One of the reasons there are so many poorly designed travel agency web sites is that they are so easy to build. It sometimes seems as though everyone is a website designer. The fact is, however, the choice of who builds your website is an important one. Professional web development services are an absolute necessity unless you possess a very solid understanding of design, layout and fundamental HTML skills. With that said, however, it is possible to “do it yourself” and some of my favorite travel agency web sites were built by agents with a lot of determination to have a quality site without breaking the bank.
Sites can be completely customized or they can be based on a syndicated template system such as that provided by companies like Passport Online. A customized site is typically the most expensive option and the one requiring both the most upfront work and ongoing maintenance. Syndicated systems, at the other end of the spectrum, are powered by a third party. Syndicated systems typically provide the hosting for the site, all of the site architecture and much of the site’s content. A syndicated template typically can be customized to accommodate your company’s look and feel. Syndicated sites are often easier to manage and the content rotation is to some degree automated.
Should you decide to build a customized site, it is very helpful to use a web designer with some experience building travel agency sites. Take to your designer screenshots and examples of sites that you like and familiarize your designer with the needs of your company. Explain your content selections and the way in which you want to present the content. Ensure in your agreement that you own all of the content, the code and that no aspect of the site or its content system is proprietary to your designer. It is also a good idea to have the site hosted on a server that is under your control, not the control of your designer. In the event that you decide at a later date to move the site or to use another designer, you want to have unfettered access and control of your site. Keep in mind that the site’s architecture should be well documented so that a new designer could understand the internal code and workings of the site should your original developer no longer be available to you at some future date.
Enterprising travel agents can also build their own website. Again, I stress the serious nature of the learning curve and the risk of doing a poor job. However, it can be done and, often, done well. One of the most popular systems for building websites is WordPress. Many agents have found that WordPress provides a relatively easy way to present a professional, unique look and feel and to easily manage content. The learning curve and design demands, however, are not for the faint of heart, so be sure you are committed to this approach before undertaking building your own site.
Web sites require much care and feeding and the continual rotation of fresh content is an important factor. In the design of your web site, take into consideration how much time you can allocate to the updating of content. A site can be an extremely demanding resource and your business plan needs to contemplate maintaining fresh content. It is this very factor, along with the ease of implementation, that convince many agents to go to a syndicated template system. Many companies providing such systems also provide units of content for custom sites. For example, Passport Online provides full web sites as well as components that place hundreds of travel specials in an easily searchable format on a site. A sister company to TRO, Voyager Travel Guides, provides destination guides, travel videos, articles and newsfeeds for travel agency websites.
A web site is your 24 hour a day representative. Make sure to dress your site for success by spending the time necessary to give it the most professional appearance possible.
Tomorrow: Marketing Your Website