How was 2018 for you? As we go into a new year, I like to take a quick look over my shoulder, assessing the year that's gone in search of lessons to be learnt. I worked on many really enjoyable projects but one was so frustrating it actually made me ill. I had a bout of shingles that I feel certain was caused by one particular project which turned out to be unnecessarily bureaucratic, managed by a small group of inexperienced people who weren't ready to take advice and who were unwilling to understand the real needs of tourism businesses.
It was a useful lesson. It reminded me that I feel happiest and healthiest when I'm doing something that feels worthwhile, that uses my skills to benefit tourism businesses in a practical way. I really don't like having to stay silent when experience tells me something won't work very well. I prefer to be honest, upfront, realistic and keep moving forward, finding new ways to do things better.
So I'm going into 2019 with a very clear vision: to try to work on the most practical, worthwhile projects I can find, ones that really use my experience in tourism marketing. You're probably wondering what this has to do with you?
In 2019 I'll be using all the knowledge I've gained through over 30 years working in tourism marketing by launching a series of articles, e-books, online workshops and live events which help tourism businesses be bigger, bolder, braver. For me to have time to do all this, I'll need to say "no" to the potential Shingles Projects. It's going to be a financial risk for me so I'll also have to be brave.
So what does bigger, bolder, braver actually mean for tourism businesses?
It's not just about growing a bigger business. It's more about thinking bigger and growing, whether you want to make more money, be more efficient so you can work less, offer better service, give more to others.
I'd like to help more businesses be bolder. Most of the people I work with have relatively small businesses. They often feel they're in the shade of larger businesses, anonymous chains and booking systems. Many feel hidden or ignored, or that they're working in isolation. I love helping smaller businesses gain confidence to shout about their business, to stand out and be noticed so they can grow.
Could we all become a little braver? This could be in many different ways: by speaking up when something isn't right, by daring to stand out and be a little different, by doing the opposite to the crowd, by daring to set more audacious goals and really aim to achieve them?
Over the last year I've noticed just how many tourism business owners and managers say they're ambitious and want to grow but few of them have tangible goals or targets. Many seem to want to be better or bigger but don't really have a concrete plan. They don't always feel brave enough to voice a target or ambition. I think we all have times when we need to drift a bit, because we lack the energy or expertise to really move forward. But if you're in the mood to build and feel more in control of your business, I hope you'll join me to be Bigger, Bolder and Braver. It's free - just go to this page to sign up before 5 pm on 8th January
They're some of the most profitable carriers - can smaller tourism businesses learn anything from low cost airlines?
They have a reputation for offering cheap prices, and yet they're not necessarily the cheapest. Here are some lessons I think we can all learn from low cost airlines.
Lesson 1. Don't cut prices. DO price carefully
The low cost airlines 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. The lead-in price and starting point for promotional fares is low but not the final price.
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 for a season with my holiday let. None of the holiday makers ever takes the lower priced option, but they do feel they’re getting a choice. Interestingly when I offered this option, they were always grateful to be offered the choice, but also almost grateful to be able to pay and have the beds made ready for them! It's important to present such a choice in the right way.
Lesson 2. Do things differently. Turn established practices upside down
Pioneers like Easyjet's Stelios 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. When they first started, Easyjet's main marketing method was simply being different enough to generate free media coverage.
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 city 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. Be an expert up-seller
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. Some of this can be tiresome but we can still learn lessons from it.
How often do we make a real effort to up-sell in the remainder of the tourism industry?
Lesson 4. Offer straight forward prices
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. Have a strong, simple promotional message 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. Be totally committed to your product and generate media coverage
When they started out, 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. Don't skimp 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.
"Buy one, get one free!". Sound familiar? Of course it does: price led promotions are everywhere.
Show the world you're desperate
Years ago marketing tactics like this were less usual. They had more impact. Now they're the norm. There's a place for them, but more often than not, price promotions are lazy marketing, a not very imaginative way to show the world that your business isn't doing so well and you're desperate for trade.
