In the age of digital everything—communication, online search ranking, geo-targeted remarketing, mobile marketing, responsive websites, dedicated apps, and social media—Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) with a rich online presence are increasingly questioning the need for printed material - we hear more and more often; “Is our printed Visitor Guide still viable?” Slow down. In 2014, the results of a study conducted by Destination Analysts, Inc. delved into the habits and demographics of potential visitors who request or pick up these publications. One major takeaway from this study was that "nearly 70% of (non-local) DMO visitor guide users take at least one trip to the destination after receiving the guide."
And in the July 2015, Volume 18 edition of The State of the American Traveler, research revealed that over 50% of U.S travelers consult printed material while making their travel decisions and led analysts to conclude that: "Long-established planning tools like travel magazines and newspapers, brick and mortar travel agents and even DMO websites continue to be more evenly used between the generations."
Based on these findings, devoting some of your marketing budget to creating a well-designed, attractive publication can result in a good return on your investment. But how can you ensure that your destination’s visitor guide is most effective? Whether your destination is a small lakeside hamlet or a shopping mecca, these tactics will help your marketing team craft a charming, informative and persuasive tool.
So what are the components of an Effective Printed Visitor Guide?
Choose Compelling Cover Imagery
Select imagery that is visually interesting, supports your brand and conveys a sense of place. This image sets the tone for the interior of the publication, so image quality is important. This is the most memorable impression you’ll make, and your aim is to evoke an emotional response. A skyline or shoreline isn’t always the answer. Move in closer to share a glimpse of what might attract visitors to your destination and remember to choose an image that allows for your masthead to be legible and dynamic.
Stamp selected images for this printed rental guide produced for Dunes Realty on the South Carolina coast to help the client communicate their sense of place.
Make Room for Storytelling
Based on industry trends and backed up by data from this study, articles in a Visitor Guide are deemed the most helpful content overall to readers. So invest in writing to weave your destination’s experiences into engaging stories that give a potential visitor a sense of the charm, adventure or beauty that your community offers. Consider interviewing historians, chefs, civil rights pioneers, sportsmen, and other local experts to talk about the assets you want to share. And according to this study, visitor guide readers stay an average of 1.9 days longer than visitors using other methods of planning, so additional pages will pay off in ROI.
Design a User-Friendly Map
Research has also revealed that printed maps are often another utilized resource for visitors planning their trips to cities small and large. They can provide quick and simple visual references to make decisions about where to stay and eat, what to do and see, transportation, etc. Creating maps that reflect your brand and have a custom look can communicate your desire to cater to your visitors.
Stamp produced this custom branded destination map handout for Tifton, GA
In terms of the type of content users actually access in DMO visitor guides, users primarily review information on attractions 72.7%, maps 66.4%, travel tips 55.3%, events 53.5% and dining 52.2%, as well as the guide’s articles and features 50.2%.
If your city is large enough, consider breaking maps into neighborhoods or districts. Create self-guided walking tours to enhance the visitor’s experience. This presents another opportunity to tell a story about your area authentically.
Think Creatively About Advertising
Research supports that visitor guide users find that advertisements are useful content—67.3% reported that ads helped during trip planning. However, from a design standpoint, planning to accommodate ads provided by attractions and local businesses who advertise can present a tricky puzzle to solve. A more engaging format could be a section of small advertorial spaces that describe the places, products or services in a more editorial fashion instead of fractional page display ads. Accompanied by a feature photo and the business detail information, this ad delivers the desired information but isn’t disruptive to the flow of the editorial content. These sections can precede the long listing format pages, like the accommodations grid, and have inviting titles like “The Rest of the Story” or something that supports your brand. This editorial strategy gives a more conversational tone to the content of your visitor guide. Potential visitors and visitors planning a trip are looking for recommendations and research shows they will actually read a printed guide, with 45% spending more than 45 minutes reading the guides and another 53% spending between 15 and 45 minutes. So don’t miss the opportunity to help them explore your offerings.
Consider Producing Small Niche Guides
Most tourists visit a destination for a particular reason. Perhaps they are foodies or they are there for history. But whatever their primary interests are, you still want visitors to enjoy all that your area has to offer. Digital printing now makes small quantity production affordable, allowing you to publish guides with specific visitors in mind while including all of the other opportunities your place has to offer - this is also a great opportunity to strengthen partnerships between all of your community stakeholders. And, there are now ways to produce individualized mini-guides built with information gathered by a request form. Personalization has been happening in other market segments using digital printing and direct mail for some time. The ability to mail a guide that tightly targets a traveler or a SMERF group can be just a matter of smart print production planning.
Research shows that 87.6% of undecided visitor guide users reported that the guide indeed helped them make the decision to visit the destination. Give it a chance to shine with high-quality content and user-friendly information.