I’ve been working with Hanna Stables, a family owned and operated tourism business in Belize since 2012, but mainly doing web-based sales and marketing while my other half took care of the web design. However, in two years time, the website he had created was already looking dated and was in need of some modernization. So I took this as an opportunity to flex my e-commerce design skills as well as enhance some other aspects of Hanna Stables’ online presence.
The initial redesign of Hanna Stables gave it a responsive site with e-commerce capabilities, but there was still room for improvement. The goal of this redesign was to push a parallax design that incorporated more of our professional photography that we had captured, as well as display more products.[/tw-column]
Skills and Tools Used
This website was built on WordPress using WooCommerce as an e-commerce solution. Digital photos were captured using a Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D600, and FujiFilm x100s. Photos were edited using Adobe PhotoShop and graphic design was done using Adobe Illustrator.[/tw-column]
When we began working with Hanna Stables in 2012, a LOT of work was needed. Our adventure began with a 3 week stay in Belize during which we experienced the services that we were selling and collected multimedia (photos and video) and information we would later use to populate the website. We also ensured that the Hanna Stables logo was modernized in a vector file that could be used anywhere.
This first version of the website was already pretty modern in that it:
1. was responsive (or mobile-friendly)
2. offered the ability to reserve and pay for new bookings online
3. introduced the concept of vacation packages (bundles of accommodations and activites, rather than a la carte purchases)
Overall, our initial work paid off immensely as we established our baseline of sales expectations, since no prior sales records had been kept electronically before. We also spent that first year doing overseeing the online sales and inquiries for the client to establish bookkeeping records and see if more improvements could be made. In early 2014, we also made a return trip to Belize for several more weeks to meet up face-to-face with our business partner (a high value for maintaining international business relationships) and collect more multimedia footage, this time focused more on video.
Hanna Stables – Latest Redesign
Based on guest feedback, the main problem with the former Hanna Stables website was a lack of visibility of vacation packages, which were our bread and butter services. I also noted that the initial vacation packages we had created were a bit biased, offering daily hardcore activities each day, and not including any rest and relaxation days (but really, who wants to rest and relax in Belize?! A lot of people, it turns out). My main solution was to create two different types of vacation packages–Active and Relaxation, but that in turn created the problem of having 18 different vacation package options. How were they all supposed to fit on the homepage??
The resulting design addressed these problem in several ways, described through the Key Elements below.
Key Element: Shopping Cart Display
First, it organizes all of our service offerings according to type: there’s a button for Active Vacation Packages, Relaxation Vacation Packages, and simply Day Tours. Second, the website presents our most popular tour and package offerings. Admittedly, this is probably the feature that is working the best as these are by far the most popular items that are booked.
Finally, I placed a couple of “Book Now” call-to-action buttons in logical places on the homepage to help guests get to exactly where they wanted to go if they wanted to book immediately. This is actually very common among our guests as most visitors to our website find us by searching specifically for “Hanna Stables.” Who says word of mouth marketing is dead?
In terms of content, most of this had been completed in the first redesign, but there were still a few things missing:
Key Element: Staff page:
One of my personal pet peeves of booking a vacation somewhere is not being clear on who my host is. You can seriously tell a lot just by looking at someone’s face. I made sure to add a Staff page with clear photos and short biographies of everyone who works at Hanna Stables.
Key Element: Location page
A tricky part about Belize (and most parts of the world) are their lack of clear street signs and addresses. GPS won’t do you much good, and it was difficult to explain the location to travelers. The solution was a Contact page that included a map as well as specific details on how to locate the property.
Key Element: Videography
During our recent trip to Belize, we used our DSLR cameras to capture video footage of the people of the country to help illustrate the experiences that prospective guests could expect. Video types include an interview with Rudy Juan, the original creator of Nabitunich and Hanna Stables, and an interview with an ancient Mayan shaman.
Key Element: Flyers and Rate Sheets
When planning a vacation, it’s common for prospective guests to need to bounce ideas off of others such as friends or family members. Recognizing that many of our guests were of the baby boomer age, I decided that relying on guests to use hyperlinks wasn’t enough, and that we should also offer downloadable pieces of content that could be printed or easily attached to emails. As a result, I designed a printable flyer and corresponding rate sheets.
This component of the redesign was also a huge endeavor in itself. Having spent a total of 6 weeks in Belize, I had traveled pretty much the whole country and collected photos and knowledge along the way. I decided that the best place to showcase all of this content, while also helping prospective guests plan their own trips, was to create a mini travel guide in lieu of a blog. This involved writing 36 short blogs and infusing them with photos, all in the span of a week. The result is a nice comprehensive guide to the region, along with a custom map pinpointing all of these special areas.
The final piece was a new form of marketing to drive social media interaction and ideally boost sales. When we first took over the Hanna Stables Facebook page, there were a mere 130 likes. Today, we are at 900 likes and growing, but we were in need of a fresh campaign idea. Again going back to the masses of content we had collected over the course of 6 weeks, I decided that a #BelizeBucketList type of campaign sounded the most effective. This would make great use of the huge array of photos we had collected, as well as summarize all of our unique experiences while encouraging others to try them as well. After all, we knew that most of the visitors to the stables tended to come back repeatedly. Why not show them parts of Belize they may not have seen previously? The resulting #BelizeBucketList campaign has kicked off with great response so far. I look forward to tracking its progression throughout the year.
Wrap Up and Conclusion
The new Hanna Stables website has been live for about a month now, and already we have seen vacation package bookings roll in at a steady rate. Already, our year number two of finances are projecting a 67% increase in revenue compared to the revenue we tracked from year one. Everyone both here in Seattle and on site in Belize is ecstatic and optimistic for an even better year of sales throughout year three.
For this latest Hanna Stables redesign, I did the entire project myself–web design, graphic design, copy and blog writing, product development, all while continuing to manage online sales and bookkeeping, and of course going about my other freelance photography responsibilities. A lot of work? Yeah. But all of it was so much fun it didn’t feel like work! Perhaps one of the best advantages of all was being able to find applicable uses for the thousands of photos I had collected previously. Seeing (and purposely using) my images blown up on the homepage, scattered throughout the website and marketing materials was awesome and has inspired the way I approach client-based photography going forward. It’s incredibly important to understand how your photos will be used, not only for pricing accuracy, but to help guide how you frame, compose, and ultimately shoot an image.
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