Some people think they raise awareness of particular products but how can they do that when the market is saturated with them? When the 2-1 offer says nothing about the product itself. Price led promotions don't really help build a longer term market. Much of the time, they just focus the mind on the price instead of the benefits of the product or service.
Leaving money on the table...
What also happens is that visitors use the vouchers and offers when they were going to come to you anyway. Last weekend 3 friends and I had planned a visit to an art gallery, for which we were all perfectly willing to pay. Then someone noticed that if we took along our train tickets, we could get a 2-1 voucher for the entrance fee to the gallery. So we paid half the price we were willing to pay. Of course some people may be enticed into places for the first time because the price is lower than usual. It might help them decide to go. But will they go there again at the higher price? Or will they value it at the lower offer price?
Are 2-1 promotions ever good?
Sometimes. When they're properly thought through and not simply a knee-jerk reaction. When you want to open up new markets e.g. bring a friend who's never been before (doesn't always work though!) and when you've worked out how you'll follow through and build that new market. Attractions where there are opportunities to generate secondary spend through catering and retail may also benefit from getting more people in through the door with a discounted promotion. But don't let that be your first thought.
What are the alternatives?
2-1 offers may work some of the time, but they are unimaginative and it's hard to make an impact now there are so many.
Far better, to do something quirky, unusual, fun, interesting that helps demonstrate the emotional appeal of what you offer, that shows what you can do and why it's good.
If you rely on price promotions, it focuses visitors' minds on the price not the strength of the product. It encourages them to shop around instead of valuing what you do. And once you've reduced your price once, what happens next time? How low can you go?
"Sense of place" and "local distinctiveness" are two phrases we increasingly hear in tourism marketing. What do they really mean? I first started using local distinctiveness in tourism marketing activities in the last century (!) but it seems for many these ideas are only just coming to the fore.
Major landmarks and famous sights can mark one place out against another but it’s not just big features that are important. Our impressions are formed through so many other aspects of an area’s character.
Local distinctiveness is what makes one place different from another. It’s the combination of aspects that makes each place special. It’s the essential details, large and small, natural and man-made, that combine to create a sense of place.
Normal for you - extraordinary for others
Features that you take for granted aren't necessarily obvious to everyone. They might be special and extraordinary for some visitors.
Visitors are certainly changing. There’s growing interest in all things ‘local’. Visitors want to understand more, to experience places in different ways and to meet “real” people. They are ready to buy locally made products. They want to do as well as see.
Visitors are increasingly interested in anything that helps them understand and appreciate the essential character of a place. Today’s visitors are looking for ‘something different’ from their normal life. They look for places with ambience, atmosphere and soul. They welcome in-depth experiences, opportunities to participate and chances to meet local people.
Offering a different type of information
Traditionally we’ve offered visitors lists and directories containing lots of information. The focus has been on covering everything, being neutral and leaving visitors to make their own decisions. This no longer works. Visitors increasingly use social media and websites like TripAdvisor for second and third opinions.
Visitors want insider tips and specific ideas for things to do. They've started to shy away from "official" in favour of more in-depth, personal recommendations.
Think about the information you offer your visitors, both when they’re with you and before they visit on your website. Visitors enjoy knowing more, being given information on your favourite places. We’ve moved on from loving all things “local” to wanting to know more, to hearing the full story behind products and places.
Beware of overwhelming visitors. They don’t want to plough through long lists. Phrases like “so much to see and do” can be meaningless and over-used. What is there to see and do? Far better to offer curated content and carefully chosen ideas than bland phrases or a long list. Show your passion for your area, demonstrate your local knowledge. Visitors will want to come to learn and find out more from you.
I keep getting asked whether it's worth paying membership subscriptions to a regional tourist board, destination management/marketing organisation - whatever you call it in your area. I'd be interested in your feedback in general but here are a few things to think about:
For most tourist boards/tourism agencies/DMOs etc the membership subscriptions they receive from members are just a small part of their total budget. They receive more from corporates, from local authorities, from govt funding. They need to show they're "engaging" with smaller businesses in order to get some of the bigger funding but your membership subscription is a small proportion of the total.
