Travelblather

Time for a new kind of destination guide?

Airlines, hotels, airports - everyone does destination guides. But are they worth the bother?

Destination Guides - everyone does them. Airlines, tourist boards, airports, hotels. The web is awash with the things and I've even contributed quite a number of them for one of the UK's leading airlines.

For a while content solution companies like Whatsonwhen (now part of Frommer's of course) made a pretty good living providing travel sector companies with off-the-shelf blocks of content to populate their sites with 'useful content'. Then people got wise to the SEO potential of this kind of stuff and started adding keywords into the mix.

The end result nowadays is lots of very generic, sometimes ageing content which is often targetted at search engines and not particularly useful for the user.

The content in the KLM guide is particularly interesting for me as a content person. It's very detailed and of a genuinely high quality. It's written by Whatsonwhen/Frommers. I particularly like the themed walking tours (which look like they might have been lifted from the Day By Day guides series that Frommer's publish).

But, does anybody find or read them?

I tried searching for keyword combinations like 'Amsterdam guide', 'destination guide to Amsterdam', 'things to do in Amsterdam', and two of the terms it looks like the page is targetting 'flights to Amsterdam' and 'Amsterdam holiday'. None of these pages show up on the first page. In fact I struggled to find them at all.

Guess what? I've been asked to come up with a format for some destination guides. And I want to create something that's a bit different and genuinely useful. (Particularly as the KLM example above suggests that going for the SEO/keyword approach isn't really worth the effort.)

I think  the KLM example is lovely from a content perspective, but probably a waste of money. Are people going to come to an airline for top things to do and places to go for a destination? Probably not I'd say. You'd go to a more well known and credible source like say Lonely Planet or for example in London, Time Out. So why spend all that money on destination guides that few people will read anyway?

So what do you need in a destination guide?

Minimum requirements I think are base-level facts. We're talking stuff like weather, visa requirements, getting around in relation to your physical property (the airport if you are an airline or airport, your hotel if you are a hotel etc) getting there, health and safety. I do wonder though if you could link to the right (ie most authoritative) places which offer really frequently updated information that is trustworthy, rather than having to maintain content of your own. So for Health and Safety link to the FCO website's travel advice pages or (if only the offered them) pull relevant info onto your page using their RSS feeds.

Going totally local could be a smart idea for a hotel chain. Get the guys on the concierge desk to recommend their top restaurants, shops, things to do and really focus on writing about the less-visited, genuinely cool recommendations rather than the usual old favourites.

Targetting specific readers could be good for an airline or airport. Think about organising your things to do and so on around the differing needs of your distinct customer groups - families, couples, business people etc. I think Top 5 things to do for families, weekend breakers, business people could be much easier to digest and more useful than far more long and detailed offerings we tend to get at the moment that try to be all things to all  people. Keep it light, but make it much more focussed - easier for the reader to find the stuff that's appropriate to them.

Using expert opinion to add more credibility seems like a nice idea too. Who cares what Air France thinks are the top things to do in London? Paris maybe, but London? Why not find some people who live in London (maybe people with specific demographic profiles - a family, a businessman etc) and get their Top 5 ideas? I'm far more likely to believe them than a big brand that has no real association with the place. Here's a rather nice example from Red Visitor.

What would you put on a destination guide to make it genuinely useful and a bit different?

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