Like a good horse or a steady F150, the visitor guide has been a staple of destination marketing since, well, forever. With the publishing industry struggling, you might think that the visitor guide would be headed the way of the newspaper industry, but the tried-and-true guide is still very much in vogue. Every major destination in the world produces guides annually. You get the sense that plenty of travelers still enjoy the feel of paper between their hands and a great trip guide in their back pocket.
The principle behind the thing is simple: all of your destination’s travel resources in one, handy, high-gloss deliverable. But, as in all marketing, the delivery is what separates the chumps from the champs. Here are a few tidbits about Pilch & Barnet’s 2011 Visitor Guides to get you in the right mindset as you plan your guide.
There is No Substitute for Strong Design
Pilch & Barnet’s creative director, Erika Ritchey, has put together more guides than she can remember. Erika starts each guide with a few goals:
- Ease of use. Your visitor guide could be picked up by a three-year-old or his great grandfather. So it should offer something for any reader. Every guide should have easy to use navigation, headers and page numbers that are clearly readable and fonts that make reading a pleasure, and not a pain…I’m looking at you comic sans.
- Consistency. Visitor guides are a bit like a cheeseburger. In a good burger you expect a bun, some meat, ketchup and cheese. In a vistitor guide, readers look for a strong index, easy navigation, attractions list, contact information, maps and pleasurable layout. Pilch & Barnet’s ideal visitor guide satisfies readers’ need for comfort, while also giving you some…
- Bang for Your Brand. Someday, somewhere, your guide will be sitting next to seven or eight of its peers. When someone flips through your guide, what elements will set yours apart? Strong info graphics, tear-out maps or creative layout elements will stop readers in their tracks.
Pictures Make the Guide
Strong design can keep your readers reading, and your advertisers happy. But great photographs can be the difference between your destination’s guide getting picked up, or being tossed in the trash. Some quick tips:
- Ask around. Most destinations don’t have the resources to handpick a commercial photographer to make their attractions look great. Instead, a lot of visitor guide photography depends on “the kindness of strangers,” as Blanche Du Bois put it. Visitors who are willing to donate their trip shots, local photogs who have massive caches of brilliant shots, the DOT’s stock collection and friendly area media are great resources to build a library of images.
- Plan ahead: So you know who to ask for pics…but did you ask them in time? The key to a well organized guide is gathering your resources early! Know what shots you’re in need of, when you’ll need them by and your file size/type logistics.
- Don’t skimp on that cover shot. It’s the first thing about your destination that thousands of people are going to see. Take the time (and the money, if necessary) to procure a cover shot that really sets your guide above the competition. Be sure to make people a central part of your picture! Landscapes are repetitive and overused. You want travelers to picture themselves in those landscapes.
PDF Guides Are So Yesterday
With the launch of the iPad last spring, Apple single-handedly blew the tablet computer market to smithereens. In 2012, analysts expect shipments of all tablets (including all of the iPad’s competitors) to reach 100 million units. If you’re not already reading your Monday Morning QB, Wired Magazine or checking e-mail on a tablet, you probably will be soon. The good news, (in addition to all the free time you can kill with Angry Birds), is that tablet technology is reshaping the digital version of visitor guides, whether they’re on an iPad or on a conventional computer. A few of the features we’re looking at for our 2012 guides:
- Interactive advertising. Lots of marketers claim that their online guides are “interactive.” What they mean is that their ads have links. But links are just the tip of the iceberg. When a visitor guide opens on a tablet, advertisers have incredible opportunities: embedded video, ads that move, play sound and more.
- Portability. One of the things the conventional, printed visitor guide has always had over its PDF competition is that the PDF isn’t handy. The best way to take your digital guide with you (until now) has been to print it out. Tablets will allow users to download a visitor guide app in seconds, pack up their tablet into a purse or backpack and have the guide with them wherever they go.
- Fixing the page turn/page size problems. One of the things we’ve always hated about PDF visitor guide files is ease of use. You download a file, open it up, and the guide is too big. Or too small. Your computer screen is only big enough for one page. To make matters worse, the only way to navigate on the old-school digital guide is the “page turn” button, which we’ve always found clunky and unattractive. On tablets (and on our improved PDFs), we’ve done away with the page turn button in favor of a slider and sized our pdfs for optimum viewing (in the Tablet’s case, ideal viewing). No more page clicking. No more zooming.
For now, the print guide is far from dead. But tablet-based visitor guides are a glimpse into a fast-approaching future.
Need more ideas as you’re putting together your 2012 guide? Check out more of our visitor guide samples here.