What is a good tourist website?

We think that user experience of tourist websites is very fascinating and evolving question. Several months ago we conducted independent research of tourist websites.

We analyzed user experience of four tourists websites in Finland. They were websites of such cities as Turku, Rauma, Naantali and Uusikaupunki. They are a part of one region and aimed to attract international tourists.

During this study we found out:

  • Every user makes his own research of the city and surrounding area before visiting
  • People rely the most on opinions of their friends and information that they find in the Internet

It means that city’s tourist website should be persuasive, informative and easy to explore.

We used different methods to examine the websites and give recommendations how to improve them:

Goal-directed analysis
This means analyzing the website from the prospect of its ability to reach users’ goals (not tasks, but some major goals that might go behind observed from the very beginning).

Heuristic evaluation based on usability guidelines by Jakob Nielsen
Some major usability guidelines from Jacob Nielsen were used to check researched websites on their correspondence to these guidelines. It appeared that though seemed obvious, these simple guidelines are hardly fully followed by those websites that were a part of this research.

Content analysis
It includes analysis of the content of the website, its organization and meaning in relation to users’ needs.

Expert opinions
Experts from both marketing an usability fields shared their experience and opinions about the researched websites.

Usability testing
We conducted usability testing in a laboratory. As usual, it appeared to be the most effective way to uncover problems that users had with the websites studied. Users were asked to accomplish a set of tasks and their opinions were gathered on a list of questions in order to highlight main problems that these websites brought to users.

We found some general problems for all the websites and also some problems that were specific for particular websites.

Main problems

The main problems were

  • Poor navigation
  • Bad presentation of information

Examples

Long multi-level drop-down lists in horizontal navigation Users made mistakes with choosing a particular section of the website.

Inappropriate sections’ names in navigation Users failed to understand what information they could get from these sections. As most of them said, because of this problem they would have to go through all of those sections in order to find what they need. It was inconvenient and frustrating for them.

In some cases not the main areas of the websites were included in main navigation. Users could not find information they need, because they thought that the website did not have it. However, it was present on the website, but not included in the main navigation.

Guidelines

Here are the guidelines for good tourist website:

Homepage shows real content such as events, popular museums and places to shop and eat

Navigation includes only those sections that are really important for users. For example, Food and Drink, Accommodation, Events, Attractions. There might be some sections that tell about some specific particularity of the region it is famous for.

There is additional beneficial information how to get to the city and how to get around weather useful tips for tourists

Pages have photos, prices, short descriptions.

Make it sociable

Social media elements enrich user experience in tourism. If users can share, rank and comment on the website, it is more engaging and pleasant for them to use it.

Lastly, rich content applications with the elements of social media could be integrated into the website in order to improve its user experience and boost users’ satisfaction. One of examples of these applications might be an application that allows users to browse through the most highly recommended places to visit in the city, choose some of them and make the customized map that could be bought in a paper version or downloaded to users’ mobile phones.

There are few examples of tourist websites that partially follow the guidelines mentioned above. Some of them are Stockholm’s official visitors guide or official Seoul city tourist website.