Most vacation plans begin with a focal point or a main attraction in mind. Think Niagara Falls or the Sistine Chapel. But it might not be that grand or iconic for everyone all of the time. It could be a music festival, a beautiful beach, or a hotel that one of your friends couldn’t stop talking about last summer.

But these focal points are only the start of the story for most travellers - especially for those of us who are determined to get off the beaten path and create a genuine, unique vacation experience. These people, like me, want to delve deeper, discover more and get the very most from their time away from home. For us, the iconic attraction, the spark, the inspiration - whatever you want to call it - is where we begin. It’s by no means the final destination.

But how do we, as independent travellers, sift through all the information and plan the finer details of our trip?

My parents would have gone to a travel agent. When I was younger, I’d have bought a Lonely Planet guide. But today it’s all about the web. OTAs like and peer-to-peer review sites like TripAdvisor dominate the market and drive the leisure choices we make, yet they don’t offer anything close to a full picture of a vacation destination. We still have to connect the dots.

There might be a superb independent hotel or guesthouse that gets wonderful reviews or a fantastic new restaurant that has opened down town and is attracting critical acclaim. But if I don’t know the area, how do I join the dots between all these places without having to spend hours researching loads of websites and guides? How do I even know which dots to connect in the first place?, for example, would not be an efficient way to plan a road trip across California and work out the best places to visit en route. And once travellers have booked their accommodation with an OTA or direct with the hotel it’s then a case of looking on several other websites, such TripAdvisor to get an idea of things to do and where to visit, checking on the attraction’s own site for opening hours, then using GoogleMaps (or an equivalent) to work out how to get from one place to the next. What many travellers need is something that gathers all this information together in one place, gives it some context based on your preferences and presents it in an easily digestible format.

Many independent hotels and hostels are exploring the potential for including trip planners on their websites for just such a reason. However, it’s not been an immediately obvious strategy for venues that play an equally important role in enriching the local tourist scene, such as galleries, markets and historic sites.

With this in mind, it might make sense for DMOs to supplement their own online marketing and promotional strategies by adding a trip planner on their own websites. Unlike DMOs, managers of many tourist attractions still view their amenities in isolation and don’t see themselves as part of a larger tourist-industry ecosystem. While including a trip planner on an art gallery, iconic attraction, market or stately home website could be a quick and effective way of becoming part of that larger narrative, it’s not always immediately obvious to them why they should do so. Perhaps some feel that they’d be actively promoting ‘the competition’. This means that it’s often left to DMOs to showcase the full range of venues that might be of interest to visitors.

It’s logical, I suppose as DMOs know a great deal about this larger narrative. And in many instances have actually helped to shape and promote it. They see the big tourism and vacation picture and, for a lot of travellers, are one of the first ports of call for planning, advice and guidance. They should be the people to help me connect those dots and shine some light on the less immediately obvious, but worthwhile and rewarding places to visit. I tend to find that this is the case to an extent, so when I’m planning a trip, I tend to turn to a DMO website to get a sense of a destination’s historic and cultural attractions and, if I decide to book a vacation there, return to the site to download maps or brochures.

An integrated online trip planner could be a natural extension to the information available on a DMO’s website and help potential visitors to the area join the dots between all the different local attractions in a way that’s not always possible - or immediately obvious to a traveller or visitor?

For smaller DMOs with more modest budgets, an online trip planner could provide a cost-effective and innovative way of presenting local attractions and showcasing the very best that their region has to offer. Inspirock’s trip planner platform, for example, builds a detailed personalised travel itinerary which can be customised, downloaded, or shared with friends and family by email or social media. Users get help in planning their vacations, and DMOs get to promote their destination in a unique and deeply engaging way.

Trip planners also offer a way of driving more visitors to their site, keeping them on the site for longer and generally increasing visibility - all key metrics for Search Engine Optimisation and Ranking. Regardless of a DMO’s size, however, an online trip planner could also be a very easy way of allowing potential visitors to create a personalised itinerary and illustrating how a city, state or country could be a perfect destination for them. This kind of technology could, therefore, play a significant role in helping DMO’s actively promote their destination as a culturally rich and unique place to visit.

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