I often look at websites for campsites. Campervanning is my new enthusiasm and experience tells me that doing the research and being informed before booking or turning up at a campsite (as with many other things) pays off.
Today I looked at the website for camping in Pembrey Country Park near Llanelli in Carmarthenshire.
I’ve visited the country park numerous times, it’s lovely, well-kept and just the right balance of wild countryside, an enormous beach backed by sand dunes and simple facilities such as parking. The last time we were there, I noticed that there is a campsite within the park so I thought I’d have a look.
Now there are always a number of specific things that I look for and also particular types of information that are essential to me, and I’m sure to others who enjoy the experience of camping.
We like campsites that are green, with trees and grass. We don’t like ones that are regimented with vehicles parked in rows on hard standing – although I know this is a preference for many people.
We are not in the slightest bit interested in children’s play areas, clubhouses or entertainment. The countryside, the stars, some good food on the barbeque and a few beers with friends are all the entertainment we are looking for.
As we have a campervan (not a motorhome) we are not self-contained and so need good facilities, but do not usually need an electric hook-up (it is camping after all, who needs electricity!)
In addition to the above, the main things I want to know when I look at a camping website is how much it costs, and specifically what do I get for that charge – there is a great variation in how campsites organise their fees, often varying seasonally. Some charge per person, some per unit including a set number of people, some charge extra for an awning or tent in addition to the van. While this is often a small amount of money, I like to know these things. And of course how to book.
Even though the majority of camping websites I have looked at are run by small businesses, or are a diversification of another business such as farming, they usually manage to do all of this even though it is unlikely that they have a large budget, knowledge specific to the internet, or the time to deal with setting up and managing a website.
However, the Pembrey website is run (according to the website) by the Tourism & Marketing Division of Carmarthenshire County Council. And while they have included 1534 words of booking conditions, and a further 3626 words of campsite rules and regulations. They only manage to have 489 words of information related to promoting the campsite and encouraging users to become customers by providing essential information of which only 144 words are related to camping, the remainder being about seasonal pitches (where a caravan or motorhome owner would rent a pitch for the entire season to save the cost and effort of moving their unit).
Crucially they fail to mention any details about facilities, how many toilets, where are they, are the hot showers free or coin operated etc and while you might, in the comfort of your home or office think this is trivial, believe me it is not when you are in a field, in the dark and rain after a few too many beers and realise you have to walk half a mile or you are standing in a shower block after a day getting salty and sandy to find that you don’t have any 50p coins.
I wonder if anyone involved in the website development or management has ever used the facilities? Or talked to someone who has, perhaps conducted a simple survey to identify the essential items of information that a user would look for. Or they might have looked at other camping websites and identified common information. This is not hard, or costly or difficult for someone on a salary.
Of course, I am not criticising this website specifically, in essence there is only one item of information that is missing for me, although that missing information is sufficient to stop me from booking. Rather I am using it as an example of so many public-sector websites that seem to fail: sometime subtly, but often spectacularly in the basic task of thinking about the needs of the customer rather than almost entirely about their own message.
And it’s not just about what might seem to some like a strong criticism for a relatively small failure: forgot to mention toilets. In principle, it does not matter what has been forgotten, or omitted, or poorly communicated, in this ever more competitive, highly commercial world that we find ourselves, particularly when we are selling at a distance, in what is really a self-service environment, it is always a single failure that prevents a user becoming a customer, one thing that stops them clicking to buy, or book, or carry out whatever your website goal is.
The key difference perhaps might lie in motivation. To the small business, whether or not they get sufficient bookings in the short tourist season, the vagaries of the welsh weather coupled with the unpredictability of costs involved in running a campsite is the difference between keeping afloat and going under.
A simple task for the website marketers is to think about the person reading the content and asking the question what are they looking for? What are the users’ tasks? If you do not answer these on your website, then the site fails.
If someone in the Tourism & Marketing Division of Carmarthenshire County Council would like to get in touch I will be happy to discuss the needs of their customers and help them.
If you are having difficulty with your website give me a call on 01639 680248.
After 23 years working in electronics, production and mechanical engineering fields Nigel has spent the last 18 years working in the field of business development specifically on the internet.
Being at the start of the digital economy, Nigel has adapted and applied the principles of business development to the rapidly changing scene of the internet. With it the creation of new business models that work for clients had been his objective.
An author and digital business speaker his book “Getting a website that works for your business” has helped hundreds of SME business owners understand the principles of online success.
Today Nigel runs a digital consultancy PelaTis Online Ltd, an independent eBusiness consultancy working with retail, manufacturing and service businesses. His insights and understanding of the way the internet works and the direction it is going in makes him the go to consultant for online business success.