Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Digital Tourists

We may have limped out of the World Cup, but like most of the £100k a week so called players, many of us will now be looking forward to our holidays. We are lucky in this part of the UK to be so close to some fantastic places to stay, visit and enjoy. Tourism is vital to the East Anglian economy, for example in Great Yarmouth the local council estimates the value to its economy to be £480m and it sustains 30% of the local workforce.

So while the sun lasts I thought it would be interesting to see how some local tourist attractions and businesses are using new digital marketing techniques to grow their own businesses.

A good example of this is Centre Parcs, which has its Elevedon Forest Village destination at Thetford, and now uses the internet as a fundamental tool to grow its visitor numbers. Centre Parcs uses a range of digital marketing techniques to attract both new and returning visitors. As well as Google PPC and an ongoing programme of search optimisation, Centre Parcs now use innovative digital display advertising to drive people to its website. Interestingly these ads are not just placed on the major portals but also on more targeted sites such as Mumsnet.

They also have an extensive email CRM program which starts from 16 weeks before your visit to welcome you and encourage you to book activities. This forms part of an ongoing communication both before the holiday, giving information about your stay, and after the holiday, with newsletters and offers encouraging you to come back again. According to Jo Button, Centre Parcs e-commerce marketing manager, 4 years ago 30% of all bookings were done via its website, this has now grown to around 70% showing the effectiveness of what they have been doing.

Another local holiday village company, Richardon’s, have also seen the benefit of increasing its online activity. They worked with Norwich based search marketing agency Further who re-designed its site and concentrated on improving its search rankings. This has seen 75% of all visitors now come from search engines and a strong growth in bookings.

An example of an attraction using digital marketing effectively comes in the form of the BeWILDerwood adventure park which links with tourism websites including Visit Norwich, Visit Norfolk and Visit East of England as well as national family and days out sites. Jo Artherton from BeWILDerwood said “We consider online activity a really important part of our marketing strategy and referrals from these sites alone account for a substantial 21% of the traffic coming to our website”.

It is clear that our local tourist industry is becoming more digitally focussed and indeed now more reliant on digital marketing techniques as tools to grow business and visitors. So much so that this years EDP Norfolk Tourism Awards will for the first time include a new category “Most effective use of online marketing”.

It is great to see an industry so important to the East Anglian economy embrace and indeed benefit from a well thought out and well implemented game plan. Shame our footballers could not have learnt some lessons from them.

Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing for Archant