Bear in mind that in most cases you're paying into a central promotional pot that works for the common good, to promote the whole area rather than individual businesses or smaller areas. If it's important to you to really feel you're being promoted more directly, you'll be better offer getting together a small group of local businesses and paying some one to do some more intensive promotion on your behalf (I'm often asked to do this and sometimes it's the best option but sometimes it's a good idea to pay into a central tourist board pot).
What are the membership benefits on offer? Which are really relevant to you? Do they sound value for money? If you're already a member and thinking about re-joining, what value did you get in the previous year?
Don't re-join if you're simply scared of not being a member (almost certainly nothing will happen) - re-join for positive reasons.
Do they listen? Are staff interested in your business and your area? Does their website and promotional activity demonstrate this? Do they willingly link and promote local area websites as well as their own, or are they mainly interested in their own self-promotion?
Are their marketing themes relevant to you? Do they give advance notice of their marketing activity so you can piggy back on it? Just as importantly do they feedback with meaningful information on what they've done?
If you do join up/remain a member, you will probably be asked to fill in a form describing your services, in a set number of words. Make sure you do so, carefully considering the words you use. This short description is likely to be used in many different ways, going to a wide audience so make sure you stress your unique selling point and key benefits. Make it count!
Remember, your tourist board has many members all competing for attention. You must make sure you are as prominent as possible. The members who shout loudest are most likely to be heard.
If you don't think you are getting value for money, don't just let your membership lapse. Speak to your tourist board and suggest the kind of services you need. As membership organisations, feedback should be important to them.
You're in business. You need to make money. You need to attract guests, visitors, customers.
So do you "ask for the sale"?
You probably think this is a pushy phrase, something that only greasy salesmen do. We are all concerned not to seem too forthright or to over-sell.
If I ask an accommodation owner about the benefits of their place to stay, they'll often say things like "it's in a lovely location". Something they can't really take credit for, so it doesn't sound pushy.
Rarely will anyone say: "we put our hearts and souls into making our guests feel comfortable. We're proud of how we clean every inch so not even the most diligent Hotel Inspector would find dust on their fingertips. Our guests enjoy a really good hearty cooked breakfast so they feel set up for the day".
Perhaps we need to put more of our personality into our marketing? To be braver? To sell?
You're probably worried about being too pushy, too salesy. But people who worry about this aren't too pushy. They're sensitive to other's feelings and self-aware. People who aren't concerned about being pushy, tend to be the over-the-top sales machines. And they still get results, unless they're really awful.
We do need to "ask for the sale" more.
I work with a lot of tourism businesses and at the beginning their marketing is often more akin to mumbling than shouting. You don't need to shout, but maybe speak up a bit?
Much of the time we assume visitors know what we're offering. We give them a few photos (rarely enough of them) and a few words and hope from that short description they'll spare time to imagine how good it will be, and fill in the gaps in the information. We don't even bother suggesting they book/visit/buy - we just present a bit of information!
Perhaps you could use more phrases like "book now so you can...", "visit us soon to see...", "we'd love to show you...don't miss out..." ?
Offer information, build trust, make people feel upbeat, and then they're ready to buy/book. But you have to ask them.
There's been so much shocking news recently - from Manchester and London in particular.
We're all reeling with the scale and unpredictability of the bombs, stabbing and Grenfell tower fire.
I'm so aware that as I watch the news, surrounded by soothing lush greenery in the Yorkshire Dales, many others are dealing with horrific challenges. It feels like we're a world away from the reality of the news. But that world away feeling could help in some way.
What can we do?
Apart from donating to the various funds, is there anything we could do that's practical, than could actually make a difference?
I think there might be and would like to ask for your help too.
We've seen the pictures and reports of people from the emergency services working around the clock, even when exhausted to save lives and comfort. We know it's their job, but it seems that they're going beyond the line of duty. Funds have been set up for victims of all these horrific incidents but what about the emergency services? I'm struck by the exhaustion on the faces of the crew dealing with the Grenfell tower fire. They had a horrific day yesterday. The next days could be even worse as they deal with the aftermath and discover those who didn't make it out of the building. And they just have to keep doing their job. How much help do they get to deal with the trauma of their experiences? The government hasn't always made those working in the emergency services feel valued. The public want to.
