In an online landscape dense with websites dedicated to promoting U.S. travel destinations from coast to coast and border to border, has been judged the best.—the official website of the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau—received the 2012 Destiny Award for Best Travel Website last week in Boston, where tourism professionals gathered for the U.S. Travel Association’s annual Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations (ESTO) conference.

Destiny Award judges determined that exceeded their criteria for Best Website, capturing the spirit of Greater Phoenix in a manner that is at once visually pleasing and user friendly. The site also was praised for its integration of social media, and its use of search filters and Google Maps.

“We’ve invested a lot of time and resources in our website over the past few years, and it’s rewarding to have that recognized by our industry peers,” said Melissa Gogel, director of Marketing at the Greater Phoenix CVB.

The U.S. Travel Association is the nation’s largest advocacy group for the travel industry, and ESTO is an educational forum designed to help tourism professionals from across the nation better market their destinations. The Destiny Awards annually recognize U.S. Travel members for excellence and creative accomplishment in tourism marketing.

This year, the awards were judged by JWT, an internationally acclaimed marketing and communications agency that was chosen by U.S. Travel to develop Brand USA’s national tourism promotion strategy.

“In order to win, we had to meet very specific criteria regarding creative implementation, technological innovation, positive user experience and fresh content,” Gogel said. “We’re extremely happy to have demonstrated that our site is effective in all of these areas, making it a valuable planning tool for visitors and locals alike.”

The Greater Phoenix CVB worked with the interactive marketing agency BarkleyREI on a complete redesign of back in November 2009. Then, last summer, the CVB and BarkleyREI commenced a six-month redesign to visually differentiate it from other destination websites and make it more appealing to its primary audience (which, internal research showed, tends to be female and over 35 years old).

The changes included a “re-skin” that placed greater emphasis on natural aesthetics and intuitive navigation. Inky-black backgrounds gave way to lighter, warmer colors. Menus were relocated to the top of the page for easier viewing. And the site’s Flash elements were replaced with JavaScript to improve load times.

In the months since the re-launch, has seen significant growth in unique visits, page views and time on site.

“Our design focused on connecting more closely with Phoenix’s target audience,” said Rachel May, account director at BarkleyREI. “Updating the look and feel was important, but another crucial part of the redesign included optimizing the user experience and giving more prominence to content like events and special offers. The rebuild also allowed us to take advantage of new technological advances, including HTML5 and Microformats, so we could make more cross-device compatible and SEO-friendly.”