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.
Promoting a market town with a tiny marketing budget is difficult but it's made easier if you can ride on current trends and use the power of word of mouth recommendations as Masham shows
Masham (home of The Tourism Network
!) is an attractive market town in the Yorkshire Dales. Like many places in the Dales, there is a disproportionate number of holiday cottages and second homes. Masham is fortunate in that in addition to the two famous breweries, several pubs and excellent restaurant, it also has two butchers, a greengrocers, bakers, two delis, several galleries and a fantastic old-fashioned sweet shop. Locals support these shops but we also need visitors to use these facilities, to bring income into the area.
Instead, many visitors wrongly assume that there won’t be any shops in Masham and shop at major supermarkets before they arrive. They may not realise it, but by shopping in supermarkets visitors often pay more than they would in the Masham shops and miss out on the “experience” of a little banter with shop owners.Live like a local
Last year, with a small amount of funding from North Yorkshire County Council, we decided to create a new publication that could be downloaded from holiday cottage websites or sent as a .pdf to holiday makers so they would know what to expect and perhaps think twice about shopping in advance. Part of the plan was to show visitors that shopping locally wasn’t simply to increase profits for retailers, but that they’d also get an insight into real life in Masham.We were taking advantage of several tourism trends:
- visitors are looking for less official information, wanting to know more from an “insiders’perspective”
- word of mouth recommendations are highly prized
- visitors don’t want to be seen as visitors – they often like the idea of blending in and doing as locals do
- visitors don’t just want to look at things – they want to experience them at a deeper level. Being able to actually talk to local people and gets tips from them is welcomed.
- there’s a strong interest in what celebrities do – so we used the fact that some of them had shopped in Masham as an important endorsement!
The “Live like a local in Masham” guide was cheaply produced and looked deliberately homespun. We didn’t want visitors to see it as a glossy marketing activity. The idea was to make it feel like a direct communication from people living in Masham. We interviewed and took a photo of every retailer, pub and gallery owner in Masham.
We added two questions, one for PR effect – “any famous customers?” and one to encourage visitors to speak to shop owners “where’s your favourite place in and around Masham?”.
The budget was limited so we needed to find other ways of distributing the guide, preferably that didn’t involve too much printing. We did print out a few to sell in the Masham Community & Information Office. Interestingly many locals bought these and commented on how interesting they were to read. We also had a lot of examples of locals who said the guide had prompted them to ask for things they weren’t sure were on sale locally but which shop owners produced from their tardis-like stocks.
We printed off copies and put them in ring-binders and distributed them to the holiday cottages and other accommodation in Masham, as a reminder to visitors to shop locally once they were here. But most importantly, we provided a .pdf version for accommodation owners to add to their websites and send to visitors once they’d booked.
We also laminated the relevant sheet from the guide and took them round to each of the participating retailers, restaurants and pubs for them to display in their window. The idea here was both to entice visitors in and let them know a bit more about the owner so they could ask more questions about their favourite place so visitors would get more tips for ways to enjoy their holiday – and perhaps to prompt them to tell others and plan a repeat visit to Masham.
Feedback has been excellent and there are now plans for a second edition, with sponsorship from a local company. We also presented the idea at an Action for Market Towns meeting – community leaders in Pateley Bridge, Hawes and Leyburn have since produced similar publications, each with their own twist but based on this simple idea.
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.