Websites that Drive Travel

Head of Research and Insights
Published 12/13/17
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Insights from a 13-CVB Website Study

Last year we flagged a breakthrough study on the role and impact of destination websites in driving visitation and spending in destinations (Blog post: Destination Websites that Drive Travel). With the support and facilitation of DMA West and its Foundation, and conducted by Destination Analysts, Miles was the sole sponsor of the largest-ever multi-destination website study into what drives travel to destinations. Almost 380,000 website users were surveyed over this full-year study. Since an estimated 36% of U.S. leisure travelers access destination websites in their trip planning (State of the American Traveler, July 2017), this study has given us a far better understanding of an influential part of trip planning resources used by travelers. 

The conversion research study concluded earlier this year and summarized results are now publicly available (see link at the bottom of this blog).  

In this blog we highlight five of the key takeaways from the study and offer recommendations for action by DMOs. (Note: We have a deeper and more in-depth review of this exciting research study available to run through with our clients and partners.) 

#1: Committed or Undecided? 

The research highlighted that almost 6/10 website users on average across the 13 CVB websites have already decided to visit the destination – though this percentage varied sharply by destination (from around one-quarter to almost three-quarters). This presents both opportunities and challenges for DMOs, including both trying to reach new and undecided visitors plus influencing their spend and/or length of stay as an important objective. Understanding the mix of your website users is critical to your online marketing strategy. 

#2: Content that Drives Travel

The yearlong study highlighted that the content types most influential in driving visitation (from undecided website users) were, in descending order of importance: 

     Things to Do: 79%  

     Dining: 43%

     Maps & Transport: 42%

     Events: 31%

     Images: 28%

This provides clear direction as to the areas of content investment that DMOs should focus on - both created and curated (user-generated content). 

#3: Signals of Intent to Travel 

Every DMO should identify the specific goals, conversions or online signals that are indicative of potential visitors who are actively planning to come to your destination. We call these “Signals of Intent to Travel” (SITs), and from this study we now have better insights than ever before on the content and features that drive visitation and spending. Focus your SITs on specific actions around the content and site features noted above – including site users accessing detailed listing pages on Things to Do, Dining, etc; referrals to partner websites; or viewing detailed event information. You should set these up in Google Analytics (as Goals or Events) and track all your marketing against these metrics that matter.

#4: Qualified Audience 

DMO website users are an extremely qualified audience of potential and decided visitors. This is supported by the significant advertising and marketing that the DMO invests in promoting the destination – which generates interest and follow up. As noted above, 59% of CVB website users in this study had already decided to visit the destination and were using the website to plan their activities, dining, accommodations or events in the destination. Of the undecided website users who ended up traveling to the destination, almost two thirds (62%) cited the DMO website as an important motivator. Of website users who traveled to the destination, a significant proportion cited the DMO website as influencing them to do specific things: 

     Do more activities: 56%

     Visit an attraction of museum: 52%

     Visit a certain area or neighborhood: 41%

     Visit a certain restaurant: 31%

     Attend an event or performance: 15%

For these reasons, the DMO website offers a significant advertising opportunity for industry partners – arguably the most targeted and highly qualified audience available to your industry. Exploring or expanding industry coop opportunities including sponsored content and online advertising (especially native advertising formats such as featured listings, etc) is a significant opportunity to both share access to this audience with industry partners and generate revenue to expand your marketing efforts. 

#5: Return on Investment

The 13 CVB websites universally showed an extremely attractive return on investment – in terms of new and incremental visitors, and visitor spending generated for the destination. For every new unique user to the DMO website, the 13 CVBs on average benefited from $37 in new, incremental visitor spending in the destination. If, for example, a new unique user costs $1 to generate (through organic search or paid media), this translates to a ROI of $37:1 for the DMO – an impressive rate of return. This entire study highlights that the heavy lifting done by the destination in branding, campaigns and marketing programs does generate travelers who are engaged, interested and, in many cases, end up traveling to the destination. Though the DMO website is just one channel that such consumers access, it specifically highlights the extent of the influence and impact of DMO marketing activities. Highlighting this type of research result – and ideally investing in your own conversion research – can be an invaluable tool in demonstrating results and ROI to city, regional or state government, industry and other stakeholders. 

Finally, this breakthrough study is now being complemented by a major multi-state tourism website conversion study that is currently underway through mid- to late 2018. This study (again the biggest of its type ever undertaken) has eight participating state tourism organizations including Louisiana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia. The findings of this in-depth study will build on the insights from the DMA West CVB conversion study. See our earlier blog on this study: “Major Tourism Website Conversion Study.”

Stay tuned for updates and insights as we expand our understanding of how to drive travel most successfully from destination websites and other channels and media. 


Executive Summary: “The Impact of DMO Websites,” Destination Analysts, facilitated and supported by DMA West and sponsored by Miles

Destination Websites that Drive Travel,” Miles blog post

"Call for Participants: Major State Tourism Website Conversion Study," Miles blog post