You're tired. You're busy. You're got so many things on your mind. You really want to get away. You need a holiday.
So you go online to find somewhere to visit (after lockdown), a good place to stay. And very quickly you feel completely overwhelmed.
There's so much choice! It makes you feel even more tired.
Every place promises 'so much to see and do', 'home from home comforts', 'warm welcome'... you get the gist. Bland. Boring.
One or two places look pretty awful so you can immediately ignore those. But what of the ones that look quite good? How will you make a decision?
Some destinations look a bit more intriguing than the others. There are long lists of things to do. But even those lists feel overwhelming - how do you know which to choose? Which will meet your needs? The places to stay look great and promise 'high quality' but after a while all those pictures of shiny kitchen surfaces, comfy sofas and beds with a towel or rug folded on them merge into one. It's so difficult to choose.
We need to make it easier for visitors to choose our destination, our attraction, activities and accommodation. We need to stand out, in a way that's much more memorable.
That's where a good story comes in.
There are essentially three ways to compete:
1. On price (but there'll always be some one cheaper and someone more upmarket than you).
2. By being better than everyone else. A good idea but it can be expensive as you may have to constantly upgrade. Even harder - how do you convince people that you're better than everyone else?
3. By being different. This is by far the easiest. If you have a good story...
What makes a good story?
So what do I mean by a good story exactly? It's anything that sets you apart and makes you more memorable. It could be your story, something you do that's different. It could be that you're fantastic at doing something. It could be the story of your building, something interesting inside your building, something from your local area. It could be one big story or a combination of many. It could be something dramatic or a collection of small details.
It has to be something that sets you apart. It has to be memorable. It has to be something that other people will want to talk about. Ideally it will even make travel writers want to write about you, which will also help with your search engine optimisation.
The key thing is to create a connection with other human beings. To show, not just tell.
I recently posed a question on twitter to some travel journalists: what would make a holiday cottage more interesting to stay in & write about? Their responses came immediately:
@WillHide: The hook would have to be something you could do from there. The actual cottage itself would unlikely be the reason for the story but you could bring it into the piece.
@SallyShalam responded with lots of advice, based on her very extensive experience of writing about destinations and accommodation: It’s important to identify what your target market is likely to read. This way, you can be clearer about courting publicity from the most suitable publications. It really matters.
Be clear on what the stories are about your place and aware of different types of article. Does your property warrant a full article in own right? Eg, Is there sufficient material to fill a couple of pages (historic house, major renovation, end of a long labour of love, and why do we need to know about it now, etc)? Or does it work as a base for a wider destination piece? (What’s the story about the region? Why now? Is there a critical mass of good things to visit within reach?) Or, would it work well in a themed round-up (best bluebell walks, region for seafood, new heritage opening, or somewhere to test your eyesight, etc).
Now put those two together - stories plus target market - and it will be easier to see which writers or editors will appreciate hearing about you most.
Finally but oh-so-crucially, photography. It simply must be factored in to your marketing plan. Editors reject places purely on the basis of poor images. Editors beg me, when I’m speaking at regional tourism events, to ask you for decent pictures. You need a professional set of shots. If your property is a heritage/interiors story then you need an interiors specialist.
My anecdote: A property owner asked me repeatedly to review her cottage so eventually, despite having reservations, I agreed. When I got there, it was tiny (which is fine) and furnished entirely from IKEA (not fine, what am I supposed to say about it?) Which left me with the problem of filling the other 650 words. A property which would have worked fine as a short entry in a round-up theme such as coastal cottages simply didn’t stand up as the main event in a review.
@LottieGross: Sally makes some excellent points. A house isn't enough of a story on its own without a great human angle (interesting historic resident? Or are current owners a story in own right?) A USP is essential. And hot tubs don't count as a USP! (USP = Unique Selling Point)
Amanda Brown PR has just published a podcast on this very topic, speaking to another travel journalist about 'why we all need to hark back to our childhood and re-learn the art of storytelling to reconnect with visitors and guests". You can listen to it here.
In a future blog I'll offer some ideas for stories you can tell, even when you think you don't have a story. Sign up here to make sure you don't miss out.
