Helping Travelers Plan

9-29-13235_edited-1I don’t need much when I travel – usually just a destination and a loose plan. Lately, water and birds figure in our travel plans. I’d heard that spectacular birding opportunities can be found on the western shores of Lake Erie, so was the destination.

Like most travelers today, I went to the internet to create the loose plan. With a few clicks, I ended up on one of the best travel sites I’ve ever visited – run by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. In addition to understanding birds, BSBO understands birders and the impact this niche group has on the local economy.

What’s so great about BSBO’s website? Follow along at

This is an attractive site built on a simple platform. BSBO posts fresh content on a regular basis. (We visited the area September 27-30, and since then, the site has posted an advisory that the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge is closed due to the federal shut-down.) A pretty picture grabbed my attention; the sidebars left and right drew me deeper into the site to find the information we needed for a weekend stay.

The left sidebar is a list of pages for birding – information about wildlife refuges with detailed maps, an article about what birds show up during which months, a graph to illustrate peak autumn warbler migration, a northwest Ohio bird checklist. More crisp photographs illustrated each page.

This is the minimum I expect from any travel site – information about the destination, what we could expect to see, when might be the best time to visit. It’s the right sidebar that most impresses me. Below a list of sponsors and hours of operation, I found links to pages for the Black Swamp Birds and Business Alliance (BSBBA).


Magee Marsh/Ottawa National Wildlife Area

So to plan our trip, the BSBO site led me here –







Bollins Birds & Beds

here –






Jack’s Superette

and here –The BSBBA page includes a pdf of business cards for visitors to print and leave at the various establishments we visited. Intrigued, I did just that – and was warmly greeted as a welcome guest each time I included one of those little cards along with payment for services and food.

There are several Civic Tourism lessons here. But my point today is that heritage destinations need to think about service before a tourist packs the car. And the place to begin is where most tourists start their planning – on the web. My experience with is a great example. Virtually effortless planning made for an effortless trip. Instead of using up precious birding time to find travel amenities, the BSBO site provided all the information I needed before we left home.

Certainly, our websites need to promote our attractions. But we should keep in mind what travelers need, too. Identifying places to stay, eat, and shop increases the likelihood that travelers will visit your location – and stick around long enough to support the businesses that support your heritage destination.

What’s on your website?