This is a lovely story I noticed recently about a low cost way to stand out from the competition, by doing something different.
I keep hearing people ask "how do I get more followers on twitter", "I don't know what to say on twitter". I also see many organisations trying to rein in their employers and being so careful with their tweets, they completely lack any kind of character or real message.
For the last couple of months I've enjoyed tweets from Harrogate Tourist Info (@harrogatetic). They're to the point and promote different parts of the district, without being bland. A couple of weeks ago noticed a new account for a small town in Harrogate district @ripontourism, run by Paul Darbyshire. His followers are steadily growing, thanks to a simple idea - he writes a twitter poem about anyone who follows and about Ripon! As he told the local paper Ripon Gazette, "I'd never seen any poems on twitter before and thought it was a unique way of linking in all the city's attractions with a hint of humour".
In other areas, employees are so bound up with conditions, rules and "twitter strategies", they're scared to write anything interesting on twitter. It's great to see somewhere trying something different. It looks like it's working and has already led to one article in the local paper - and this blog!
Interestingly, my other example of great tweeting also comes from Ripon in the form of @RiponHornblower who "sets the watch every night at 9pm". This ancient tradition is watched by visitors from all over the world but George's influence is now spreading thanks to twitter. As well as tweeting local interest stories, each evening George also tweets reassuring messages about the watch being set, such as "Duty done - The Watch is Set, sleep safe in your beds, to you and yours, good night and God bless".
Ripon has spent a lot of money trying to find ways forward to generate more revenue for retailers and increase visitor numbers. I think the two simple actions of these tweeters may prove to be more successful.
The message is simple: be yourself, do something different and don't be scared to stand out and show your own personality.
Great minds don't all think alike
As tourism businesses get ready for the Summer season, many are also reflecting on just how bad last year was for them and how they can improve what they do.
I recently visited a beautiful attraction which relies heavily on nature and a love of the outdoors. The owner has been thinking about how to increase profits and visitor numbers and reduce reliance on passing trade and sun.
He was considering a major investment in an indoor play area. You know the sort of thing: vibrant colours, noisy children, masses of plastic. Many family-friendly attractions are opening similar facilities and he felt under pressure to consider doing the same.
One of the phrases that stayed with me after reading James Caan's autobiography was "observe the masses, and do the opposite". This can take courage but is so often worthwhile.
The plastic play area wouldn't be at all appropriate for his setting or business. It wouldn't really cater for his key target markets, and may even put off some of his older visitors who enjoy the calm environment.
We talked about his passions and interests and it quickly became clear that there are many other angles to consider and new ideas we could put in place (I won't tell you here now - still secret), which would build on the owner's own knowledge, attract very specific markets and set this attraction apart from others. It will take courage to try something different - but the investment required for a major play centre would be larger and arguably take more courage.
Back to the reason for thinking about this - how to mitigate against wet weather. If the attraction develops something completely new and different, something with clear target markets, we'll be able to attract higher spending pre-booked groups who will come regardless of the weather. We'll be able to extend the season and develop a new range of profitable products to sell alongside entrance tickets. We'll be focusing on profit, not just higher visitor numbers. And the owner will feel really comfortable with what he's doing, and able to invest more passion and enthusiasm in his own business.
So before you spend a fortune to follow the crowd or do what you think people want, take a moment to think what you could do that's different, special and follows your heart. It takes courage to swim against the tide but when you do the rewards can be MUCH bigger.
Last week I went to a Posh Picnic on the beach at Port Mulgrave on the Yorkshire Coast. Sunny but cold, and not the obvious thing to do in December. It was fantastic!
I spend a lot of time advising clients to focus on local distinctiveness and what makes their place special. We know that visitors look for authenticity, love new experiences and getting an insight into other people's lives. They enjoy meeting locals who have a real passion for their area and true inside knowledge. And yet, very few places really offer this.
Sean & Tricia Hutchinson and their sons Luke and Thomas run Real Staithes
, which is the best example I've ever found of a family-run business offering visitors chances to create magical memories and giving them stories to talk about.
They greet their visitors in a hidden location that only insiders are likely to know about and take them to their hut on a secret shoreline. Visitors are plied with fresh lobsters, mulled wine, delicious cake, and cheese and given an insight into another world. Sean talks fishing and wildlife, pointing out the Peregrine Falcon and Roe Deer that most of us would never normally notice, Tricia shows visitors how to make paints and dyes out of natural products found along the beach. Luke and Thomas scramble on the cliffs and foreshore, bringing back what look like balls of mud, but which turn out to be marvellous fossils. It's all very home-spun, natural, and friendly. Participants can't help but get caught up in Sean and Tricia's enthusiasm for the local area.
Since I've been back, I've shown countless friends the four fossils I found, the photographs of the lobsters and the hut - this is exactly the kind of experience many visitors look for but never find.
