytics to expand its business offerings. 

What happened next showed how starting granular can lead to big things. They began to regularly collaborate with other tourism operators in their community, were featured in several large media campaigns through Destination Ontario, and began to garner national earned media. All of this was made possible not only because they improved their digital outputs and strategy but because, through this process, they began to understand their role as an empowered tourism operator within their community and see new possibilities for connecting with the visitor. 

The tourism industry is experiencing a shift away from tourism acting as an island and towards highly engaged communities taking an active role in their collective tourism future. It’s no different when it comes to digital. If we improve the digital presence of the collective stakeholders of the destination, the overall digital presence of the destination improves. If we empower the destination’s stakeholders to increase their digital skillset, the overall visitor experience of the destination improves. And finally, if we engage the stakeholders of a destination in a meaningful way, the stakeholder becomes the champion of tourism in our communities.

As an industry, we can create positive changes for the many ecosystems that make up our destinations, and digital is an integral part of this. After all, it's worth repeating that a rising tide floats all boats.