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Wayfinding 103: Harnessing Mapping Technology

By Camille Leonard

Wayfinding 103: Harnessing Mapping Technology

Destinations should consider employing mapping technology to enhance the visitor experience beyond traditional wayfinding means. Read time: under 5 minutes

In our article, Wayfinding 101: Effective Signs Point to Love, we write about using traditional signage systems to enhance the tourism experience. These methods, tried and true, provide a high degree of control and offer a wide variety of opportunities to tell your community’s story. But as visitors increasingly rely on devices to plan, book AND navigate travel, traditional wayfinding methods and digital directions may not agree on routing. Your carefully crafted approach to leading tourists to the heart of the convention district could be waylaid by an algorithm that doesn’t know the shortest route goes right through an industrial area. Map sites and apps utilize GPS technology and more and more often real-time crowdsourced data to inform travelers of everything from traffic patterns to construction, but take no consideration of suggesting a more scenic route. And even though these convenient sites and apps provide information about amenities like restaurants and hotels, this amenity date is rarely complete or up to date. So how can a Destination Marketing Organization harness online mapping technology? Some measure of success can be achieved if a potential visitor is engaged and utilizing the DMO’s website to plan their trip and will continue to use it as their guide in market. Utilizing mapping technology to find the way to new destinations, attractions or any location is second nature to most travelers (and locals, depending on the size of your market). Many DMO websites employ mapping on the individual “business detail page” but often use only the most basic features. But if you want visitors to utilize your maps to navigate, at their most basic, the locations featured should link to a functioning page with a verified address and allow you to “get directions” or more.

Functionality Options

A functioning map is very helpful when navigating from point to point, but customization can help direct visitors in a way that showcases your destination. Opportunities to customize maps vary between mapping engines. The popular navigation tool Google Maps offers a long list of customizations from simply adding a place marker to creating a styled map with custom markers and a legend. Utilizing already developed styles layered on top of Google Maps’ technology (like Snazzy Maps) can deliver a map whose look supports your DMO brand personality, further engaging travelers who look to your destination marketing organization to be the leading expert on the area. Mapbox, an open source location data service, provides beautiful options for customizing maps. Its “What’s Nearby” features are powerful cross-promotion tools used to more fully educate and encourage a visitor to spend more time in one place. Mapbox also touts its ability to use data to recommend points of interest by time of day (coffee shop vs. neighborhood bar). The future includes AR capabilities for trip planning, like an app that recommends activities as a visitor pans their smartphone down the street. Your web development team can assist you with making the most effective user experience with the maps on your site and help determine if Snazzy Maps, MapBox or other customized mapping solutions might work best for you. The tools are there, and some of them might be an ideal fit for promoting the places in your community.

The Right Tool–the Right Fit

Understanding that community, area and member organization maps are powerful marketing tools will help you decide how to use them as a part of your marketing strategy. From a user experience standpoint, consider all of the direction services available in your mapping engine. Travel mode, Transit layer (Traffic, Transportation Route and Bike), or Street view (360) can be enabled if these options bring value to the visitor or enhance your destination’s brand. Use customized labeling of areas in your community by neighborhood and district if they aren’t included in the existing map data. Add a pin with a pop-up description of your visitor center location, so your guests know how quickly they can access your staff. Take a few minutes to look at Google’s sample offerings.

Curate Locations

As a Destination Marketing Organization, you could also consider promoting districts to create and curate experiences in your town. Label these neighborhoods and districts on maps embedded in your website. Customized mapping options allow developers to create a colored overlay to define a district. If your community is large enough, you might place area maps on secondary or even home pages featuring a series of color-coded districts. This can help a visitor understand proximity in your area. Think about famous neighborhoods in well-known tourism destinations—Broadway, Magnificent Mile and French Quarter. They add color and authenticity to their city. Creating an interactive map that links to or displays the facts and amenities about your city’s neighborhoods helps sell the visitor on planning a trip. In medium-sized markets, destination marketing teams can strategically highlight places known for an activity, such as Convention District, Arts Park and Eastside Shopping District, and guide visitors to areas of town where attractions most appealing to them are clustered. Use maps to capitalize on your charm. Staying on top of the newest technology for wayfinding methods is no easy task. Teams of experts strategize, create and code the devices and pages needed to successfully achieve much of what’s discussed in this article. But being well informed can help DMO leadership craft a plan that uses this technology to your advantage. Helping visitors navigate is a big part of giving them a favorable impression of your destination. Marketing Action Plans reveal the importance of wayfinding to positively influence current visitors. A mixture of traditional and innovative wayfinding strategies can ensure you reach potential visitors as they plan while en route and in market. Blending navigation and promotion could encourage extending stays or repeat visits. Make your stakeholders and locals partners in this effort—it’s a win-win for the community.