Remember Wanderlust? Our study into travel behaviours in a pre-pandemic world

Our long journey with Destination NSW to study travel behaviours in a pre-pandemic world.

2021.04.25 - Tourism - Bonnie McTavish
Winding road


We’re passionate about travel. Who isn’t? It’s de rigueur on online dating profiles, it’s the go-to conversation when talking with friends, it’s what we stalk on Instagram. Booking a trip is what we look forward to, save up for, and dream about. Well, at least we used to.

In our new Covid reality, overseas travel is a slippery dream, but that has only encouraged us to ‘holiday here this year’, as Destination NSW urged us to do in their post-bushfire campaign. Don’t even think of crossing that border though!

At the beginning of 2020, before the still-surreal restrictions of Covid were upon us, I undertook a comprehensive qualitative research project into the travel habits of Australians. We work with Destination NSW across, and, and this research project was going to inform the direction we took for a new maps experience online.

The travellers I spoke to did not yet know their only options for upcoming holidays would be restricted to their state, but revisiting these insights now, it’s a pleasant reminder that Australia has so much to offer its residents. We may not be able to board a flight, or even cross interstate borders at this point in time, but we are genuinely lucky to be living in one of the safest and most beautiful places on Earth.

My research findings only serve to reinforce the fact that Australians are inquisitive and exploratory in nature, always wanting to unturn every stone and discover something new...even if that might only be in their own backyard, for now.

Empress Waterfalls in the Blue Mountains of NSW, Australia.

There was an opportunity to create interactive, contextual maps to help the visitor get their bearings, familiarise themselves with the area and get inspired for a new trip.

Bonnie MacTavish, Head of Experience Strategy NIGHTJAR

Why This Project?

Incredibly, the tourist sites for Destination NSW don’t currently include a really robust maps experience. Visitors to the and sites are faced with an overwhelming wall of destinations, but if you’re not a local, these are almost impossible to navigate.

There was an opportunity to create interactive, contextual maps to help the visitor get their bearings, familiarise themselves with the area and get inspired for a new trip.

Destination NSW work with ATDW (Australian Tourism Data Warehouse) so there is a huge catalogue of hotels, activities, attractions and landmarks to be shared with users. How we might do so in a way that feels seamless and exploratory was also a core consideration.

The research was undertaken in order to:
clarify how users interact with online maps
uncover core needs when researching destinations online
identify new opportunities of growth for the site

In a series of hour long phone interviews with a range of participants demographically representative of Destination NSW’s website visitors, I heard all about a wide range of Australians’ travel rituals, their booking misadventures, their millions of tabs open, the pure stress of it all, followed by the relief and true enjoyment when you’re actually able to finally unwind at your destination. It was a rollercoaster!

My favourite part of the job - getting to understand people and all their wild and wonderful motivations.

Pulling It Together

As part of my research process, I end up with a colossal amount of notes. I love old-school pencil to paper when I’m chatting to people. I also record the audio but I find there are always gems people reveal and I make sure I capture these (usually with stars and arrows and circles scribbled all over them) in the moment.

I have reams and reams of (recycled) paper on which I organise the chaos. For each project a kind of template will emerge, usually after the first interview, which I’ll then use for each subsequent interview. I’ll divide the sheet into sections, based on the way the conversation flows and how the discussion guide has been organised.

The result is a sheet for each research participant, with a discernable pattern I’m able to then start to form my findings from.

Pencil and paper all the way.


Across my cohort of respondents, three clear travel archetypes emerged - which were not necessarily related to their stage of life. These three groups share common approaches and opinions when it comes to booking travel, and they have different needs when it comes to going online to research and book travel.

UX Illustrations
Our archetypes: the frenetic ‘Itinerary Master’, the more laidback ‘Researched Adventurer’ and the romantic ‘Carefree Culture Chaser’.

We love having opinions and personal bias is innate, but we’re not always the target market for the products we create.

Bonnie MacTavish, Head of Experience Strategy NIGHTJAR

Archetypes are important for a few reasons - they help bring colour and depth to a user we might not necessarily otherwise easily empathise with. As UXers and designers the number one rule is to put that ego aside, it’s not about you. We love having opinions and personal bias is innate, but we’re not always the target market for the products we create.

Archetypes also help client-side digital teams because they provide a perspective that can sometimes be overlooked when developing tech solutions. For the maps tool to be truly relevant to the end user, it was imperative that we understood their process and solved their biggest problems when researching domestic travel online.

I found that one of the archetypes, the ‘Itinerary Master’ who do not leave a thing to chance, are compelled to read every review on the internet, only for this to stress them out completely and leave them overwhelmed at the thought of booking a trip. These spreadsheet ninjas will even go so far as to create their own, printable maps, with destinations plotted along the way.

On the other end of the spectrum sit the ‘Carefree Culture Chasers.’ With flowers in their hair and their bare feet in the sand, relaxation is the name of the game, at every point of the process. These dreamer stop to smell the roses, quite literally, and only rely on digital during the research and booking phase. When they’re on the road or at their destination, technology is shunned in favour of paper maps and landmarks, in order to thoroughly soak up the moment.

Somewhere in between sat our ‘Researched Adventurers’. They love Google, avoid set road trip itineraries, and are highly offended by dodgy website imagery. Hard to please because they’re all over the latest trends, they want to devour as much information prior to hitting a destination so that they can relax once they’re there, knowing they’ve got it covered.

Knowledge Sharing

A challenge faced at every agency I’ve worked at is how knowledge is shared amongst the team. At Nightjar, we’re fortunate because the team is small so most hands will touch every project. However, we still have fortnightly sessions to share what’s been keeping us busy, so I took that opportunity to polish my preso before meeting with the wider Destination NSW marketing and digital teams.

In the height of the Covid craziness, I shared my findings with a strong Zoom DNSW contingent, along with suggestions of how this research could be taken into account when designing the new contextual maps product to live across the websites.

Nightjar team share
Sharing findings with the wider team.

Shaping The Solution

Once I was able to share the insights with the Nightjars internally, the UX and design teams workshopped some of the opportunities uncovered during the journey mapping phase, which then formed part of the maps solution.

Even seemingly obvious findings such as making sure we show the distance and travel times on the map for context, were vital in assuring the efficacy of the UX and making a useful experience for visitors.

By understanding how real people research, plan and book travel, we could shape the UX and the design of the maps product accordingly, to make sure we’re answering their needs - whatever their travel archetype. Our solution is currently in development and will be live on the sites imminently (just in time for NSW residents to explore the world within their borders!)

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