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An Open Letter to New Attractions

Updated: Jan 3, 2019

I was having lunch with an industry friend recently and somehow the conversation moved to new attractions that begin to struggle after the first year. I thought this would be a great time to discuss the importance of and how to build a multi-year marketing plan when opening a new attraction.

You think you’ve got the golden ticket or you wouldn’t be entering the market, right? In your first year, you will experience one of two trends, if not both. You’ll have a honeymoon period where visitors come and spin your turnstiles simply because you opened the doors. Conversely, you’ll open the doors and start to panic when nobody is coming. By your second year, these two scenarios will converge. You need a multi-year marketing plan to guide you through each of these inevitable situations before they happen. Avoid entering a cycle of continued hardship related to short-sighted decisions made out of panic. A plan will be your roadmap, prepared in advance to guide you through the opportunities and challenges of the first couple of years of operation.

As you begin to sketch your plan, start with a situation analysis. Although you haven’t opened yet, there is plenty of market data to sift through. Check with local tourism agencies for current trends and an assessment of the competitive landscape. Research local competitors and the demographic make-up of your market, including both locals and tourists. Commission a market research study against this demo to learn what drives them to visit attractions like yours. Organize your learnings into a SWOT analysis, consolidating the information into an easy-to-read grid calling out internal, controllable strengths and weaknesses as well as external opportunities and threats in the market you can use to your advantage or need to hedge against.

Next, develop the strategies and tactics you plan to execute in order to drive visitors to your attraction in the first 18-24 months. Include a contingency strategy to ensure you have a plan in place if the market does not respond to your new venture as you’d planned. In your contingency plan include fenced-in promotions you can execute quickly to incentivize visitation. Set aside 3-5% of your media budget to promote them. There is no point putting a promotion out there if you don’t tell anyone about it. If you simply list it on your website and do nothing else you are throwing revenue away. Also include a pricing plan to maximize your revenue in the first 12 months when visitor volume is likely to be the strongest and a promotional activity plan for the subsequent months to maintain footfall.

Partnerships that drive business may not be a priority to you in the first year but are an important piece of your long-term integrated marketing strategies. These relationships are not developed overnight and typically take months to bear fruit. If you start building these relationships early and pre-load your promotional activity for months 12-24 you’ll be primed and loaded just in time to meet your needs. However, you do want to partner with tourist pass programs from the day you open. These pass programs are big business even if the net price is terrible for the attraction. The harsh reality is if a tourist buys one of the passes, they have limited time and dollars left to visit an attraction that is not included in the pass they just shelled out hundreds of dollars for. Instead of avoiding these programs, negotiate better net rates in the first year.  As the new attraction in town you are the hot commodity.

Pre-opening and launch planning can start as early as a year in advance. If public relations is not your strength hire an agency – quick. The launch is a critical period in your attraction’s lifespan. Leverage social media to tease the market 5-6 months pre-launch.  Host a big press event to announce the new attraction 3-5 months out. Maintain the buzz and excitement with a hard hat construction tour 1-2 months prior to opening. Use the final pre-launch weeks to host industry partners, secure photo and video assets you’ll need for upcoming advertising and open the doors for a soft launch to work out the bugs. Finally, launch the attraction with a huge spectacle of a press event. Once you open the doors your focus will shift from public relations to advertising while your social media efforts maintain a constant presence in the background.

Treat year one as peak demand. Yield good rates but be prepared for years 2-3 when you will execute all the programs you said you’d never need like partnerships and promotions. If you plan from the beginning you won’t panic and start making bad, short-sighted decisions.

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