International Design Concepts in Internet Tourism Marketing: Comparing Web-Design Practices in Atlantic Canada and New England

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This paper reviews the web design practices of tourism authorities in Atlantic Canada and New England. Specifically the online tourism websites of the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont are compared with the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Examination is given to the design of web pages using a content analysis coding scheme and differences in emphasis between these two regions are noted. A discussion of the findings follows with a conclusion and recommendations that may be noteworthy for those studying online marketing, tourism marketing or experiential marketing applications.

INTRODUCTION

As online travel services such as Expedia.com and Travelocity.com continue to gain market share in the tourism industry and as travel agents become less critical for international tourists, travelers' reliance on information gathered via the Internet will continue to grow in the foreseeable future. As the growth in tourism has become a driver for national economies worldwide, nation-states and other political entities such as territories and other autonomous regions (e.g. principalities, states and provinces) must compete to gain attention, foster interest, create desire and encourage action among potential travelers. As noted by Sharma, Carson & DeLacy (2000): "State and federal governments see tourism as an economic driver to counter declining commodity prices and increased economic instability, particularly in regional and rural areas" (p. 160). The information provided to tourists through government-sponsored websites needs to be strategically marketed and properly defined to reach target audiences if these governments wish to charge that engine of their economies.

The North American tourism industry faces challenges that differ from the rest of the world in many ways. One of the most important considerations is that tourism in North America is centered on three nations: Canada, the United States and Mexico. All three nations are established on a federal system of governance subdivided into smaller geographic districts (states in the USA and Mexico, provinces in Canada). When one considers that in visiting these nations one must visit individual states or provinces, the focus of tourism changes particularly in the cases of the USA and Canada where regional differences are clear and well-defined. As a result of the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) travel across North American borders increased both in terms of commerce and tourism. Until recently citizens of the United States, Canada and Mexico could transit the NAFTA borders without a passport, therefore the options for vacations were plentiful and North American citizens freely chose to vacation in different areas of the continent. Despite the new passport requirements, economic and political circumstances may lead to continued interest in travel opportunities on this continent that do not involve a trans-oceanic crossing but offer many exciting options for North American tourists.

This study seeks to examine the differences in online tourism marketing practices between two politically distinct yet culturally similar North American regions: the New England states of the USA (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont) and the Atlantic Provinces of Canada (New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island). As these areas are considered as vacation destinations, even in difficult economic times, it is beneficial to understand the differences in how these provinces and states promote their offerings to potential travelers. The focus of this study is to better understand how these states and provinces market themselves on the Internet in relation to their national and hence broader brand identities.

ONLINE TOURISM

As discussed by Sears (2003) tourism is an experiential product therefore it has become incumbent upon managers to create websites that effectively communicate tourism products in ways that are authentic and attractive to information seekers. …