Aldeias do Xisto Experience
In the beginning of 2012, Aldeias do Xisto had a communication problem: the organization’s website, a fundamental component of their global communication strategy, was nowhere near where they wanted to be.
With heterogeneous content created at different stages in the life of the organization, and a structure that grew into an unclear state, visitors couldn’t get a good feel of the Aldeias do Xisto experience.
There was also an underlying ambition of making the website a part of the experience itself: a tool that visitors would use to improve their experience at Aldeias do Xisto before, during and after their visit, and one that would allow for AdX Partners (Hotels, Restaurants, Craftspeople, Outdoor activity hosts, etc.) to interact with visitors and between themselves, like a true community.
Aldeias do Xisto is a sustainable development project focused on a specific region of Portugal. It’s a network of 27 villages scattered through the mountains and rivers of the interior of the country.
The organization brings together around 100 private operators, touristic and others. These operators are bound by a shared brand, a joint promotion of the region, and the adding of value to each other’s offer via creating richer experiences, instead of isolated tourism events.
Would you prefer to book a hotel for a week, or sign up for a week long experience — sleeping arrangements included?
As usual, our first step was to look at the challenge at hand. What’s out there in terms of industry, what the national and foreign competition looks like, as far as eco, outdoor and rural tourism go. This gave us a pretty good idea of what could set us apart from the pack, as far as online experience.
It was clear from the start that the main challenge was not the technical implementation, but rather translating all the different ideas and ambitions from so many different stakeholders into an implementable set of features.
The project team had to dig down to the core, and find out what was common across the board, how the website would work as a tool for everyone to get value from, and how this would map into a strategy for content, site flow and eventually features.
With that deeper knowledge at hand, we went and spoke to several different stakeholders, as well as a relatively large project team. Over several days we sat down and had collaborative sessions with different types of stakeholders, trying to understand what their individual business goals were, and how we could build a platform that helped as much as possible, and alienated none.
All this fieldwork with users had to be connected to the larger branding work that had previously taken place at AdX. This had an obvious impact in visual design, but also a more underlying one in terms of content structure and tone. What are we talking about, to whom, what are they looking for, how can we service them?
What came out of all this discovery was that we needed three major functions:
- the website function: people need information, planned journeys, etc;
- the community function: people want to relate to others, talk about experiences, relate to locals;
- the online store, where craftspeople can have their products sold under the AdX umbrella.
The challenge was to put together a content strategy and an information architecture that allowed users to use the three functions above as one, with a flow that felt natural to everyone.
On the visual language and design aspect, and if you one day visit the region, do take a moment to appreciate the colours and textures, unique to this part of Portugal. The green of the trees, the earthly palette of the mountains or the blue flow of rivers and the schist formations are distinct marks of the region. We drew inspiration from all these foundations for the visual language for the portal: a design full of textures and colours, but simple and contemporary.
As the funnel of uncertainty became more and more narrow, we came to the point of drawing up the technical aspects of the what we were going to implement, and how the platform would cope with all this functional complexity, make it simple for the end user, somehow, and still be performant, flexible and robust.
We choose to Drupal as the core building block of all the components. Not only does Drupal excels at dealing with complex contents and layouts, it allowed us to fully tailor the editorial experience for the AdX’s team, providing a system that adapts to the demanding editorial process and integrates with the communication channels.
One of the things that were important during the technical development of the project was not to lose the proximity we had with the key stakeholders after the workshops, to keep them in the loop and excited about the future. As the platform was shaping up, content curation workshops kicked in. In a project with so many different stakeholders, it was important that all the editors understood the principles of how content should be curated, standards, etc. These workshops ensured that everyone was up to par, and future content was as good as the initial batch.
With content growing organically, implementation here, tweaking there, and fine tuning everywhere, our platform was ready to go. Nothing like a major tourism fair to kick things off and the new website was presented at Lisbon’s BTL 2014.
aldeiasdoxisto.pt is now the central piece in Aldeias do Xisto’s communication. Visitors are no longer confined to what they can see or the information they can get where they are, they can plan visits, hikes, see where’s the nearest beach or simply buy some local goods.
The site has over 3.000 new visitors each week and around 20.000 pageviews. The community is an active part of everyday life of locals, who engage with each other just as much as with incoming visitors.
Aldeias do Xisto are now as much of an experience online as they are offline! And it’s just getting started.