No matter what your business or how big your marketing budget, there's one thing that you're probably not doing enough. It's always important, and thanks to Covid is now even more essential.
Everyone needs reassurance. We need it in different ways, but we all need it.
When some one doesn't buy or book something, it's easy to assume they either don't like what you do or your prices are too high. More often these are not the reasons. They're not sure, or they lack information. A little reassurance can go a long way and make a big difference to your marketing.
How do I know? It's something I've studied and experimented with, over three decades. I've helped clients to add a few simple words of reassurance to their marketing copy, on websites, social media, in person - and they've often been amazed at what a difference it makes. A subtle change or the addition of a few words could make you a lot of money.
The sentence above is true, but I also added it as an example. When you read the start of this article you might not have totally believed me when I said that reassurance is important. You may well have been questioning the validity of that statement or what I even know about it. So I added some reassurance about my experience, and about the results businesses can achieve by implementing my advice. Can you do the same in your business?
Think about some of the questions you might subconsciouly ask yourself before you buy anything. It could be a quick "is it good value for money?", "will it taste good?", "will I really enjoy it" or "will my family want to do that?". Before booking somewhere to stay we may ask, "is there enough to do in the area?", or "will it be comfortable?". Thinking through such questions and considering visitors' potential concerns can help you provide more information and reassurance.
Consider each page of your website and the sort of questions anyone might ask. What might visitors concerns be? What additional (not so much you over face people - usually a couple of sentences are enough) information could you add to reassure potential visitors? Do you need more images to show them? Have you included reviews on your website instead of sending people off to another site?
Reassurance about re-opening
We normally want to feel reassured that places will be clean. Now safety is paramount.
There's no question that people are ready to travel again and want to plan their trips and holidays. Most will wait until it's really safe to do so, but they're already dreaming and thinking about what they'd like to do. Our challenge will be to make sure we take advantage of that pent-up demand and secure bookings and visits. Building consumer confidence through the right kind of reassurance is gong to be more important than ever before.
What can you do?
Once you've looked at every angle of your business and how you can make it feel safer (see below for more information), think of the different questions visitors may have. You might want to make a note of how you'll answer those questions, and list out all the things you're doing/done to keep visitors safe.
Communication will be just as important as the actions you take. Make sure you're open and honest about everything you do and plan to do. If you don't know the answer to something, it's better to say so than to take a gamble.
Consider how you can communicate your plans with visitors, both in advance and when they arrive. Think about the different types of reassurance they might need. For example, some people will be concerned with physical measures and cleanliness. Others may be more worried about booking if they think they can't get their deposit back if something happens.
Explain all the infection control plans you will follow. A brief video can be very effective. It doesn't have to be polished - showing that you're a human who cares is better than a glib promotional film.
Inside your business it's a good idea to make your cleaning schedules visible and clear, perhaps with a poster or note.
Where to get more information and advice
As my family will tell you, I'm no cleaning or safety expert so please don't ask me about the best cleaning routines or where to get PPE (I've had a lot of emails on these topics which I'm afraid I just can't answer!). However, there is a lot of help available, and some additional guidance about to come on stream.
Quality in Tourism have already added to their existing inspection schemes with a Covid-ready Safe Clean Legal scheme.
VisitBritain/VisitEngland are now consulting with the industry ready to create a visitor reassurance kite-mark for use across the tourism industry. They expect this to be ready in early June and it will be free of charge. You will be able to find information about this when it's ready along with plenty of other industry information on their website.
Hospitality Industry Training have published this helpful guide. UK Hospitality are now also working on protocols and guidance which will be published soon.
See also this guidance on carrying out a workplace Covid risk assessment. There is some government guidance on cleaning.
Most recovery planning currently focuses on the logistics of safe distancing and what re-opening will look like. There’s a real need for this but I’d like to look further ahead, to a more positive future.
How can we increase business survival rates? When tourism fully opens, there will be a marketing stampede: fierce competition for travellers’ attention. The tourism market is already crowded, yet we’ll all be shouting our wares at the same time. How can anyone stand out?
