Design research for VisitScotland

Imagine helping visitors plan the trip of a lifetime

VisitScotland were keen to base their new digital strategy on how people really plan holidays, not just what they say on surveys and in focus groups. Modern Human took them deep undercover inside people’s holiday planning process to help them truly understand what goes into choosing and planning the perfect holiday.

In order to understand how people really book holidays we had to get beyond what they said and actually witness their behaviour throughout the holiday planning process. We conducted an international diary study, during which we delved deep into the holiday booking experience. We wanted to see first-hand every single action our participants took, whether it be general research into holiday destinations or the ‘ah-ha’ moment of identifying their perfect location or experience.

A longitudinal diary study yielded over 1.5 million data points, from which we were able to create a comprehensive map of 132 distinct actions that people take while planning a holiday. It allowed us to dive deep into where holiday inspiration actually comes from and how those ideas are developed. We witnessed how people’s engagement peaks and wanes, and we identified the elements that had the most influence on their opinions and choice of destination. We saw first-hand the entire planning process, from the mundanities of booking time off work and finding flights, to how plans get iterated and amended during a trip and all the ways that people share intimate little moments from their trip with the people back home.

“We're planning the trip of a lifetime around Europe. We're using the tourist board websites to decide whether we should make Scotland or Ireland our final stop.”
Research participant, Illinois, USA

We undertook a deep analysis of each stage of the trip planning process. We wanted to identify opportunities for VisitScotland to influence people’s choice of holiday destination. We found that most people have multiple ideas for potential future trips, ranging from very vague to extremely specific. These might be different types of holidays, such as cruises or road trips, particular destinations, or even something as specific as an experience or attraction (‘I want to play golf at St Andrew’s’, for example). Rather than a list, in which ideas sit in a specific order or priority, people’s ideas for holidays form more of a ‘soup’ - an unstructured mixture of elements of varying degrees of consistency and definition, simmering over time. Some of the ideas are very small and specific (like playing golf at St Andrew’s), while other ideas are larger and less well defined. A range of mechanisms and experiences influence an idea’s ‘position’ in the soup - some ideas may get pushed further towards the top (for example, by the discovery of a deal or direct flights), while others fall to the bottom to be reformulated over time. We mapped these dynamics, helping us to understand what made particular ideas bubble to the surface while others lie dormant for years.

Most of the initial ideas in a person’s idea soup are not concrete enough to be turned into reality and need proactive research to further develop them into something that can be taken forward as an actual holiday. During this stage of holiday planning the goal is visioning - distinct imagined experiences that help transform vague ideas into actual trips. A number of factors are considered during this process, including how practical an idea is and the type of experiences it might involve.

We undertook a deep analysis of the resources people use during this process. We wanted to understand not only which resources people use, but at what stage of their planning journey they use them and what influence these resources have over the process.

Having analysed the results of the diary study in depth, Modern Human were able to create a series of concepts to drive VisitScotland’s digital strategy forwards. These were primarily focussed around the early stages of holiday planning, with the primary goals of raising awareness and helping people to visualise a holiday in Scotland.

A key focus was seeding ideas. Conversations with friends, family and acquaintances are often the most powerful sources during the idea-gathering stage of holiday planning. In order to capitalise on that, we suggested the introduction of ‘instafriendly’ cues that encourage visitors to share their holiday experiences with friends and family back home. Not only is this more likely to spark a conversation with a friend or relative upon their return (thus contributing to another potential visitor’s idea soup), but it also creates additional content for VisitScotland to further amplify. Cultural media was also identified as an effective awareness generator that can prompt people to add Scotland to their idea soup. Our recommendations included working with TV and film production companies as well as fiction writers to encourage them to feature different aspects of Scotland in their work, thus seeding ideas about potential visits.

While informative and accurate, the website assumes that those visiting it have already committed to a trip to Scotland, leaving an experience gap for those who are still developing their ideas. Our recommendations for the website focus on bridging this gap. We created compelling calls to action that encourage a visitor to stay and immerse themselves in the content. ‘Historic Attractions’ became ‘The Scottish history you have to see on your trip’, while ‘Accommodation’ was ‘Cosy places to stay in Orkney’. Some of our concepts address how inspirational content is surfaced, presenting a series of closely connected content in some places and juxtaposing contrasting ideas and activities at others. This is designed to pique the interest of prospective visitors and encourage them to incorporate interesting new ideas to their existing holiday concept.

We reassessed their content taxonomy and the filters they provide. We flipped the way they worked to serendipitously expose people to more potential experiences, by asking users to remove what they’re not interested in, rather than add what they are interested in.

As well as specific recommendations about the functionality and content of the VisitScotland website, we also created a set of personas and behavioural archetypes to guide future design and development. These work together: the digital personas provide information based on measured attributes (like geographic location), as well as perceptions, opinions, attitudes and concrete behaviours, while the behavioural archetypes are based on observed behaviour that’s more difficult to measure, as well as psychological drivers and social and cultural influences. The digital personas and behavioural archetypes distil the insights we’ve developed from researching the experiences of potential visitors into a practical tool. They provide an audience model that’s primarily for informing design decisions, but can be used more broadly to support strategic decisions and the development of marketing content.

In addition to the digital personal & archetype framework, the results of our design research with VisitScotland included an experience map that visualises the common stages of the holiday planning journey and a resources map, detailing the type of resources people draw upon during holiday planning. This provides a comprehensive list capturing all the different resources our research participants used during their holiday planning. VisitScotland are currently in the process of reviewing our findings and recommendations and creating their future digital strategy.