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.
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!
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.
What do you do when you need to promote a destination that isn’t quite perfect? And on a very limited budget?
You know the sort of place – where visitors arrive at a station or entry point and it all looks rather grotty. They may well decide to turn round and go somewhere else but those who persevere are rewarded with some interesting sights. Some towns are split by a busy road that deters pedestrians from visiting both parts of the town. We often work with places just like that. They tend to have very limited budgets, but there is an answer. If any of the following sounds familiar, read to the end for a possible solution.
So, a meeting is called because people think their place is under-rated and under-promoted. People have come together because they want to make things better.
Some one usually starts by suggesting a map leaflet.
Some one else says they need to show everyone that there's lots to see and do (usually said as if no-one ever thought of this before!). That phrase "lots to see and do" often makes it into the final leaflet - just like every other place's leaflet... (HINT: don't use it!)
Some one suggests listing all the shops, attractions, cafes.
There's a bit of a discussion about whether taxi drivers and pubs are part of the "visitor economy" and a grumble that certain businesses are pro-active and others don't ever respond to anything. At some point some one will rant about litter or dog poo. Maybe road signs too.
No one talks about specific target markets. No one mentions the cost and effort of distributing the leaflet to the right target markets so that part never really gets considered properly, despite its importance.
Almost every destination still thinks it needs a leaflet or print material of some kind. The production of the whole thing causes a lot of work, takes forever and costs a lot. It's rarely very effective.
Visitors and residents can't be bothered to read the long lists of shops, attractions and cafes. Even if they do, it’s meaningless without descriptions of each place. And if you add descriptions, it just becomes a longer long list.
Visitors are enjoying leisure time. They’re wandering around. Just looking, browsing and seeing what there is to see. Thet don't want to feel they've got a long list to trawl through. They want to use their eyes to see what's around them. Visitors mostly just want to be given a few insights and then left to their own devices.
Words like “discover” often crop up in promotional print. Visitors are presented with all the answers, treating them like they’re too stupid to find out for themselves, and spoiling all the fun of discovery.
Listen to people when they come back from a trip. They often proudly say things like “we found a great little shop/bar/beach”. They want the fun of finding out for themselves. But at the same time they need to know they’re in the right area. Which brings us back to the problem of an off-putting arrival point or divided place...
Here are a couple of simple techniques we've used to great effect when places really want to use a map leaflet to get visitors moving around.
All we do is present visitors with a map and give them a few clues so they can see that it’s worth walking a bit beyond the grot to make great discoveries. We don’t list anything. We don’t tell them to stay away from anything. But we do guide them. By simply shading areas of a map – and perhaps using different colours for different types of area, we let visitors discover places for themselves. We don’t say that the non-shaded areas are horrible but most visitors are intelligent enough to spot the shaded bits and focus on those areas.
Another technique we’ve used is to highlight “star sights”. We did this years’ ago in Notting Hill, when visitors used to walk up Portobello Road and then as soon as they got to the flyover they turned round and went home again. The ones who continued on to Golborne Road were rewarded with a great bar, London’s best Portuguese custard tart cafe and some very quirky shops.
We used shading but we also added 20 star sights on to the map. These were not detailed: we simply used a star to denote something worth finding and explained that it could be a shop, bar, great architecture, interesting sight or the famous Piers Gough public toilet! We didn't say what each one was - intrigue is a great motivator. We know this worked – you’d often see people walking up and down Portobello Road scrutinising the map leaflet and trying to find all the start sights. People would ask each other which ones they’d spotted and then struggle to decide whether to keep the more hidden ones to themselves or not!
Perhaps that's the mark of a great piece of print - you actually see people wandering around with it. And considering how many leaflets are printed each year, isn't it amazing how rarely you see anyone in a destination using one?
I think this is an idea that will grow and grow... It’s appealing in so many different ways – the sense of community, sustainability, quirkiness of it. We keep hearing about things like “grass roots sustainable development”, “climate change”, “peak oil” and so on but for most of us such terms are pretty indigestible. The problems seem so big, it's hard to know what to do about them. So we don't do anything.But a couple of years ago Pam Warhurst and friends got cracking to make some real changes in the Pennine town of Todmorden. The idea was simple: to grow food wherever they could and invite any one who wanted to pick and eat it to do so. When I say grow it anywhere, I mean it. They planted seeds on waste ground, in pots outside places like the police station, in tubs in unloved corners where normally only weeds grow. Schools got involved, as have many community groups and social landlords. There are now many other associated activities and events. Todmorden has reinvented itself. The former textile town is changing, becoming increasingly upbeat and aware that it can take charge of its own destiny.Todmorden Incredible Edible continues to grow with a “community driven programme of action around the three centres of community, learning and business”. What makes it work is that it didn’t start with that long description: it began in a simple, grass roots way with a couple of busy women and a handful of seeds.
Visitors now have a real reason to go to Todmorden, to see what's happening, with representatives from other towns visiting to see how they could replicate the idea in their own place. There are other forms of "vegetable tourism", places you can go to see where heirloom vegetables are grown but this version is fresh, fearless and fast-growing.
I think we spend too long commissioning strategies, deliberating about structure and format and vision statements. Why not take a small risk by doing something and seeing what happens, then maybe tweaking as you go? Or procrastinate just a little by taking a trip to Todmorden to see what they’ve achieved in just a couple of years.