The World Wide Web (WWW) has opened up opportunities for commercial organisations to promote and sell their products and services using the Internet. There are now many regional organisations and tourism operators using the WWW to promote their regions and tourist attractions.
New Zealand as an Example
Tourism is New Zealand's second largest export earner, generating NZ$1,100million (US$670million) per annum, increasing at 8% pa. Our main tourism markets are Australia, US, Japan, UK, and Germany.
There are two aspects of New Zealand tourism, nature or eco-tourism and adventure tourism, that would most benefit from promotion using the Internet. The profile of the typical Internet user is young, technically aware and reasonably affluent. Just this sort of person is the main target market for nature and adventure tourism organisations.
New Zealand, and in particular tourism information, is poorly represented on the WWW. The first presence came from Michael Witbrock, an expatriate New Zealander, currently studying at Carnegie Mellon University. The initial information provided by Michael was of mediocre quality, though the pages have improved, and Michael was awarded a GNN 'Best of the Net' award.
These pages are essentially a travelogue of a tour round New Zealand. Michael described Rotorua, one of our most popular tourist destinations, as 'a smallish town ... [of] tacky shops selling culturally insensitive trinkets'. Many New Zealanders would agree with Michael, but this is not the impression we wish to convey to potential visitors. Though Rotorua does have its share of such shops, the town is of interest to many tourists and can provide an excellent insight into New Zealand and our bi-cultural heritage.
New Zealand's presence on the WWW is gradually increasing, with efforts by a number of local councils, independent consultants, including the author, and Internet connection providers. However, the overall approach is unco-ordinated, of mixed quality and not widely promoted on the main WWW index pages or those with a particular interest in tourism.
Those promoting the use of the WWW have met with a lukewarm reaction from our inbound tourism operators. There are still many barriers to be removed before these organisations are willing to use the WWW to its full potential.
As we are often reminded, the Internet is not free. This is particularly so in New Zealand where the backbone provider makes a traffic volume cost. For the majority of educational organisations there is a cost of approximately NZ$2 (US$1.20) /Mb of international traffic. Commercial providers are charging anything up to NZ$12 (US$7.30) /Mb. Any organisation providing WWW pages has to pay these charges for any access to their information. This can become a significant cost. An attractive and well publicised page can expect to attract around 1,500 access per week. If hosted by a commercial provider, this is likely to cost in the region of NZ$1,800 (US$1,100) per week. This is out of reach of many of the smaller organisations and, even for larger organisations who could afford this level of cost, is very hard to justify when the benefits are poorly understood.
Even more important, the cost is very open ended and hard to control. Should a page prove particularly attractive the number of accesses may be much higher. Hence, the costs can increase with little control. In comparison, the cost of producing brochures is under very strict control. If 10,000 brochures are produced then the cost is known in advance. Once they run out then the organisation can make a decision whether to print more.
The value of promoting tourism using the WWW has not yet been adequately measured. The goal of using the WWW by tourism operators is to increase the number of visitors to the area. The best current method of measuring the benefit is in terms of number of accesses. However, many of those accesses are purely from 'tyre-kickers', people who have little interest in the content and have no intention of visiting the area concerned. They are purely interested in seeing the way the information has been presented, rather than the actual content. Considerably more data on the impact of using the WWW to sell products and services is required to convince the marketing managers.
The goal for those using the WWW to promote tourism is to get commitment from the viewer to visit the area and ideally to actually make a travel booking. WWW pages that simply provide factual information together with some marketing hype is of interest to potential travellers. The value of pages increases rapidly by involving the viewer.
The current tourism oriented pages vary in obtaining a degree of commitment. A number request the viewer to complete a 'visitors book'. A useful service would be the ability to start an e-mail dialogue with the tourism agency so that further information requests can be made. This may be looking for answers to specific questions or a request for brochure information.
The ultimate goal is actually to take a travel booking. The Internet is not currently sufficiently reliable or secure to make this a practical proposition as yet.