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In the Economic Downturn Destination Websites Become Even More Important -
Interview with Shelli Johnson, Chief Strategist, Yellowstone International
and NationalParktrips.com

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April 17, 2009 - YellowstonePark.com – designed to inspire people to choose the Yellowstone region as a vacation destination – has been voted the world’s No 1 tourism site, with 4 million page views, and 2 million unique visits annually. Among other things, visitors to the site spend about 14 minutes exploring the site's “trip notes”. Not bad for a niche business operating out on what is still considered the Frontier …so what can other travel websites learn from them?

In a recent interview with EyeforTravel, Shelli Johnson, Chief Strategist, Yellowstone International and NationalParktrips.com, explained how they have created an inspirational website, based around customer needs and fully utilizing web 2.0 technologies.  Shelli Johnson will be speaking on this topic at EyeforTravel’s Online Marketing Strategies for Travel conference (June 3-4, Miami) http://events.eyefortravel.com/online-marketing 

“Our strategy is to inspire. We were an early adaptor of web 2.0, but now we see so many websites that look the same, and that’s one of the downsides of web 2.0.  Many destination sites do not do a great job of inspiring the traveler. “Our goal is to implement web 2.0 using best practices and focusing on search engine friendliness, while at the same time truly inspiring our website customers to choose our destination. We want our website to effectively convert website visitors into actual Yellowstone (and National Park) area visitors."

Johnson said that YellowstonePark.com serves two audiences. "What we call the Decideds and Undecideds. The Decideds are those who have already decided on our destination and look to us for information from which to plan their trip. The Undecideds still haven't determined there vacation destination. Will it be California? Colorado? Or Yellowstone? Our strategy is to persuade this group to choose Yellowstone. We aim to do this by inspiring them right from the get-go, with stunning design and imagery, in addition to great content."

A destination's website is a reflection of the destination itself, said Shelli, and this is why the destination's website is such a critical component. 

At Social Media Strategies for Travel (a previous EyeforTravel conference held in March) one of the tips offered by the speakers was to utilize passionate individuals within the company to promote your social media strategy.  Scott Gatz, CEO of GayCities.com, referred to them as “passion-centric communities”.  

Johnson agrees that social media implementation is often best utilized by people who have a genuine passion for the subject, like the people who run Yellowstonepark.com.  “One of our ‘secret sauces’ is that we are passionate about Yellowstone Park – it is not just a job. 

The people who run YellowstonePark.com (and its new sister national park sites) live and play in these regions, and have real a passion for the place. 

Travel companies, from all sectors, should be leveraging their employees' passions for wine/shopping/theater/skiing etc, in their favor in social media and word of mouth.

Shelli said, “People who contribute to social media are your ambassadors; they are the proponents of your business. So it only makes sense that if a business employs people who are truly passionate about what they're promoting, the business will benefit when its employees use social media. The posts on Facebook will be authentic and not forced. Tweets on Twitter will be more compelling and convincing," she said. Their efforts to promote your business or destination can then extend beyond the work day and job description.

When Shelli was asked how they developed their web strategy she explained that their first step was surveying thousands of their customers – people who are currently planning a Yellowstone trip. “We asked our customers several questions, learned what they told us, and then built our website's information architecture, and user experience, based on what your customers told us they wanted and needed in order to plan a Yellowstone trip.” she added,  “The surveys gave us additional confidence that we were building a site that would be successful and meet the needs of our customers.  For example 98% of people revealed that maps and itineraries was the most preferred type of information. We wouldn’t have put as much emphasis and promotion for Maps on our home page had we not had this compelling feedback from our customers."  In addition to visitor trip notes, videos, maps and planning tools, the website also contains more than 50 podcasts.  

Shelli explained that social media becomes increasingly important during a time when travel companies are faced with lower demand and less customer spend.  

“We, as people throughout the world, have always placed a tremendous value on our vacations. We view our vacations as an entitlement, something we've earned. So it has to be special. It cannot be a mediocre experience. In today’s economic climate, the value and expectations people are placing on their vacations are even higher. This means destinations need to step up their efforts when it comes to inspiring and persuading people to visit their region."

Yellowstonepark.com has also won numerous website awards. In 2005 they won the Webby Award People's Voice for #1 Tourism Site in the World and The Web Marketing Association Award for Best Travel Site.  They were the Interactive Media Award Winner for “Best in Class: Travel” in 2006 and won the RealAdventures.com 5 star top rating for Travel in 2007.  Also in 2007, YellowstonePark.com won both the Webby Award's People's Voice, as well as the critical award in the Tourism category. 

Building on the success of YellowstonePark.com, Shelli and her team are currently expanding and developing websites for Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain and Zion national parks.

Shelli Johnson, Chief Strategist, Yellowstone International and Nationalparktrips.com will giving a keynote presentation on “Creating the Ultimate Website” at EyeforTravel’s Online Marketing in Travel for Strategies conference being held on June 3-4 in Miami.  For more information visit: http://events.eyefortravel.com/online-marketing 


 
Contact:

Helen Raff 
VP North America 
EyeforTravel 
+44 (0) 207 375 7582 
helen@eyefortravel.com
 

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