So many people profess to love the place where they live but so few actually manage to pass on that passion. It's great to see Real Staithes doing it so well. Some people shout about what they do, but somehow fail to do it properly. Others like the Hutchinson family just quietly get on with it, showing us all the way. Take a look at their website
: they could even solve that last minute present problem with a gift voucher!
I've been thinking. Or more precisely, I've been thinking about thinking. The subject is innovation. If we want the tourism industry to develop, to find different ways to increase spend, create new experiences and stimulate growth, what's the best approach to take?
A couple of weeks ago I went to two very different events focused on innovation. The first was run by the York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership. They are running a "Pathfinder Project" (as in, can you find which track to hack through the jungle) and wanted to tell people about it. It was clear that they've been doing a lot of thinking, a lot of consulting, a lot of modelling to consider how innovation can be stimulated. They even have a clever chart, a special model showing the different stages of innovation. Interesting to see the thought process and consider this approach. Its in its early stages, but the project has already had a lot of publicity and the results will eventually shared with the tourism industry at large.
The second event was one I was helping to run. Part of a larger project, the workshop was for Haworth businesses. For a long time the businesses have traded on their location in "Bronte Country". OK, but not fresh or particularly inspiring unless you love a certain kind of literary style. The workshop was intended to stimulate innovation - we were there to encourage the businesses to take a different approach and generate much more visitor spend.
My job was to present information about consumer trends, suggest some possible new angles and make some initial recommendations for them to build on. I was brave - I didn't say they should ditch the Brontes but I did say the Bronte Country approach is a little tired. (Bear in mind that Haworth's been trading on the Brontes for one and half centuries and West Yorkshire folk can be a tad stroppy). Perhaps there are ways of getting better value from the Brontes as well as promoting different aspects of Haworth?
We had a lively debate and I used a few examples from elsewhere to generate some more thoughts. Then the workshop adjourned to a local pub. Less than a week later one of the participants (a creative chap - one of his many ventures involves leading walks called "Wuthering Hikes"!) had called a further meeting, and come up with an action plan. Several people have already changed their marketing, or decided to create new packages and experiences. Some have got ideas for different ways to do business which they're already putting into practice.
So back to my question: what's the best way to stimulate innovation in tourism? Plan and create a model, consult, think or in the words of a company known for its innovation, "Just Do It"? We've already brought about change in Haworth - it's based on strategic thought and some planning but there's a large element of "suck it and see". Failure is possible.
I'm really interested to see how the LEP Pathfinder Project develops - I enjoy seeing different approaches. In many ways this project safeguards against failure.
But I admire the bravery and can-do attitude of the Haworth businesses. I've found it satisfying to have acted as the catalyst to that change, which has cost barely anything but will hopefully reap rewards even before the New Year.
Right now I'm working on three major projects which all involve extensive product development, capitalising on key trends, doing things differently and getting hands dirty. Failure is an option. But I think that can be a good thing - a chance to learn.
- Piggy back. Spend some one else's marketing budget - not literally, but ride in their slipstream. Target the same markets as your local destination management organisation, collaborate, use similar themes so you benefit from their much bigger budgets.
- Jump on a bandwagon. Take note of popular TV programmes & magazines. Their themes could be used as promotional angles for you. Be clear about current trends & capitalise on them.
- Get other people to work on your behalf. Build relationships and provide information for journalists so they can feature you. Make friends on twitter or facebook. If you can cater for groups, make sure group travel organisers know about you – they can act as your unpaid sales force!
- Don’t spread yourself too thinly. If you’ve got a limited marketing budget, it pays to focus on a couple of specific markets and then to ripple your efforts outwards instead of trying to target everyone at once.
- Segment your markets carefully – don’t rely on age or income as determinants. Life stage, life style and personal values are more reliable but remember people change their needs depending on who they’re with & even the time of day.
- Be sure of who you are. What do you stand for? What do you want people to think about you? Make sure that image is reflected everywhere you can – on your stationery, in your brochure, on your website, on signage, staff uniforms or badges etc. Carefully choosing (and sticking to) the right colours and typefaces can help you convey the right message.
- Beat your competitors by knowing them as well as you can. What do they do better than you? Get copies of their promotional materials and study their website. If you can’t beat them…join them – in collaborative marketing.
- Be clear about what you do and do it well. Have a clear and focused identity. For example, you could be the place to take a family, or for stressed city dwellers to relax, or for active breaks.
- Use a strong emotional appeal. How can you do one of these: make people happier, healthier, more beautiful, more loved, or richer?
- Don’t assume budgets are the barrier. They sometimes are, but not always. Remember sometimes people don’t buy because they’re suspicious, especially if the price seems unusually low.
