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Travel Brochures: How to Avoid Being Hidden in Plain Sight

Tips for Travel Brochures

Every few months, an article will pop up that proclaims the death of travel brochures. They claim that websites, digital marketing, or some newfangled technology have effectively sent printed travel brochures the way of the dodo. I respectfully disagree, and I think those articles are little more than clickbait.

Has the travel brochure gone from a leading piece of tourism marketing to often-neglected collateral? Absolutely. Are destinations spending less on them? Sure, when inflation isn’t involved. But they still serve a valuable purpose in showing travelers that there are exciting breaks in the monotony of long road trips. They still inform campers and hotel guests of what there is to do in town. They assert a destination when someone hasn’t thought to look up the tourism website (which I believe happens a lot).

The travel brochure lives on. But how well is it doing its job? It all depends on the thought that goes into its design and an understanding that it’s not without any competing distractions. I’m gonna throw on my designer hat for some things to consider when you’re updating your travel brochure (which is soon, right?):

Avoid cluttered covers. There’s a lot you want to say in your brochure. I get it. But it doesn’t all need to be said on the cover. Starbursts and flashy callouts, or wild-and-crazy color palettes don’t help with visibility. Solid areas of color, combined with large images of natural color, and very few words will help it stand out. Simplicity also conveys elegance. Starbursts do the exact opposite.

Expect limitations. There will also be times when most of your cover won’t even be visible. This is especially true with the brochure holders in hotels and apparently, Columbus, Ohio.

Design of Travel Brochures

You need to give special consideration to the top fifth of your cover design. In as few words as possible, tell the traveler what you’re offering. Maybe it’s relaxation. Or, maybe it’s ziplines. Maybe it’s the hottest chili this side of the Rio Grande. Whatever. Be clear about why they should pick your brochure over another – and be prepared for the brochure to be mostly covered up when you do.

Design for your audience. If you’re feeling compelled to use small type in your layout (less than 9 pt. font), you’re probably trying to say too much. Most people that use travel brochures are older and, as I’m starting to learn, eyesight doesn’t get better with age.

Also, try to test your design by giving it to people that don’t already know your area. There’s a lot that can be taken for granted by people that are too familiar with the destination. That little exercise can tell you if it’ll be confusing to visitors.

Get the reader online ASAP. While the readers of these brochures skew older, they’re not all unfamiliar with technology. Use this to your advantage when designing the brochure. Thanks to COVID, we’re all used to QR codes now. You can lead the reader – by QR code, custom URL, etc. – to a unique promotion that only they’ll know about. Use this for data capture through email signups and QR code tracking.

Use just enough information to draw interest, then drive them to a webpage that can be updated far more often – and provide videos and a lot more information than an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper. And speaking of paper size,…

Opt for a quad-fold brochure. Most travel brochures are set up the same way: one side has all of the photos and text, and the inside has a map. By getting 33% more space, you can make the map easier to read, and lay out the photos and copy in a way where things aren’t crammed, and the brochure will feel more substantial when someone picks it up. I’d say to go with a heavier stock of paper as well, but then things start to get pricey. Just avoid super glossy paper. It just looks cheap.

The concept of travel brochures is one that still has a lot of miles left in it. There is still a need for a piece of paper that you can grab and take with you when you’re new in town. Just make sure that, just like you do with your ads, website, and all things digital, you’re also optimizing these for your audience.

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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