HSMAI Article - The Virtual Metropolis Marketing Cities on the World Wide Web

Welcome to The Online Marketer! Each quarter this column explores the issues, events, and technologies which are making the Internet and World Wide Web the most talked about new marketing tool ever devised.
The Online Marketer looks at the many critical issues and opportunities associated with using the World Wide Web for marketing hospitality, travel and tourism companies and organizations. Its unique industry focus means that it offers the relevant information most sought after by readers of the HSMAI Marketing Review. Additionally, a “Recommended Surfing” section provides information about particularly interesting and effective Web sites which readers are encouraged to visit and experience for themselves.
From San Francisco to Sydney and from Hong Kong to Helsinki, convention and visitor`s bureaus (CVBs) have taken to the Internet and Web to attract more visitors to the cities they represent. The reasons for this a re clear: the Internet and Weboffer CVBs a marketing tool comparable to no other, enabling them to promote their destinations economically, within a variety of multi-media formats, 24 hours per day, to individuals located in almost any part of the globe. It`s not surprising that major metropolises, as well as hundreds of smaller cities, are increasingly moving to the Web to enhance their ability to attract more visitors within this growing worldwide marketing environment.
A powerful feature of the Web is its ability to deliver customized or localized site content which is more relevant to potential visitors having different interests or residing in different parts of the world. For example, the Web site of the London Tourist Board & Convention Bureau (www.londontown.com
) delivers customized content to international viewers based on the viewer`s geographic location. The regional versions of its Web site contain special travel offers - airline discounts and accommodations booking capability - relevant to persons residing in different parts of the world. Similarly, the Web site of the Hong Kong Tourist Association (www.hkta.org
) caters to the needs of individual viewers from many parts of the world. The site`s pre-home asks that viewers select from no less than 11 different Web sites based on language/culture and geographic location.
The Web site of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitor`s Bureau (www.bostonusa.com) was designed to deliver customized content to its viewers. Visitors to the site first choose from one of four viewer categories - Visitor (leisure traveler), Press, Tour Operator, or Meeting Planner. The initial choice then determines the selection of the content and will subsequently be displayed to visitors while they navigate through the Web site.
Each time a viewer selects a hyperlink from within the site, a database query is generated, and this delivers the pre-determined, appropriate type and level of content based on the viewer`s pre-selected category.
Interestingly, the depth of information delivered dynamically at the Greater Boston CVB Web site can be varied depending on the category of end user. A leisure traveler requesting information about a museum exhibition, for example, would not receive the same extensive amount of background information (including the names of media contacts) which a travel writer would be expected to require.
Searchable databases are a very useful feature found at increasing numbers of CVB Web sites. They are especially useful for Web sites which contain extensive listings of accommodations, attractions, meeting facilities, events and more, for they enable viewers to retrieve information which fits their needs in a rapid manner without navigating through a large number of Web pages or scrolling through extensive and unwieldy lists. The Web site of the Stockholm Information Service (www.stoinfo.se
) contains a searchfeature that enables viewers to search for events scheduled for the Swedish capital city. Viewers can search using a keyword, or choose to select from 26 separate categories of events ranging from classical music and films to sporting events and midsummer celebrations. The search feature also permits viewers to limit the selection of items returned to those scheduled for a specific time frame.
Links to ticket information and additional search features for accommodations, meetings and conferences are also provided. Events included, much of the info rmation provided by CVBs is very time sensitive. The same databases which facilitate online searches can also help to facilitate quick and convenient updates of information as seasons change, new events are planned, existing events are rescheduled, and much more. Until fairly recently, updating online information often required accessing and modifying the HTML source code used to create individual Web pages. Today, however, databases containing this type of information can be updated with relative ease via easy-to-use, menu-driven interfaces. CVB staff members simply access the database they need to change, select the type of operation they want to perform, make the necessary changes, and the program does the rest.
International visitors constitute an important and growing market segment for many cities worldwide. It only makes sense for them to leverage the international reach of the Internet and Web by providing Web site content in the native languages of their key international markets. Many CVB Web sites already contain varying amounts of multilingual site content to help them more effectively reach potential new visitors from many parts of the world.
One European capital which makes good use of the Internet and Web to market itself in key international markets is Vienna. Vienna is a popular destination for both leisure and business travelers who originate not only from within other European countries, but also fro m many other parts of the world. The Web site of the Vienna Tourist Board (www.info.wien.at
) enables viewers to tour virtual Vienna while viewing site content in five different languages - German, French, Italian, English and Japanese.
Even a relatively modest amount of site content, written in appropriate alternate languages, can be highly effective. Web sites containing foreign language content help to raise the “comfort levels” of potential international visitors. They create a positive impression in the minds of viewers and suggest that the cities which have created this content are committed to making international visitors feel at home, even in the “virtual” world.
The multimedia capabilities of the Web can also be used to build stronger online identities for cities, assisting them to position themselves and to diff e rentiate themselves from competitors. One noteworthy effort to enhance viewer perceptions of a destination can be seen at the Web site of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitor`s Bureau (www.fortworth.com). The site`s pre-home page features a brief, well-executed and colorful animation in which the tag line “Don`t Take Whoa For An Answer” is displayed.
This feature is effective for several reasons. First, it is visually attractive and entertaining, although not overdone. Next, the tag line itself is a clever permutation of a well-known phrase and suggests both a positive, “can do” attitude as well as Fort Worth`s western heritage. Finally, and significantly, this feature is short in duration and delivers its message without wasting the viewer`s time. Other CVBs from many parts of the globe also present tag lines on their home pages, including the following: Arizona`s Other Natural Wonder (Tucson); City of Life (Hong Kong); Bon jour a la Montreal (Montreal); City of Sails (Auckland); Open 24 hours (Las Vegas); and, Spectacular by Nature (Vancouver). It is not difficult to imagine many different ways in which these otherwise static statements might be turned into appropriately conceived multimedia features which do much to enhance the identities of their respective destinations in the virtual world.