During a four month sabbatical in 2016, I lived on the island of Koh Phangan, while helping my friends grow their business…

TruTravels are a growing group-travel agency, based in the UK. They currently run a variety of tours in Asia.

As an independent start-up, they needed low-cost solutions to their various communication challenges, which would help them align their brand to their ambitions. I was asked by Joe Fallon (the Director and owner) to help facilitate this journey and deliver their new website, while living on Koh Phangan over three months.

Since the initial work and development we did on the site, the website has gone through considerable design and layout changes – but I’m happy to see that a lot of the content research that went into the original iteration has been kept – and the #justgo hashtag from the initial advertising collateral has also remained!

On a more personal note: the experience I had with the team while out in Thailand was life changing and incredibly fun, and I’ll always be grateful for this extraordinary work experience.

Company

Tru Travels

Please note: this is not the original website iteration.

Client

Joe Fallon and Mark Pope

What We Did

A new website, a stronger brand identity, CMS Management, consultancy, content & IA, art direction, research, user experience, visual design & graphics.

Digital Discovery – before the trip…

To apply for the role I prepared a document outlining the approach, and some examples of the tools I would use to help TruTravels elevate their brand. This document included: a basic heuristic evaluation, a brief Google Analytics overview, a competitor landscape review, a social media channel audit and a gap analysis sample (focusing on their Brand, Tech and UX, which are my areas of expertise).

I then recommended creating a digital strategy and content plan (based around the ‘three-P’s: Policies, Priorities and People) which would introduce better integration across their mobile, social media, email and marketing (both on and offline) channels.

Processes and planning

At this stage, Tru had grown from a ‘two-man’ operation into a small but expanding business (employing ten people). The processes needed to be put in place to help support the rapid growth, so this was going to be an operational, as well as a visual identity project. As soon as I arrived in Koh Phangan, we got to work – starting with a robust Discovery process, which would help us define their challenges, audiences and to establish the project plan.

As we were working to a three-month timeframe, and there was a lot of work to be done, I put some processes in place that would help us work together as a team more effectively. We used the Asana app to keep the team organised, connected, and to delegate tasks, and I drafted a three-month project plan which was visible in the office space, so everyone could keep track of the various deadlines along the way.

Research

As TruTravels are a small, independent company, I had direct input and support from their entire team (in the UK and in Thailand) as well as direct access to their customers (who were on tour).

The project also allowed me to use my various skill-sets concurrently, working as Project Manager, Content Architect/User Experience Consultant, Graphic Designer as well as helping align the brand. We held a strategy and process workshop on the 14th of October, during which the entire team helped identify key comms and organisational issues, which I then translated into an Insights & Actions planner.

Download Insights & Actions planner

Workshops

While defining the content for the Insights & Actions document, we identified the need for a number of workshops, which would each cover specific subjects that needed to be addressed.

During the Brand workshop we tried to clarify the TruTravels Brand, to get some insights into the audience needs. It helped us define the core problem areas (on and offline) so we could improve the marketing communications through identifying and applying the (new) Tru Core Brand values.

Download Brand Workshop PlanDownload Brand Workshop Deliverables

Promotional materials

While all the planning and workshops were happening, the developer was preparing the site for build. During this time, I worked on the printed materials, including the following:

Tour Brochure – design/copywriting edits
(TruTravels use this brochure to help Agents sell their tours)

Marketing graphics (banners, posters, stickers)

Signage (for the Thongsala HQ)

Online research and IA

Card sorts

The first step in the development of the website was to figure out what travellers were looking for when they made a decision to go on the group tours. I did different types of research to inform my IA decisions. In total, I ran three separate card-sort exercises, using cards based on the IA from the previous site, and some additional information (gathered from talking to travelers, the travel guides, past travelers, as well as doing online research).

Card Sort Insights

There were some very useful insights which came out of the card-sort exercises. One of the problems with the previous site was that it was often dismissed because it seemed 'too good to be true' - and there was very little information available outside of the tour-packages themselves online. From the Card Sorts, we found out Travelers were often first time travelers - so Visa and 'Tour Admin' information was highly-sought after either by them, or their parents, along with information about the Country itself. This insight enabled us to introduce the "Plan your Trip" section - containing educational and reassurance content.

Additional research

I also carried out interviews (on Skype and email) with past tour members, to findout why they booked a TruTravels tour. We found most people booked the tours because of three factors:
- price
- schedule/itinerary activities
- and 'laziness/lack of knowledge/time' (group tours enable people to go on a fun holiday without worrying about the details such as who to go with or which hostel to stay at etc).

Sitemapping

Once all the research had been collated and discussed internally, I created the initial site IA. At this stage, TruTravels only ran tours in Thailand (and had one tour in Nepal which was through a partner agency). A 'one-page-per-tour' hierarchy seemed sufficient, without the need for Country sections or landing pages.

Wireframing

As soon as the sitemap was approved, I began to wireframe all the pages on the whiteboard in the studio - as we were working in the same room, and had to stick within the functionality constraints of the WordPress theme. This did allow the full team to feedback on the wireframes as they progressed which was convenient - as they were large and visible for everyone to see.

Change requests

Halfway through the wireframing process we were informed that as the Company was expanding, and there was actually going to be need for a much more in-depth Countries section. This affected the TruTours landing page, which meant re-wireframing and new asset creation, midway through the project.

Content governance and process

As there were many new content pages on the site, copywriting was delegated between four members of the team, while I worked on uploading the content with the developer. I was also responsible for the QA on the copy once it was published. As this was quite a small project, I used the sitemap to keep track of the stages the content was in - marking it off on a daily basis and sharing with the team as needed, with comms taking place via email or in person.

Design & asset creation

We were working with a WordPress theme, so the site required a lot of visuals. I worked directly in Photoshop to create the main templates and additional pages, and we then sourced and created any photography we needed. This was the most laborious part of the process - working consistently through the sections and ensuring any new images were art-directed to create a strong brand.

Project Stats

2400

Total views pre-launch

4500

100% growth in the first 3 months post launch (4,500 views)

15000

300% growth 18 months post launch (15,000 views)