The travel Web sites development program demonstrates the increased value of the Web to the travel/tourism industry. This program provides a model for successful Internet marketing and demonstrates how the Web can be used as a business tool. Amelia Island’s three sites offer travel enthusiasts the opportunity to access information on Amelia Island with ease, and the opportunity to plan their vacation online, saving them time and energy. In addition, each site targets a different travel niche and addresses every group’s needs in depth.
SITUATION ANALYSIS AND OPPORTUNITY
The Amelia Island Tourist Development Council (TDC) is made up of many retail shops, recreational outfitters, restaurants and lodgings. In 1998, St. John & Partners developed and launched www.ameliaisland.org, the Council’s flagship Web site, to help promote the island as a tourist destination. In late 1999, St. John & Partners came to the Council offering an option for a stronger Web presence, hoping that it would spur more island tourism traffic and, in turn, tourism dollars for businesses. St. John & Partners proposed developing two new Web sites targeting more specialized groups, one for Eco-tourists and one for journalists. In addition, St. JOHn & Partners recommended re-designing the flagship site to strengthen the Council’s current Web presence. Before the Internet’s rise in popularity, the Amelia Island TDC was consistently effective in promoting itself as an upscale, off the beaten path Florida destination through traditional offline media. Its flagship Web site, targeted to the general public, did a good job of informing visitors who were searching for initial information on the net; nevertheless, the number of travelers seeking destination information via the Internet was rising and the Council thought it was losing opportunities to reach potential visitors. Each of the two new sites would attempt to reach these potential new visitors by targeting their travel niches more effectively.
To reach Eco-tourists and travel journalists more effectively through online communications
To enhance awareness of Amelia Island among Eco-tourists and journalists
To increase tourism traffic to the island
The cornerstone of the program was to promote Amelia’s diversity while maintaining the island’s identity as an upscale destination. Unlike many other well-known Florida destinations, Amelia Island does not have theme parks, roller coaster rides and miles of outlet malls. Amelia Island is a unique Florida destination, with miles of unspoiled, Appalachian quartz beaches, 400 years of history, picturesque natural surroundings and wildlife, plus modern, luxury accommodations all captured in one very distinctive setting.
Although the Council already had one Web site, it felt it could increase interest in the island by showcasing its diversity and targeting specific types of potential visitors. The Council agreed with St. John & Partners that one site should focus on the natural surroundings of the island, and one should focus on journalists seeking information about the island. By targeting nature enthusiasts and soft adventure seekers, the agency felt it could reach a wider base of potential visitors. By targeting journalists with a site specifically designed for them, the agency thought it could garner more media attention, which would draw more attention to Amelia. Finally, by re-designing the flagship Web site, the agency planned to keep the attention of repeat visitors with cutting-edge technology, by giving them new and unique ways to learn more, and then leading them to additional information by including links to the island’s other sites.
The nature site, www.amelianature.com, emerged to personify the island’s natural setting and to appeal to Eco-tourists. The site exemplifies the many activities that allow visitors to interact with nature on the island including kayaking, fishing, birdwatching, hiking, and biking. Each portion of the site – land, sea, and air – is accompanied by the soft sounds of nature that envelop visitors during their visit to Amelia, from crickets chirping, to water flowing and birds singing.
The nature site was recently awarded Standard of Excellence honors at the 2000 WebAwards, presented by the Web Marketing Association, for its rich graphics, animation techniques, and use of audio.
The media site, www.ameliamedia.com, was designed to offer journalists quick and easy access to information about Amelia Island without ever having to place a phone call. It gives journalists access to more in-depth island information, including access to high-resolution image files (PC or Mac format), press trip information, an extensive island overview, feature topic information and an extended calendar of events. In addition, the site is secure; requiring a log in password to download photo files and captions, thus allowing better control of copyrighted images. However, visitors can view the site without providing log in information by using a special “browse the site” hyperlink.
The final task was to update the flagship Web site, www.ameliaisland.org. The original site provided valuable information, but the technology and presentation of information was outdated. The re-design was an opportunity to give an innovative, new look to the site while giving both repeat and new visitors a broad overview of the island’s activities and history. Navigation is simple, allowing visitors to move through the site easily. A drop-down activity list lets visitors select a certain type of activity and jump directly to information on that activity, streamlining the search process. Headlines on the front page of the site can be added to reflect special travel discounts, highlight upcoming events and festivals, or to provide important news information, such as hazardous weather conditions. In addition, the visitor information page allows individuals to request more information on a topic, or ask simple questions with a few clicks of the mouse. By providing certain information, such as name, address, e-mail address and areas of interest, one can also request a complete visitor’s guide, or request to receive a quarterly e-newsletter, detailing current island activities and upcoming events. The Council can then use the information to provide visitors with new and useful information about the island throughout the year, keeping Amelia top of mind. Finally, the site offers links to the Council’s two additional Web sites, allowing visitors easy access to more island information.
St. John & Partners launched all three sites during 2000. Media relations support aided each launch, and press releases were drafted and distributed to local and regional media, travel and trade media, online media, as well as online travel Web sites. The releases were also included in press kits distributed during targeted media missions and travel agent marketing missions. Banner ad placements on key travel Web sites, such as about.com and expedia.com; and ad placements in targeted publications, such as Expedia Travels magazine and Travel & Leisure magazine, also helped drive additional traffic to all three sites.
The trio of Web sites has taken the Amelia Island TDC to the next level of online communication. By creating two targeted sites to complement the flagship Web site, we created a total Web system of information for those searching for details about Amelia Island. The sites offer quick answers to common visitor questions, allow individuals to research the destination immediately, and decrease headaches and delays while waiting for information to be mailed. Moreover, the sites are reaching the target audiences and page views are increasing each month. Amelia Island has been highlighted as an Eco-tourist's paradise (ecotourism.about.com), and outdoor adventure companies are seeing an increase in business. Journalists are turning to the site on a regular basis to obtain valuable island information and to download images. Additionally, island bed tax revenues are soaring, existing businesses are experiencing increased traffic and profits, and new businesses are moving in.