The Tourism Company
Design Tips for Tourism Destination Websites

Many destination websites are built using content management systems and page design templates which offer you, the user, little control over how individual pages look. So why are we offering you advice and tips on design? Well, there are a number of design-related issues that you, as content provider for your tourism or leisure web pages, can affect and improve. These include:

  • Where and how you place content on a page
  • Sorting and filtering
  • Writing style
  • Use of images

Where and how to place content

  • Keep important items “above the fold”. In web design circles there is on-going debate about the extent to which requiring users to scroll vertically to read your web pages is a problem. However, what is clear from studies into the reading habits of users online is that people will often decide whether to stay or leave a website on what they see without scrolling. So, its important that you include key content in the window that is viewable before people have to scroll
  • Top left is the most read area of websites. Placing your most important text in this area of the website will ensure that it has the best chance of being read. This text should be dedicated to giving users answers to the following questions – ‘What is the site about?’, ‘What can I do here?’ and ‘Is it relevant to me?’. Unless users can find the answers these questions fast, they may soon give up and leave your site
  • Enable key tasks to be completed from the homepage. Experience from travel web sites shows that people like to transact from the home page . Users should be able to do such things as see a selection of forthcoming events and/or look for accommodation from the homepage
  • Ensure PDFs are usable. If your site includes downloadable PDF documents, make sure that they print out in a font that’s large enough to read. Also, if the download is in colour, make sure that it prints out OK in black and white (B&W). If not, provide a specific B&W version

Sorting and filtering

What is it?
  • Many users of your site are seeking to complete tasks such as looking for accommodation, seeking forthcoming events or browsing attractions. They can access this information in two main ways – by searching and browsing. Searching involves using the site search or specific search form provided whilst browsing involves drilling down through the categories provided by the website.
What are the benefits?
  • Regardless of which method is used, users may well be presented with listings that contain dozens or hundreds of results. This can cause frustration and difficulties for users.
  • Offering users the chance to sort or filter is a good way to help users find what they want more quickly. This will translate into higher satisfaction ratings and more likelihood of repeat visits.
  • Sorting allows users to change the order of listings based on a number of pre-selected criteria. This might be price, quality grading, distance from a certain attraction. Filtering is a way of reducing the number of accommodation or event listings, for instance. Below are some suggested ways in which you might want to consider offering filtering and sorting.
Ways to sort and Filter results
  • Alphabetical
  • Date of event
  • Type of event (e.g. theatre, music, dance)
  • Today's events
  • Events this weekend
  • Events in the next 7 days
  • Time (e.g. daytime,evening)
  • Type of event (e.g. festivals, theatre, music)
  • Free events
  • Alphabetical
  • Quality grading (High to Low, Low to high)
  • Price (High to Low, Low to High)
  • Distance from...
  • Quality grading
  • Online booking availability
  • Accommodation type (e.g.hotel, guest house etc)
  • By facilities (e.g. child-friendly, disabled access)
  • Alphabetical
  • Venue type (e.g. zoo, historic property)
  • Venue type
  • Free entry
  • Whether bookable online

Presenting ‘sort by’ options

If you have four or less 'sort by' options

  • Utilise a dropdown menu. This minimises the screen space used and is a format familiar to users.

If you have more than four 'sort by' options

  • Use radio buttons. The main advantage of using radio buttons is that all ‘sort by’ options are visible to users at one glance. 

Writing style

  • Use sub headings. People scan website text rather than read it word for word. Using headings and sub headings can help guide users through your content. Use descriptive sub-headings that help users (and search engines) rather than creative ones (e.g. Parks and gardens in Hammersmith and Fulham not Breathing spaces)
  • Use bulleted lists. As with sub headings, bulleted lists can help create scan-able text
  • Include links within text. We already know from the Usability chapter that providing contextual links within text is a very effective way of creating intuitive navigation around a site
  • Avoid hyperbole. Although you are in the business of destination marketing, research into web reading styles suggests that people dislike sales-guff full of adjective-laden text . Instead people are looking for factual information. The desire for factual information is probably higher for borough leisure and tourism pages than many other types of website because they are expected to be official and impartial sources of information. If you need to “sell” a destination, attraction or particular tourism product, a picture can do the talking for you
  • Don’t replicate printed brochure/ leaflet copy. The user’s tendency to scan websites means that simply replicating paragraphs of text from brochures is unlikely to prove effective. Instead you should be looking at copy which has half the word count (or less) than conventional writing

Use of images

  • Use good quality images, but sparingly. For many years, photography has been a mainstay of promoting destinations, attractions and accommodation. Market testing of printed brochures and leaflets invariably shows those with good quality distinctive images are more effective at shaping perceptions and motivating visits than those without. On tourism and leisure related websites, photography still has the power to entice and sell, but its use has to be tempered because of potential impacts on website usability. In short, it takes time for images to download onto a user’s computer. This can frustrate users and send them off your site. The answer is to use a limited number of good quality images at the optimum file size for speedy downloading. A photo gallery function can be added if more visual content is warranted
  • Don’t use images that look like adverts. Eye tracking studies have found that users avoid looking at content that they perceive to be an advert or looks like an advert. Hence it is important that any images you use on your site are captioned and accompanied by relevant text