- Often people don’t buy because they don’t understand what you’re offering. Don’t make it too hard or complicated to buy or book. People don’t want to fill out forms if they can avoid. They like to pick up the phone and speak to a real person or send an email and get a quick response.
- Make a strength out of a weakness. Don’t just do a SWOT analysis – use it, by considering how to maximise strengths, minimise weaknesses, capitalise on opportunities and deal with threats.
- Follow through. A customer research survey found that that 19% of establishments didn’t respond to email enquiries. 25% found that phones were engaged or they were directed to unwanted messages. Don’t spend money on marketing and then waste it with bad follow up service.
- Do your customers have a problem you can solve? Are they tired, stressed, in need of a change? Find a problem, offer a solution and you’re on to a winner.
- Write in language real people understand. Get rid of the jargon. Make your sentences shorter. Add a touch of humour. Sound like you’re a human!
- Avoid over-used expressions. How “unique” is unique? What does “something for everyone” actually mean?
- Don’t forget the cheapest, most effective marketing tool – word of mouth. Build a buzz by doing something that’s talked about and exceeding customer expectations.
- Step back and look at all your staff and the people who come into contact with the public. How can you make them happier? Enthuse them? Reward them? Whatever their job, they can help make visitors’ experiences better – and convince them to return.
- Keep up to date with what others are saying about you on sites such as www.tripadvisor.com. Thank people for positive reviews and if you get any negative ones, work to put things right as soon as you can.
- When you say good bye, make it a positive last impression. What can you do to make sure the good memories last? It might be a cheery wave, an email to say “thank you” or a free “I spy” car quiz for the children.
They’re known as “low cost” airlines. They have a reputation for offering cheap prices. But they can be more profitable than many established carriers, and are not necessarily the cheapest. So what lessons can the rest of the tourism industry learn from the likes of easyJet and Ryanair?
Lesson 1 – not cutting prices, but looking at their prices – in detail
They didn’t set out to be simply cheap. Their starting point wasn’t to cut prices. It was to look at their costs, considering each one in detail, and finding ways of doing things differently. Sometimes this meant removing elements of service (some Ryanair planes don’t have seat pockets or trays, cutting down on the cost of planes and the weight of the aircraft which affects fuel consumption), or charging for services such as priority boarding, catering and excess luggage.
In a downturn, many accommodation providers and restaurant owners cut their prices to attract more business. The net result is pressure on service quality. This may lead to losing customers or the demand for lower and lower prices because of poorer quality service. Taking the low cost airline approach of looking at costs and how to improve profitability might be more effective.
For example, a self-catering accommodation cottage owner may offer a lower starting price but charge extra for providing bed linen and towels. This means the holiday maker has a choice – a lower price but they have to make their own beds and wash their sheets or a higher price. I tried this with my holiday let. None of the holiday makers ever takes the lower priced option, but they do feel they’re getting a choice.
Lesson 2 – doing things differently and turning established practise on its head
Low cost airlines set out to do things differently. The established practice was to charge much more for single flights and for flights that didn’t include a Saturday night stay. Low cost airlines sell single tickets, and don’t care how long you are away.
How could this idea be used elsewhere? Guests traditionally pay for overnight accommodation, with evening arrival and morning departure. Bedrooms remain empty during the day time when they are cleaned, although cleaning typically takes less than an hour a room. A handful of hotels have started offering a reduced rate for very short day stays for people wanting a city centre afternoon-nap or brief rest between flights at airports.
Lesson 3 – being expert up-sellers
The “lead in” price for easyJet or Ryanair flights is cheap. However, the final price that flyers pay can be comparable to other established carriers. Cheap prices don’t mean low profitability because the low cost airlines are experts at up-selling. Every element of the flight experience has been costed, from initial booking to final landing.
Up-selling happens at every stage from booking to landing - encouraging fliers to pay for priority boarding, choosing a specific seat, additional luggage, food on board, entertainment, onward travel tickets, and even scratch cards.
How often do we make a real effort to up-sell in the remainder of the tourism industry?
Lesson 4 – straight forward pricing structure
Their pricing structure is very simple, compared to traditional carriers. Fares don’t vary according to flexibility criteria or length of stay. Everyone pays the same price depending on what is available at the time of booking.
Making the price clear and easy to understand is part of making it easy to buy.
Lesson 5 – strong, simple promotional messages and strong brand
Low cost airlines’ promotional messages are very simple. They are usually restricted to a single message e.g. new destination being served or lead in price for a particular destination.
Brand image is very strong. EasyJet’s marketing budget was stretched much further by their outstanding use of an orange colour so vibrant and “loud” that few other organisations have ever used it! This simple idea meant that in branding terms at least, easyJet now “owns” the colour orange.
