Among the flotsam and jetsam of web sites vying to represent Hawke’s Bay to locals and visitors, Keith Newman finds a sense of cohesion finally emerging.

The first port of call for most visitors researching a destination for a holiday or a casual visit is an internet search for directions, attractions, events, restaurants, retailers and accommodation.

Visitors to Hawke’s Bay, however, may take a while deciding where to click and what to trust among the daunting clutter of domain and place name variations and the cyberspace junk of failed attempts at presenting the region’s offerings.

Among the websites claiming to provide visitor information for Hastings, Napier, Taradale, Havelock North, Wairoa and Central Hawke’s Bay are clumsy, outdated pages full of broken links and those more suited to a bygone era.

Somewhere on that first page of options, however, will be something of real value; possibly local council or community pages or one of the six or more i-Sites, although these are often packed with paid-for content driving you toward specific packages or destinations.

It’s becoming clearer too that every effort is being made to steer or redirect the curious toward the increasingly smart and sophisticated Tourism HB site as the go-to regional hub … 25,000 page views a month and climbing.

According to new research, Kiwi travellers who do their destination homework online are likely to spend up to 30% more than those who rely on travel agents, pore over brochures and guidebooks, or consult friends and family.

An August report from Roy Morgan Research says, in the year to May 2013, those using the web to make holiday decisions spent an average of $162 per person, $37 more than those using other sources.

It’s estimated 20% of holidaymakers use the internet for destination planning, up from 4% in 2001, and their spending is linked to comprehensive information rather than deals and discounts.

Ready for action

Roy Morgan Research general manager, Pip Elliot, says it’s critical for tourism operators and destination marketers to have a strong web presence that not only persuades people to visit, but encourages them to see and do all they can once they arrive.

George Miller and her husband Matt, directors of web marketing company Mogul, agree. Before heading to San Francisco for the America’s Cup earlier this year, they planned everything online.

“We searched the key things to do, the cool places to go, the best bars and restaurants, the good places for shopping and the malls.”

George says visitors to Hawke’s Bay should be able to research and plan online so there’s more time to go to the cafés, restaurants, bars and attractions rather than wandering around trying to work out where to go.

“Most travellers have smartphones but if they google and find what looks like a fantastic restaurant but it’s too hard to get to a menu or find the opening times that’s lost business.”

She says retailers and tourism providers need to optimise web sites for mobile users with ‘responsive designs’ that automatically reconfigure to mobile devices at the correct resolution.

However, most websites haven’t made the transition despite mobile usage comprising about 30% of all internet traffic. “A lot of the legacy stuff leaves a bad impression. Access should be quick and easy; if it’s too hard that’s a lost lead and a bad user experience.”

Collaboration encouraged

Apart from the dozens of pretenders, there are apparently nine official web sites for the wider region. HB Tourism’s Annie Dundas would like to see that change through a more collaborative effort from councils and providers.

“We could be better organised around how Hawke’s Bay presents itself to the consumer. HB Tourism is the only one spending on search engine marketing in that space so why don’t we pool resources and have one bloody brilliant site?”

If there was better information sharing, Dundas says, this would help avoid confusion and enable better presentation of content. “If we’re all developing, maintaining and marketing sites we’re actually competing with each other and that seems kinda nuts to me.”

One of the regional tourism organisation’s triumphs is its online events calendar which serves up information from a single source. Dundas and her team want all councils and tourism groups to get on board to avoid conflicting dates and ensure better exposure for everyone.

Mogul was involved in developing the digital strategy for the HB Tourism web presence and setting up the events site. It uses Eventfinder with coded links to pull registered local events into the regional site and share this with other sites ensuring compatibility with mobile devices.

Village primps presence

Mogul was also responsible for redeveloping the Hastings site, visithastings.co.nz in 2009 when the city rebranded itself ‘the Heart of Hawke’s Bay’. When the Havelock North Information Centre changed hands it seemed logical to get involved in reshaping that web presence as well.

The centre, now a fully staffed i-Site, originally established in 2006 by former Havelock North Business Association president Bart Thompson, had touted the ‘jewel of the Bay’ and ‘the heart of wine country’ branding.

While the Hastings District Council now owns the i-Site, the Havelock North Business Association, (HNBA), acquired the havelocknorthnz.com domain name to maintain control over affirming The Village branding.

Committee member George Miller was asked to develop a single destination focus, blending it with the havelocknorth.co.nz site, to promote “the greatest little village in the world” while maintaining support for the regional tourism approach and Hawke’s Bay branding.

The new site features a directory to generate business leads, showcase the village and encourage locals to shop locally. Content includes history, attractions, schools, clubs and associations and anything else visitors or those “looking for a great place to live” might need to know. “We wanted to manage our own identity and voice for what happens in the village,” says Miller.

She says the new, responsive, relatively simple site delivers a low maintenance option to be part of the virtual village profile, with help available to assist smaller retailers and owner operators build their online presence.

The Village profile has a consistent tone and style for email bulletins, Facebook presence and events ladder, unlike “a lot of destination sites that are overloaded with information” making it difficult to focus on the key things.

Web search still winner

Despite the talk in recent years about technologies that might revolutionise retail and tourism, Miller reckons QR codes and geographically-based apps have either been badly deployed or not yet found their niche.

While QR codes are “huge in Japan”, a Mogul experiment in Havelock North during the Rugby World Cup, saw only 20 people take up a free offer to use code stickers as web site short cuts.

Map-based apps that direct people to particular locations may have a place in destination tourism but Miller suggests no one’s nailed the best way to do that yet.

“People are reluctant to download apps unless they’re related to social media, news or music; if they do, they rarely use them, although it will come…Mostly they google it and click on the most trustworthy looking site.”

Affirming Havelock North as ‘The Village’ adds to the refresh of branding across the region in recent years. Central Hawke’s Bay is pitched as ‘lamb country’, Hastings as ‘the heart of Hawke’s Bay’, Napier ‘the Art Deco capital of the world’ and regionally “wine country” and the tagline “Get yourself to Hawke’s Bay’ have become dominant.

Fruitbowl fibre focus

The ‘Fruitbowl of New Zealand’, despite its rural authenticity as a regional descriptor, was deemed in the late 1990s to have passed its use-by date. Ironically it’s been hijacked by a group of technology innovators and bloggers to promote new ideas including a broadband enhanced future for the Bay.

Fruitbowl.co.nz is supporting Napier as Gigatown New Zealand in the Chorus competition to light up one provincial town with gigabit internet connectivity, hoping to attract more software developers and digital age businesses to the region.

One blogger suggests this would balance Napier’s Art Deco roots in the past by giving it a foothold in the future and a much broader base for economic activities than retirees reliving their youth.

Meanwhile, much of Hawke’s Bay’s international tourism inquiries are directed through Tourism New Zealand’s newzealand.com site, where destinations are categorised by region. Much is made of Hawke’s Bay as ‘wine country’,
New Zealand’s Art Deco centre, and the ‘cycling capital of New Zealand’.

The specifics of Napier, Hastings, Havelock North and Waipukurau are found under the menu item: ‘towns’. HB Tourism’s Annie Dundas says no one seems too concerned about that and with regular content updates – including critical data in Chinese – she’s confident the region will get its share of interest from the 14 million users a year.

Once you know which sites are current, have the coolest content and are optimised to deliver the best of the Bay to mobile devices, the flotsam and jetsam soon gets ignored and as the search engines recognise where the action is, those legacy pages will slowly fade.

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