Attracting foreign tourists and investment has emerged as a top priority for Mayors across Australia.

Some of these councils in Australia – and others across New Zealand and US – have partnered with OpenCities to position their cities as progressive and showcase the best their region has to offer.

GovInsider speaks with Alex Gelbak, CEO of OpenCities, to find out what cities should focus on to attract tourists, investors and businesses.

1. A digital front door

Council websites are becoming the “digital front door” for many potential investors and tourists, giving them the first glimpse of what the region has to offer them. “People are going to be judging the council entirely on the digital experience because it’s all they’ve got to go by at that stage,” Gelbak says.

Websites must be easy to use and offer a good user experience to these visitors. “If it’s a beautiful experience for overseas investors or visitor who are interested in that area, they are going to see that council as progressive, dynamic, modern and open for business,” he adds.

The City of Swan, for example, wants to position itself as “one of Australia’s most exciting local government areas”, Mayor Mick Wainwright says. He has just launched a revamped website that reflects this vision.

China is of particular interest to many Mayors, given the enormous potential it has to offer local governments. Mayor Lorraine Rosenberg of Onkaparinga, for example, says that the council has put in “enormous time and financial resources” to build relationships with China. Websites will be crucial to developing these relationships because more than half of China’s population of 1.37 billion is now connected to the internet.

2. Stand out in the crowd

Cities looking to attract investors and tourists are competing on a global scale, not just with their neighbours. “What that means is that Mayors need to look at what’s happening globally around smart cities,” says Gelbak.

They must benchmark themselves against what the best cities in the world are doing, he says. And websites, as the first port of call for many investors, are one of the key indicators of the city’s potential. “They need to ensure that their digital represents a city that’s playing for the global level,” he adds.

A recent study by OpenCities reveals that many Australian council websites don’t currently reflect this. 47% of council websites are completely smartphone friendly, for example. This is important because out of the more than 685 million internet users in China, 90% access websites on their smartphones.

Another area of improvement is security. 86% of councils failed to protect personal data submitted by visitors to their websites. Such insecure websites are clearly flagged by modern websites, and risk harming council’s credibility in the eyes of prospective investors.

Websites should also offer a modern visual experience and user interface to reflect a progressive council. “Good design will shape a person’s experience with council,” Gelbak says. If the website experience is easy, intuitive and quick, then that’s how the council will be perceived.

The Mayor of Scenic Rim Regional Council, Greg Christensen, sees digital as a key tool to boost its global presence. “The identity of Scenic Rim is little known in the world yet, so we see this as an opportunity to present our brand,” he says.

3. Speak their language

When someone visits your front door, they should be able to read the door sign and ring the bell. Equally, visitors to your website should be able to read the information on it and understand what to do next.

Websites should avoid jargon and be written in simple, concise language. Currently, Australians with reading skills below high school level cannot understand crucial information on 40% of council websites. This is an indicator of how inaccessible such websites might be for foreign tourists or investors who have learnt English as a second language.

Websites should also have options to translate information from English to other languages. This will reflect the council as being inclusive and attentive to others’ needs.

Councils are planning to spend millions of dollars to attract foreign investment and tourists. But without a welcoming front door, they risk losing out on many opportunities.

To find out more from OpenCities, complete the below form with your contact details and download their research report.