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Web strategy paying off

Liz Taylor still gets media inquiries about traffic volumes at Red Deer’s Visitor Information Centre.

Such counts might previously have been the best way to gauge tourist activity, but Taylor — Tourism Red Deer’s executive director — said technology has changed that.

Many of today’s travellers rely on computers, electronic tablets, smartphones and other high-tech devices to research holiday destinations and plan their activities on the fly. That prompted Tourism Red Deer to launch a new website early this year, with an emphasis on social media and features geared toward mobile devices.

Ten months into 2012, the strategy appears to have been a good one. Visits to are up by about 22,000 from the January-to-October period of 2011.

“That’s a 45 per cent increase over last year,” pointed out Trevor Tessier, a partner in e-marketing agency SBX Media, which developed the new website.

Tessier said page views have increased by more than 250 per cent, and visitors now looks at an average of 2.28 pages, up from 1.7 pages. Visitor spend an average of two minutes and 22 seconds on the site, as compared with just over a minute before.

“People are just more engaged with the content that’s there,” explained Tessier. “We’re not losing them.”

When it comes to mobile devices, visits are up by 17,000. These involve three more pages than previously and the length of stay is 2 1/2 times as long, he said.

Taylor is pleased with the results, especially considering that 2012 started out slowly as people became aware of the new site. The 2011 numbers are also probably inflated by the fact that the Tourism Red Deer site used both a .com and .net address, which resulted in some double-counting.

“We believe that last year’s numbers are reflecting higher than they really were.”

The effectiveness of Tourism Red Deer’s mobile-friendly site was illustrated during the 2012 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Red Deer. Event-specific information was continuously updated; and local hotels, restaurants and other businesses and activities were successfully promoted.

Its Scotties campaign even earned Tourism Red Deer an Alberta Tourism Alto Award for Marketing Excellence, and Taylor is optimistic a similar approach could be used for other events like Agri-Trade and Westerner Days.

Tessier, who previously worked for Travel Alberta and helped create that agency’s social media strategy, said it’s important that organizations like Tourism Red Deer reach out to the mobile world.

“The travel industry has a really unique opportunity, in that you’re going to have visitors, and visitors are mobile.”

In addition to being accessible by mobile users, it’s important that websites like Tourism Red Deer’s remain fresh and relevant, said Tessier. That includes monitoring users and responding quickly to their needs.

“We’re able to see and watch people as they come to the site — what terms they’ve used to visit the site — and then we can watch where they go throughout the site to try to find that content, or what they do after they find that content.

Taylor agreed that it’s critical to ensure the website is monitored closely and its content reflects the evolving needs of visitors. That’s a change from the old days in the tourism industry — which some operators still cling to.

“They think they can build the brochure, print it and put it on the shelf. You can’t do that with a website.”

Tessier said Tourism Red Deer has benefited from its website’s close ties to social media. In the case of Facebook, referrals have grown from 276 in 2011 to 5,500 this year — a 1,900 per cent increase.



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