There are attractions across the country located in thriving tourist destinations. It’s great to have a base of potential visitors coming to the area but this also means there are plenty of things for them to do in addition to or in lieu of, you. As the economy fluxes and currency rates rise and fall visitor volume to your area may stumble. Those that are still coming may be spending less days, money or both. In this situation it is more important than ever to include a tourist specific strategy in your marketing plan.
Your tourist strategy should contain two distinct threads with associated tactics: pre-visit and tourist intercept.
Pre-visit activity is about increasing awareness and securing commitment while the potential guest is still in the planning phase of their upcoming trip. The second thread of your strategy, tourist intercept is about converting visitors once they are in-market.
Digital media is a cost-effective way to reach and engage prospective visitors. Cross reference internal demographic data with available date from regional tourism agencies to fine tune your target. Start with your county tourism office, the local chamber of commerce and the convention and visitors bureau for available data.
Now that you have your target customer further narrow down your target audience by focusing on these potential visitors who are searching hotels, attractions and things to do in your area. Social ads are great for awareness. Pay-Per-Click (PPC) is a great way to engage by serving ads that are relevant to their travel planning. Increase your online presence organically by adding a page to your website with tips potential visitors would find useful when researching your area in general. Be a resource.
Retarget people that visited your website but didn’t make a purchase with display ads to further engage them. Consider advertising on trip planning sites and OTA’s like Expedia and TripAdvisor. When doing their research, potential visitors will visit your social sites so keep your social footprint up-to-date with content updates and responses to comments. Don’t be fooled by a low follower number or engagement. Most brands today are active on social media and a lack of content on your site may signal a problem to a potential visitor. 90% of visitors read online reviews before visiting a business.* Review and respond to guest comments left on sites like TripAdvisor, Facebook and Yelp.
“70 percent of customers say a company’s response to a review can change their view of a company.”**
Collaboration with other attractions, hotels and agencies is another avenue to reach tourists in the planning phase. What’s that saying “a rising tide lifts all boats”? Work with your local chamber, CVB’s and county tourism departments on co-op programs promoting the area.
Look into how your local tourism tax dollars are spent. A lot of destinations have local or county tourism taxes. These taxes go by a lot of different names but are designed to be reinvested in driving tourism. On some occasions these “occupancy, bed, tourism, etc taxes” have public advisory panels that you can and should engage with. Some of these programs also distribute funds (upon request / proposal) back to the attractions that generated them to further reinvest in tourism.
Turning to the tourist intercept thread of your strategy, if you believe tourists pre-plan every minute of their vacation, think again. Did you know:
“85% of leisure travelers decide on activities after they arrived at their destination.”^
This is where you want to stand out in a crowded field of attractions and activities all competing for a limited piece of time. Billboards are a great way to canvas the market and get in front of potential visitors as they enter the market. Secure locations at key transit arteries into the destination, not necessarily your specific location. Use this space to set yourself apart from the competition with compelling visuals and a bold statement, “NY’s Largest Wave Pool!” Does your visual help the potential visitor visualize themselves at your location? Does it evoke an emotional response? With a limited space to work with and quick window to be seen and understood, your BOLD statement should talk about what makes you a must-do. What is it about your attraction that is the biggest, tallest, fastest, strongest, only?
Increase your frequency and be everywhere. If your attraction is seen again and again the potential visitors are going to subconsciously put you into the “must-do” category. Bus and trolley side panels are good way to do this. While visitors are waking up and down the street visiting local shops and restaurants these ads increase the frequency with which they are seeing you.
Make sure you have a rack brochure or at the very least a rack card in every available information display from visitor centers to hotel lobbies. Did you know 7 out of 10 visitors pick up brochures from information displays, 95% of visitors had their travel plans influenced by information from a brochure and 75% of visitors consider altering their travel plans as a result of a brochure?^^
Rack brochures are a place for provide more reasons to visit your attraction. Again, use this space to set yourself apart but remember, less is more. You are not trying to write a novel. Keep it short and on point. Let the visuals do the heavy lifting.
One thing I beg of you, please update your brochure annually. I was on vacation recently and picked up two brochures that had not been updated in 15-20 years (no joke). I promise you can do this with little expense, you need to print more anyway. Still on the fence about the cost of printing a brochure, consider:
“the influence of brochures (69%) has edged ahead of websites (68%) when a tourist arrives at their destination.”^^
Partner with local hotels and other lodging associations. Offer discount tickets to hotels to package into their rooms. If there is meat on the bone for them they will promote it for you. Be cautious of these hotels and other resellers selling your tickets over the counter. There is a benefit to additional distribution points but don’t cannibalize your gate and web sales by allowing them to undercut you. Only you can maintain your pricing integrity.
City Center attractions should also consider street and door teams in additional to pass programs. Street teams are a good way to cut through all the noise in the market and get promotional material right into the hands of potential customers. I prefer a 100% commission-based program where the team works where it wants, when it wants. Just because you see a lot of tourists on the corner of 41st and 7th doesn’t mean this is the best place to convert them. If you hire the right people they will quickly discover where the tourists are and when they are most likely to bite.
This can be a lucrative program for an aggressive team and cost effective for you. You’ll only incur the expense to design and print the piece being distributed. The commission can be paid out as a cost of sales and will flex with the volume of sales. This type of program will shift tickets out of your full-price ticket however the volume gains will offset the reduced per cap ultimately driving more volume and revenue.
Lastly, participate in city/tourist “pass” programs. These programs have been growing in recent years and you don’t want to be left out. A typical pass program allows the holder to visit numerous attractions for one low, pre-paid price. In addition to a great price, these programs offer exclusive benefits like front of line access, value adds and additional discounts.
Tourists holding these passes do not have much time left over to visit attractions not in the program unless you ARE the destination. But don’t take this risk, you are not as “must-do” as you think you are. Also, don’t fall into the trap of going exclusively with one program or you could be walking away from tens of thousands of visits. It is time and cost prohibitive for a consumer to purchase more than one pass.
There a number of moving parts to a successful tourist marketing strategy. You can execute some or all, more or less of the tactics mentioned in this article but before you doing anything, put your plan on paper. Break it down into two threads, pre-visit and intercept. Be a resource, partner with others to drive tourists to the area and stand out in-market.
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^Google/Ipsos MediaCT, “The 2015 Traveler’s Road to Decision,” base: U.S. leisure travelers, n=3,500, Aug. 2015.
^^Statistics courtesy of the Center for Marketing Technology at Bentley University 2016 (featured on Visitor International)
Photo by Jay Wennington on Unspla