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Enhancing User Engagement and Compliance: The Essential Role of DMO Website Accessibility

Curtis Thompson and Elise McClain Sr. Vice President of Technology | Associate MarTech Director

In today’s digital age, the internet serves as a crucial gateway to services, information, entertainment, and just about everything else under the sun. The importance of making this digital gateway accessible to all cannot be overstated, especially for DMOs. A recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) highlights their intention to strengthen rules for web content and mobile application accessibility. While these rollouts won’t be mandated for another two to three years, with the timeline dependent on the size of the community, the DOJ’s move aims to ensure that state and local government websites and applications are accessible to people with disabilities. It also brings to light the critical need for DMOs to prioritize web accessibility.

Why Accessibility Matters More Than Ever for DMOs

Accessibility on the web is vital for ensuring that everyone, including travelers with disabilities, can access vital information and services online. From emergency details to travel and tourism websites, the web opens up a world of possibilities that should be equally available to all. For DMOs, this means adopting web design and development practices that further accommodate users with various disabilities, thus ensuring that no one is excluded from accessing their content and services.

We at Madden believe travel is for everyone. This commitment has seen us emphasize accessibility as part of holistic destination marketing with our DMO clients. Travelers with disabilities must be able to conduct research prior to planning their trips, and website accessibility features not only enable them to do so, but also make them feel that the destination is more welcoming to travelers like them.

Beyond Checking a Box

Our commitment to accessibility and inclusion goes beyond simply checking a box for compliance. We understand the significance of accessibility in web design and development and the doors that it can open for many travelers. The perception of inclusion is not enough and must be met with actions that create access for all. Therefore, our development team employs a suite of compliance tools to meet WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) standards.

Leveraging UserWay‘s suite of solutions on our own site and on other client sites, Madden enhances web accessibility and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance. UserWay’s AI-powered tools and customizable UI options make our websites easily navigable for users with disabilities, demonstrating our commitment to inclusion and setting our sites apart in usability  legal compliance.

The Tangible Benefits of Accessibility for SEO and UI/UX

The DOJ’s ADA ruling on website accessibility has significant implications for the travel and tourism industry, particularly in the areas of user experience (UX), user interface (UI), and to a lesser extent, search engine optimization (SEO).

While an accessible website benefits all site visitors, regardless if they have a recognized disability or not, imagine a traveler with accessibility needs — whether it be a cognitive disability, spectrum disorder, or limited mobility, vision, or hearing — is trying to plan a dream vacation. If a destination’s website relies heavily on complex visuals and lacks features compatible with screen readers, the entire process becomes an obstacle course for said traveler. The DOJ’s April 2024 ruling ensures that local and federal websites prioritize features that create a smooth and inclusive experience for all. This includes creating content with clear and concise language, incorporating alternative text descriptions for images, ensuring keyboard navigability, building logical tab orders, and testing design for the correct color contrast ratios. By implementing these accessibility features sitewide, travel websites become user-friendly for not only people with disabilities, but for everyone

Another consideration is SEO. While this shouldn’t be the primary driver for ADA compliance, there can be positive secondary effects. Websites designed with WCAG 2.1 AA in mind tend to be more usable and discoverable overall. Clear navigation, logical structure, and focus on well-written content all contribute. These implementations can lead to users spending more time on a website, which is a factor that search engines consider when ranking websites. What’s more, websites with clear content are easier for search engines to crawl and understand. This can improve the website’s ranking for relevant search terms, making it more discoverable to potential travelers looking for specific destinations or experiences.

Accessibility as a Cornerstone of Digital Strategy

The importance of web accessibility for DMOs has never been more evident. By ensuring that websites and mobile applications are accessible to all, DMOs can engage a wider audience, enhance user satisfaction, and foster a more inclusive digital environment. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, prioritizing accessibility will be crucial for DMOs aiming to stay competitive and compliant, while making a positive impact on the travel experience for individuals with disabilities. Together with our clients, we embrace this opportunity to make the digital world accessible to everyone, showcasing the beauty and diversity of our destinations to every traveler.

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