In the fight for day-to-day survival, most conversations about destination marketing themes and messages have paused. Businesses are scrambling to consider the physical adaptations they might need to make.
The tourism industry’s survival depends on our being ready to spring forward with concrete plans, welcoming messages and interesting experiences to capture the public’s attention.
This article looks at what we need to do to bring about tourism recovery. It considers possible opportunities, visitor mind-sets, and practical actions for destinations and businesses.
I’m writing from the perspective of my own practical experience of destination promotion, business development and support. I’ve built on what I learnt from previous crises such as Foot and Mouth and 9/11, and on what’s happening in other countries post Covid-19.
Looking back through rose-tinted glasses?
We look back to pre-Covid times as the halcyon days of tourism. But the industry wasn’t without its issues. Some areas suffered from over tourism. Some were under-visited. Few tourism businesses were operating at peak capacity or profitability. Tourism growth was ad hoc.
Some issues were much discussed but never resolved: the need to disperse visitors away from honeypots; the need to develop off-peak tourism; and how to reduce over-reliance on online travel agents.
Covid has caused enormous human and financial losses. Many aspects of life have been affected. As we eventually move forward, now may be an opportunity to re-think tourism. We’re in the unusual situation of having to re-start an industry out of almost complete hibernation.
An opportunity for ‘good’ tourism?
We’ve talked about sustainable and responsible tourism for a long time. Growth has remained the focus for many destinations, with little time to stop and re-set. Now could be the time.
We have an opportunity to think about the sort of visitors we really want. Where do we most need visitors? When? How do we want them to arrive at our destinations? Is it time to focus on value over volume? What do we want visitors to actually do? Is there a way to ensure broader community benefits from tourism?
What are the opportunities for more meaningful and slow tourism? I’m looking forward to increased interest in sense of place and local distinctiveness. People have started to see things on their daily walks they didn’t notice before. Minds are opening to small pleasures.
One outcome of the pandemic is the increased recognition of the value of local communities, and small actions that collectively contribute to better outcomes.
We may not have previously promoted very strongly to local people, yet they are set to become an important market, both directly and indirectly. There is an important ripple effect. How can we make better use of local and regional ambassadors?
This is a good time to consider about different ways of connecting with audiences and potential visitors, and the importance of building relationships and engagement.
Inside visitors’ minds…
The desire to travel is still strong, possibly even increased by lockdown.
Common sense and research indicate that the day visiting local market will be first, followed by regional visitors, then domestic and eventually international visitors. It is likely that car travel will be the initial preference, avoiding some forms of public transport and air travel.
It’s useful to consider the ‘first’ visitors we’re likely to see:
How can visitors be encouraged to travel when it’s safe to do so?
Visitors will need to know where it’s safe to go. They will want to feel they will be welcomed by locals. It will be essential to build trust and confidence. The Safe Clean Legal kite-mark scheme developed by Quality in Tourism and the proposed VisitEngland/VisitBritain schemes will play a key part in reassuring visitors.
Along with the urge to explore and discover new places, some anxiety and caution are likely. Some will seek out the familiar and enjoy the nostalgia of returning to much-loved places they’ve visited before.
Some visitors may feel over-whelmed by the possibility of their freedom and feel under pressure to make the perfect choice. Compelling marketing messages and tangible reasons for visits will be key. Dull lists will be less effective.
Visitors may initially spend more time in local destinations than they might normally consider. We need to make this an active, positive decision with a good outcome, not just seen as ‘making do’.
Anticipation is part of the enjoyment of travel. Now is the time to stimulate anticipation. Visitors want to be able to share their plans, and talk about their discoveries. They will need some direction to find the places on their doorstep they haven’t yet enjoyed.
It’s likely the tendency toward last-minute booking will increase still further. Visitors will need to feel secure about their bookings and have the opportunity to delay or ask for a deposit refund should plans have to change.
Many visitors will want to avoid logistical challenges: we will need to demonstrate ease of arrival.