I think this might be where the tourism industry could help, in a direct and practical way. Could we offer some free (or if you can't manage that, very discounted - 75% off) short breaks in beautiful, restful locations for members of the emergency services who've been involved in these recent disasters? I imagine it would be in Autumn so arrangements can be made.
It's only a small gesture but I know that when the world seems like a scary place and the news is dark, many of us feel better after spending time outdoors surrounded by beauty. It would be good to able to share the peace, tranquility and restorative powers of our wonderful places with those who really need them.
I've already got a list of some Yorkshire businesses who'd like to help. Could you?
I've been in touch with the Firefighters Charity who said: We are currently co-ordinating a plan to offer support to the members of the fire community following the terrible fire at Grenfell. This is a fantastic offer and could definitely be of benefit to those involved, as we would be able to use it alongside our own recuperation services. Thank you so much for your support.
If you'd like to help, please email me, explaining what you can offer, when and if you can offer it free of charge. I'm not sure how long it will take for me to get back to you but I will when I know more. Please be generous!
Update: Thank you! I've received lots of great offers of help by email and free accommodation - thank you so much. I'll be in touch again soon. Please spread the word and keep being generous.
Updated update (Sunday 18th June): the response to this has been absolutely incredible - I now have over 120 offers of accommodation for emergency service personnel. It's obviously going to take time to get back to everyone so I don't think I'm going to update this page with all the latest offers. I'd just like to say a huge thank you for everyone who has been so generously involved. I'll post an update about how the places will be allocated soon. Thank you.
These are just some of the offers we've received so far. There are plenty more that I still need to follow up and add. Thank you for your generosity:
Thanks so much for taking the initiative. We would be delighted to offer 2 short breaks - a 3 night weekend or a 4 night midweek, free of charge. Our cottages sleep 2 or 4 and won best in Yorkshire last year and one cottage is also the best in England this year, so quite appropriate for the best heroes in England. We'd be honoured to welcome them. Looking forward to hearing more.
Regards, Diane Howarth
Cottage in the Dales
Bunkhouse sleeps 30 free accommodation for a couple of nights mid week. We can also offer Caving or ghyll scrambling free for up to 20 people. We do a similar package for help for heroes as part of their recuperation so I think it might be good for the emergency services.
Old School Bunkhouse, Yorkshire Dales
We have a 2 bedroom, sleeps 4 bungalow in Dumfriesshire, south west Scotland. I would happily offer up to a one week stay free of charge – Also own farm nearby so farm visits available.
I own a holiday cottage, the GateHouse, in Dover. It's a mini castle with turret, crenellations etc and would love to offer a 3 night weekend break (Friday to Monday) or a 4 night mid week break (Monday to Friday). The GateHouse sleeps 4, has one bedroom plus a fully sprung sofa bed in the living room. 2 dogs are welcome.
Short break for a group of 8 (10 with two camp beds- suitable for kids) they can bring their dogs too!
North Norfolk Holiday Cottages
A completely free holiday for a family of up to 4. Accommodation will be in either 2 twin rooms, or a twin and a double, or we could do a combo with singles if the children were older. It will be in our rooms with shared bathroom facilities.
Scargill Foundation, Yorkshire Dales
We are Low Moor Holiday Cottages, Scarborough, North Yorkshire and would be willing to offer a free weekend in a two bedroom cottage which would sleep 4 people plus baby in cot or a child under 10 on a z-bed.
The Bay, Filey on the Yorkshire Coast. We have a 4 bed property which sleeps up to 9 and a 2 bedroom property which sleeps 4. It might be nice for both to be booked out at the same time sleeping 13 in total (across both properties). There's a stunning beach which there's direct access to and it's lovely to wrap up and take walk on the peaceful beach or the on-site Meadow (with lots of nature to appreciate). There's a cosy on-site pub and restaurant and lots of other facilities, including swimming pool, sauna and gym. It might even be worth approaching the beauty room to see if they would offer a free treatment (e.g. Massage). The walk on the beach is very good for the soul and we have had various guests who have been going through a difficult time who have mentioned how their stay had helped. We also have Netflix and provide, wine, chocolate and candles for a relaxing evening.
