Your driving tour directions are killing your visitors

In Scotland, while staying in Stirling, we picked up a driving tour brochure. It listed a monument to the McRae Clan in the nearby Sheriffmuir area. Being good McCrays, we had to go try to find it. The problem is that the instructions were nearly indecipherable to us. They were crammed into one long block of text with no breaks. Many times the road signs didn’t match what the directions listed. The author assumed we knew more than we did about the local area. To top it off, they were printed in tiny little print. That got me thinking about how to write better directions for your visitors.

We found it! The MacRae
monument near Sheriffmuir. 

Doesn’t everyone have GPS and navigation systems? Sure, lots of people do. But is that any excuse for doing crappy directions? Those who do have navigation systems will want to use them alongside your directions. Those who don’t have GPS will be relying entirely on you. International visitors may not want to use their phone’s navigation to avoid roaming charges. Then there’s the fact that in many rural places, GPS directions are notoriously inaccurate. So even if visitors do have GPS, you may want to offer a more accurate, easier-to-follow set of instructions.

Who are you really writing for? People who are not from here, maybe not even from this country, who maybe don’t speak or read the language very well. People who don’t know the shorthand and common names for things. They may not even have a map of any kind of your area.

With all that in mind, here are the top ways to write better directions for your tourist visitors:

  • Give plenty of space to directions in your materials. Do not pack them into a tiny space in a teeny font. Visitors have to read these while driving, or at least while navigating for the driver. 
  • Define the exact starting point, and pick one that is easy to find. “Go three miles south of Alva” is confusing if you don’t know whether they started counting at the downtown square or the airport much further south. 
  • Include exact addresses of beginning and ending points (and any stops) for GPS users. Test these addresses in a variety of GPS and navigation apps. Details matter on addresses. If you put 916 Oklahoma Blvd for my store, Google Maps struggles. But if you put 916 Okla Blvd, Google gets it right. 
  • For intersections, you can say whether to turn left or right, but also include the direction (north, south, etc.). Include a landmark at the corner where ever possible. 
  • List street names exactly like they appear on signs at the intersection and on signs leading up to the intersection. Where there are street names and highway numbers posted on the same road, include both in your instructions. 
  • For roundabouts or traffic circles, include the turn position (first turn, etc.), as well as identify the road by the destination and road number, exactly like it is posted on the signs at the site. 
  • Reassure visitors they made the correct turn by giving them a landmark they’ll pass after the intersection or roundabout. 
  • Include every single step. Drive through the route and make notes. This has to be the most frustrating and common flaw in directions: the missed step. 
  • Use your “enter” key. Start a new line for each step. 
  • Include the distance and time between steps, when needed. Is it two minutes or an hour to the next point? 
  • Include where to park when they arrive. 
  • If you are doing multi-part directions, like a tour of several locations, make it easy to figure out how to skip one or more sights without throwing off the whole thing. Not every visitor wants to see every single thing on your tour. (Sorry.) 
  • Write mobile-friendly directions. Keep them be simple enough to convey by text message or to read from a mobile phone’s screen. Then post them online a mobile-friendly site. 
  • If you include a map, use Google Maps or a quality GIS program to design it. Do not draw your map by hand or try to create one in a paint program unless you hire a professional artist to create a high-quality map.
  • Get a visitor to try your directions while you watch silently. Note and fix your errors. Then test them again. 
  • Keep them up to date. While you weren’t looking, the transportation department snuck out and changed the signs. Make a special trip to update driving directions once a year. 

Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? It’s like everything else in tourism. The details matter, and it’s worth doing things right.

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About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband own a retail liquor store in Alva, Oklahoma, and a small cattle ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.

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