Design Review: NewZealand.com


Rugby is a tough sport...just like web design.

DMOs, New Zealand is not giving up the Webby without a fight!

Tourism New Zealand (TNZ) is putting destination marketers on notice with a visually stunning remake of NewZealand.com, their double Webby winner in the travel/tourism category.

Launched just months before the country plays hosts to the 2011 Rugby World Cup, TNZ continues to set the benchmark for how to boldly and elegantly deliver visitor information.

Here’s why we think the site—much like feared All Blacks—is silky, smooth & a bit abrasive at times:

Visual Navigation

Like most destinations in the image building business, the New Zealand site uses large stunning images to inspire and give visitors a sense of place. What’s unique about this site is that it uses “parallax” vertical scrolling to deliver a visceral experience that literally brings the country to life.  Each image adjusts to the full height and width of your browser window and tells a different story.

Visitors can drill deeper to explore each experience or the place featured through a Google Map window that always gives the visitor visual context for where that image was taken. For example, the image of Milford Sound below includes ways to dig deeper into specific activities such as kayaking and hiking while also learning more about Milford Sound and Queenstown.

Overall, the “layers” of the homepage comprised of the pictures, booking window, map and information layer gives the visitor a sense of depth and gives off the illusion that one is planning a trip seated at a desk with maps, guide book and pictures scattered around.

newzealand.com Visual Navigation

Usability & Information Delivery

From a usability and information delivery perspective, a few things stand out:

  • Not Mobile Ready: The site is clearly intended and optimized for those visitors planning a trip in the comfort of their laptops/desktops. Given that New Zealand is a long haul destination, this makes a bit of sense – one doesn’t simply take a spontaneous weekend trip to Auckland from Europe or U.S.   However not having a mobile friendly site when mobile devices and tablet devices are ubiquitous everywhereespecially in the country’s three biggest markets (Australia, U.K., & U.S)is puzzling indeed.  We’re hopeful that mobile is a “Phase 1.5″ item and that the TNZ team is working on a mobile friendly version that supplements the full site experience and delivers specific content geared for visitors “on the ground”.   Imagine how much more relevant TNZ can be if it can show me restaurants and bars with the best deals in New Plymouth right before the US games?
  • Information hierarchy:  While we love the open content model and content surfacing algorithm (see below), we’ve always believed that DMO’s cannot and should not relinquish the role as the as the preeminent and trusted source of information in the vast sea of content on the web.  TNZ should therefore use its editorial leverage to spotlight and serve up the most relevant content first. For example, searching for “rugby world cup” surfaces up pretty much every piece of content tagged with these keywords including deals, individual lodges, and travel agents.  This handy TNZ guide to the event however lies buried in the search results.
  • Navigation:  We like the unobtrusive and intuitive main navigation at the top; however, the choice of blue text over black background makes us wonder if readability is an issue for folks with visual impairments.
  • Load times:  When the site first launched, we noticed that images on the homepages loaded very slowly and even the vertical scrolling was painfully slow.  While the initial slow load times appear to have been fixed at the time of this writing, load times will be an ongoing issue and must be monitored.

Bold Content Strategy

Content throughout the site is centered on interests and places and every piece of content (stories, photos, videos etc.) is meticulously tagged so that visitors can easily find them associated around their topics or places of interest.  While this is similar to the VisitFlorida site, the similarities end there.

What’s interesting about the New Zealand content model is that while the agency still remains the authoritative voice of the site, they’re also sourcing content from YouTube & Flickr.

newzealand.com Bold Content Strategy

Furthermore, TNZ has taken the unprecedented step of  ceding  control and allowing anyone—regional tourism partners, operators and sellers, travelers and locals alike—to contribute content and edit and/or flag existing content.  While this shift in strategy understandably troubles regional tourism associations and small business who’re strapped with resources, the advantage of being on a site that attracts nearly a million visitors per month cannot be discounted.

Patrick Verryt, New Zealand’s Online Manager comments on these advantages and says that:

“…travel businesses that contributed an article were 58 times more likely to be contacted by a potential customer than those without an article on the site.  Furthermore, businesses that loaded travel deals were four times more likely to be contacted by a customer and three times more likely to have their pages shared with a friend.”

Content Scoring System

newzealand.com Content Scoring System

Finally, due to the volume of content on the site, a nifty algorithm that gauges both user interest and richness and depth of the content, determines what is surfaced. We love this because it rewards those businesses who have taken the time to ensure accurate and informative content.

However, it will be interesting to see how this system handicaps smaller businesses and tourism groups that may not have the resources to keep contributing and editing content on the site.  In addition, the ability of TNZ to highlight and bubble up pages and content that they know will be relevant to certain keywords per the rugby example mentioned above, will certainly also be important as content pours into the system.

Backend Publishing/Syndication

All the content for NewZealand.com and its partner publishing sites are syndicated from the Operator Database (OD) that controls the listing for tourism operators/sellers and the Operator Registration Database (ORD) that allows businesses to add content such as itineraries or stories to the system. As far as we can tell, these systems are similar to the Australia Tourism Data Warehouse (ATDW) and Travel Oregon’s ORB in that they give tourism entities a “one stop shop” to publish and syndicate content.

Conclusion

Striking the right balance between delivering inspiration and practical travel information to visitors while simultaneously making it easy and seamless for local tourism organizations to contribute content is an immensely difficult and unappreciated task.

While the New Zealand site is certainly not the perfect, we can’t help but admire and cheer the tenacity of the TNZ team and its digital agency Shift in breaking new boundaries in using technology to tell the destination story.

Editor’s Note:  We made several attempts to interview the folks at Travel New Zealand for this post but were unable to get a response.

Comment? @travel2dot0 or email.