A brief history of paper maps

Paper maps originated from a military background in Britain. The potential threat of invasions from the 1740’s meant more detailed maps were required for strategic battle planning to protect the British coastline.
Sending surveyors into the field with heavy and sensitive equipment, by hand and on foot, came at huge expense to the public purse. However, when the Ordnance Survey (OS) had collected all of this information, military and governance campaigns were not enough to maintain the production of paper maps so OS had to look at new applications.

The arrival of the railways in the 1830s enabled people to start to use their time to travel for leaisure and health reasons. A range of maps came out to assist naive travellers to explore destinations and the paper travel map was born.

Paper travel maps today

There has been a decline in paper map usage since the pocket edition of Googlemaps appearing on smart phones in 2008. This was a unique product that didn’t use GPS at the time, but as smart phones became more smart and had GPS built in as standard, then maps on phones not only became better products – from tracking people’s movements – but also self-identified your location on the map. The blue dot has become a feature ever since.

Travel maps for visitors

The limitations of a map on a mobile device can make it difficult to use for a new visitor in a new location. The screen is small, the GPS drains the phone battery and when using the online map you are relying on individual businesses to maintain their information.

The benefits for the visitor is that a paper map has been curated and made up-to-date by the people who know it best – the people who live there. A paper map doesn’t rely on GPS or electricity to operate. You can see the whole landscape and city in one bird’s eye view. Visitors are drawn to paper maps when visiting a new city and the information exchange is high as detailed in the report by Visitor International “10 Ways Brochures Positively Impact Visitors During a Trip (and other important insights)”.

Here are some of the interesting facts:

– 67% of visitors picked up the brochure and 95% were influenced by them on their trip

– more than 4 out of 5 visitors planned to visit an attraction because of the tourism brochure

– 78% of visitors would change their plans because of the tourism brochure

– 2 out of 3 visitors purchased tickets because of the tourism brochure

– 68% of visitors didn’t want to miss out on their trip and wanted to know about local customs, exhibits, festivals and events

– visitors found printed maps tangible and easy to use, finding them a trustworthy source of information. They don’t rely on mobile signal or electricity and are always available in back pocket or bag

– a map can be shared with up to eight people, extending the reach of the physical map and the word-of-mouth

– hospitality professionals love maps as they help their guests make good choices and have good experiences while staying with them

Using visitor maps to find attractions in the local area

Using visitor maps during a trip


Combining paper and digital maps

The recent success of Ordnance Surveys (OS) rise in paper and digital maps has shown how both mediums can happily co-exist. Paper map sales have increased by 7% over the past year to 1.3m maps sold. The OS digital app has increased sales by 94% over the same period. It is not known the actual usage numbers of the app, however.

Here is some advice from The Tourism Company on the importance of maps on your destination website:

“Make sure visitor information is easy to find on your site. Don’t bury visitor information deep in your site. Make sure that there is a clear link from your homepage:

1. Make sure you include maps. Maps are an extremely important resource for potential visitors. At a minimum, you should have a map of the main areas within your destination. If your tourism pages are part of a larger local authority website, there may well be a range of maps available on your site. However, don’t expect users to search for these maps across the site. Bring them all together in one place.

2. Provide travel information on your site, not just links. It can be time-consuming to keep travel information content up to date. Because of this there can be a temptation to provide a series of links to travel information located on external websites. However, in order to retain the visitor on your site, you should aim to provide at least some content of your own on key travel topics such as how to get here, travelling around the destination etc. If more detail is needed, then provide links once you have provided some basic information. Also make it clear that the link leads to an external site.

3. Make the most of walks information. Information on walks in your area is likely to be very popular amongst residents and visitors alike. Make sure that you provide both good quality online information and links to downloadable versions.”


At Clear Mapping Co, we work with different organisations to improve a visitors experience by providing maps that meet the needs of the visitor and the organisation. Whether this is maps for city planning and transport, tourism and attractions or for individual businesses. Many of our clients insist on paper maps first and then compliment this with maps on their website and map-based wayfinding on location.

Happily, we can support you in providing a better customer-experience, saving both time and money for your staff by creating bespoke paper maps.

Get in touch for a free sample portfolio by emailing us at hello@clearmapping.co.uk or give us a call on +44 (0) 1326 337072