Design costs are kept low, using a standard and very simple design for all livery, websites and advertisements. The price and destinations are the focus for promotions. Nothing else is used, letting the message stand alone, proud and strong.
Lesson 6 – total commitment to the product and generating media coverage
The owner of easyJet became a brand in his own right. “Stelios” was a key figurehead, acting as personable spokesman for a variety of aviation and business-related topics, keeping the airline in the media through creative PR, in a similar vein to Richard Branson.
I once flew on a London to Nice flight when Stelios was on board. As soon as the seatbelt signs were off, he jumped up and moved through the cabin asking every single person what they thought of easyJet and why they were on that flight. When asked about this, he said he did this frequently as a way of remaining close to the passengers who pay the fares. He joked that he never paid for market research – he did it all himself. So he saved money on research and generated a lot of word of mouth publicity by being on his own flights.
How many businesses have managers who show such commitment to their own product? When was the last time the owner of a prominent attraction was seen being terrified on their rides or directors eating in their own restaurant?
Lesson 7 – never skimping on quality
It would be a mistake to think that low cost airlines skimp on quality. They don’t. Take an easyJet flight and it soon becomes apparent that staff are just as keen on safety standards as BA.
The aircraft are just as new (deliberately so - new aircraft being more dependable, more fuel efficient and cheaper to run). Efficiency and safety are seen as still being key to their success.
Interestingly, there have been many new entrants to this competitive market place and many copy cat airlines. Most of the copy cats (remember Debonair and Buzz?) have long since failed. The market leaders continue to lead.
So if you have a new or good idea, don’t hang back – get on with it, launch it now and become a market leader.
Many of you will have heard of the Pudding Club. It’s not new – it started in 1985. Now it's a brilliant example of so many different things...
The Pudding Club was founded to prevent the demise of the great British Pudding, at a time when restaurants seemed to offer only tiny portions of frozen cheesecake and tasteless gateaux.
Founding the club was a master stroke. How can you fail to get publicity when you parade seven delicious puddings before the assembled crowd, and offer them the chance to eat as much as they wish? A simple idea, that anyone could do. But it was started by the Three Ways House Hotel and although others may imitate the idea, the Pudding Club will forever be associated with them.
The owners of the hotel haven't rested on their laurels. They've continued to develop and enthuse about puddings, taking everything one step further. You can sleep in a pudding-themed room, buy puds to take home/mail order or pudding-related merchandise.
The Three Ways House Hotel doesn’t just rely on puddings – they also offer walking weekends and other activities such as learning bee-keeping. It’s an excellent example of a hotel website where it’s clear that there’s energy, enthusiasm and a steady flow of ideas to keep visitors coming back. None of them are complicated or expensive – but they work.
Here's just one example. Many hotels in the countryside outside London struggle with the perception that they are miles away and would take too long to reach. Instead of using meaningless phrases like “great location”, the Three Ways Hotel gets to the heart of the matter. On the home page it states very clearly “London Paddington to Moreton-in-Marsh – 80 minutes. Click here to view a train timetable”. Simple but effective. See the websites for more information: Three Ways House Hotel
and the Pudding Club
Bread and water may not sound like the most obvious tourism offering from Switzerland but that’s exactly what one company offers. Not sure why, but I like it!
", it’s a great example of someone spotting a trend, and offering an unusual product to take advantage of that trend.
In essence, they offer a “get away from it all” experience for anyone who is burnt out or needs to escape for a while and who wants to get closer to nature and experience rural Swiss life at firsthand. The very basic accommodation they offer (ranging from an old cow byre to semi-derelict mountain huts) isn’t presented just as a cheap option but as a more authentic way of experiencing the countryside. Facilities are very basic, more akin to camping.
They also have another unusual idea. If you want to stay somewhere a little more comfortable, you can rent a temporary room in an old folks home (no age limit) which presumably generates income for the home and gives the residents some one new to talk to, with the guest benefitting from plenty of local knowledge from people who really know the area.
We all have competitors. Many are driven to compete on price, but one of the best ways to compete is to offer something completely different from anyone else. If you create your own niche or product category, there’s nothing to compare – you simply stand out as innovative and different.
Here's an example. There are countless websites offering accommodation. Most of them compete either by trying to offer the best prices, or the biggest choice.Unique Home Stays has created their own new category “boutique micro properties”, extraordinary private homes. Properties include castles, windmills and former rectories. They are capitalising on the trend away from bog-standard rooms to places with character and a sense of story.
So what could you do? Can you create your own mini category, in which you reign supreme? “cosy countryside cottages for chocoholics”? “Paws for thought – get-away-from-it- all retreat holidays for people with pets?” Er, maybe I’ll leave you to come up with your own mini category. Bear in mind that although niches may be small, you can often find a way to give them an aspirational appeal to many.