I would like to offer our 3 bed cottage free of charge for a
Castle Ely Mill
We are happy to offer a 50% discount on our rates
Bank Villa Masham
Our Buck Place Cottage Filey Bay sleeps 4 and an infant on The Bay Holiday Village twixt Scarborough and Bridlington on the Yorkshire coast
We have 2 double en suite bed and breakfast rooms in Askrigg, a beautiful village in the Yorkshire Dales, www.sykeshouse.co.uk. We would be happy to offer both rooms for 2 nights free of
Alison and Michael Niklewicz
Happy to offer a free 3 or 4 night mid-week break for up to 4
Broadgate Farm Cottages
5 Star & 4 Star Gold Award Cottages
We would happily offer a 3 or 4 night break The cottage sleeps 4 people in one double and one twin bedroom - dogs welcome too.
Anthony & Joseph Duncalf
Holiday cottage scotland
I will offer some free B&B at Burnside Brace Guesthouse in Stanhope Weardale.
P.s I am dog friendly too
I would like to offer some free stays
The Kettlewell Hostel, Yorkshire Dales
We have a three bed cottage sleeping five plus camp cot and we would be pleased to offer a week or two shorter breaks (3 nights Fri-Mon or 4 nights Mon - Fri) in the autumn after Sept 8 once we have some space. We are really family friendly and have 1.5 acres of garden, where the children can play, parents can relax - we have chickens and they can collect free eggs each day. I would be interested to know how you will identify the personnel and tie them up with suitable accommodation but count us in!
Green Acre Lodge
So we all know that first impressions are important. First impressions count.
They colour the way we think about people, places, experiences. But do they encourage people to share on social media, to remember, to pass on recommendations to others?
I don't think we place enough importance on last impressions. And yet they last. What we do before we wave a cheery goodbye may be the most important factor in getting someone to come back again or recommend to others.
Is there anything you do to reward your customers, and encourage them to recommend you to others?
Years ago I ran a programme of very short breaks to England for overseas visitors. They had very little time so we gave them a folder of info, including a ready-stamped postcard of the place they were visiting.
Towards the end of their trip we reminded them to write their postcards and then we collected them and promised to post them. A small gesture, a small cost, with a big impact. Those postcards triggered a lot of recommendations and positive messages.
When guests leave their accommodation, they're usually setting out on a long journey. They'll get hungry and their children will get bored. How about saying goodbye with a tin of travel sweets (branded with the accommodation name)? Perhaps a small puzzle for young children and a chew for their dogs? Maybe you could clean their car windows or offer tips on the best way to avoid local traffic?
We say first impressions count, and they do. But last impressions are important too. They're part of making good memories that last.
As business owners/managers we all want to make our businesses "better". We want to believe our businesses are the best. But what does that really mean?
Here are three questions for you to think about for your business. Try not to simply answer as a slogan!
1: How are you better, what does it mean in your case to be better?
2: Have you thought about who you're better for? And how? Complete this sentence: "for people who are..... we ...."
Perhaps an example will help: "For people who want to grow their business and be more profitable I can offer several easy and cost-effective ways to improve their marketing..."
3: What are your answers to these questions and does your marketing make this clear?
Is it time for you to up your game a bit?
In 2018 SpaceX will take private passengers on a trip around the moon. Sounds "out of this world" (sorry) but these sort of trips are set to become a reality to Millennials who're ready to spend considerable sums of money on experiences.
So how much do you know about Millennials?
Start with this research.
Note: I posted about this in our Tourism Knowhow facebook group a little while ago. Most of my posts there get a good response and engagement. When I posted about Millennials, the response was almost zero. Scarey - because this is probably the most important market to secure the future of your tourism business.
It's worth finding out about Millennials - they're the future, and yet many in the tourism industry are still ignoring them!
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Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs