It was going to be the most expensive Web site ever created in New Zealand. Indeed, at a projected cost of $3 million, it was probably going to cost more to develop than the Top 20 local sites rolled together. We never really found out what the site Saatchi and Saatchi proposed for the Tourism Board was going to do, beyond expressing Kevin Roberts’ keynote concept of New Zealand on The Edge, but it’s all academic now. The promotional contract that generated such excitement earlier this year was never completed. The government, keen to avoid any further opportunities for the Prime Minister to demonstrate her difficulty with thinking on her feet, went for the safest pair of hands available in drafting in George Hickton as chief executive. And safe hands seem to have been sought, too, in the hiring of a Web developer to take M&C Saatchi’s "100% Pure New Zealand" slogan on to the Internet. Wellington-based firm Shift was ideally qualified to assist the Tourism Board’s in-house team, having executed a string of major public-sector Web jobs not only with competence, but with a pretty consistent degree of style. Indeed, what’s really striking about the new site is how good it is given the chaotic backdrop and short time-frame to its development. This is no mere branding exercise — it’s a fully fledged, database-driven tourism portal. The site’s branding is largely encapsulated in the five main concepts — "wilderness", "thrill zone", "heart land", "Kiwi spirit" and "chill out" — under which it is organised. These appear on an oddly modest looking home page (an understandable fear of seeming too grandiose, perhaps) enlivened by simple Flash animations, but the site really opens up once you start to use it. The pages here are great examples of portal design. The pages look orderly and consistent, but each is a feast of destinations — up to 40 potential spots for the visitor to click-and-go, plus a search window. Each of the main headings is associated with one of a palette of earthy, organic colours and the navigation flows so nicely you wonder why all Cold Fusion-based sites can’t work this well. There’s written content here, too. Thousands of words of copy, all in good English — although the America’s Cup "feature" presented on the home page is a somewhat awkward foray into editorial. It’s hard to believe the creators of this site have done so well out of such unpromising circumstances. The test will be for the site to be properly incorporated into the marketing campaign, for the board itself to take ownership of it — and for the industry to embrace it so its listings become more comprehensive and thus more useful. But for now, in a sector which has long struggled with shonky and ill-considered Web development, this is a good one. Contact Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org
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