Opportunity to re-build tourism, based on some promising trends
Some trends have already emerged during the pandemic. They may give clues for new product development and experiences, and marketing messages that will appeal to a post Covid-19 market:
Time to (finally) build off-peak business?
It’s looking likely that we’ll miss the bulk of the summer season. If this is the case, then many visitors will be more than ready to enjoy time away in Autumn and Winter. Some of the usual concerns about weather may take a back seat when there’s an opportunity to enjoy free time in a different place.
We’ve talked about increasing off-peak business for a very long time. Now might be the chance to experiment with winter openings to change perceptions once and for all. What can we do collectively to build business during the shoulder months?
What do destinations need to do?
Most destinations are currently using a ‘Dream Now, Visit Later’ approach. Some destinations seem to be thinking about recovery planning mainly in terms of how they will deal with post-lockdown tourism and encourage safe-distancing. More pro-active destinations are planning post-lockdown as well as revising their existing marketing strategies so the two planning activities can merge into a longer-term plan.
Businesses are increasingly looking to destination organisations and government for co-ordinated messages about which places will safely open and how visitors will be welcomed.
In addition to leading collaborative marketing, and adapting messages to the ‘new normal’, destinations can use this time to consider what ‘good’ tourism means for their area, and what kind of visitor economy they want in future.
An important role will be guidance on product development. Initially this may be centred around appropriate adaptations for social distancing. Competition for visitors will be fierce and there will be pressure on destination organisations to help businesses survive. There will be an increased need for support to help businesses build on trends in order to create the kind of experiences and product that tomorrow’s visitors will want.
Next steps for businesses?
What can business do to recover quickly and be stronger? Some important activities:
Communications will need to take account of the changed market place. We’ll need to:
I’ve got a challenge for you. It could be the one thing that changes your business or your life. I hope you’ll join in. First an explanation…
Most of us have one thing that stops us from moving forward. We can get by without doing it, but once we master the skill or get over our fear, our businesses can be significantly improved. What is it?
The One Thing is different for each of us. For some it’s the belief that you’re not ‘technically minded’. For me it’s seeing or hearing myself on video. Some people say it’s facebook. Whatever the One Thing is, it’s getting in the way.
We’ve told ourselves a story: that we can’t do something or don’t like something and that’s it. We can work on our business in all kinds of different ways but we keep coming up against that One Thing.
It becomes a bit of a dead end in a maze that you’re permanently wandering.
You might have decided that installing Google Analytics is just too hard or not something you’re interested in doing. But when you ask me how you’ll know which key words your visitors use to find you, or how to rank higher in the search engines I'll talk about Google Analytics. You might listen to everything I say but those two words are like a halt sign. You can take all the advice except for that bit.
Or you might have heard of people talking about getting bookings through facebook, and finding useful information in a facebook group. You want the bookings and you want the information but you repeatedly say ‘I don’t do facebook’. Another dead end.
You might know that video is now an essential video tool and something really worth adding to your website, and sharing on social media but you just can’t bring yourself to learn how to use it. It’s just another nagging Thing at the back of your mind, lurking there like a disapproving shadow.
You know you should do it, but you just don't. Almost every day someone tells me about something they can’t do – use zoom, use facebook, use Google Analytics. Or they say they don’t like doing something – writing, social media etc.
You can do it. You will like it.
Through-out my childhood my mother repeatedly said, ‘there’s no such word as "can’t”. My sister and I used to clench our teeth at her and wanted to disagree but we knew what the next sentence would be. ‘You don’t know until you’ve tried’.
That’s my point really. If we haven’t really tried doing the One Thing, how do we know we can’t? How do we know we don’t like it if we’ve not given it a chance. Whatever the One Thing is, chances are that many others are doing it and they’re not super human. We can do it if we try. You might think you're 'rubbish at technical stuff' but is that a reality, something you've tried and failed at many times?
Usually we avoid doing the One Thing until suddenly we don’t. For some reason we start to do it. We realise we’ve just told ourselves a story, and believed we can’t do it, or don’t want to. And almost always we kick ourselves when we accept it’s easier or less horrible than we expected. We wish we’d done it earlier.
In my head I don’t have any wrinkles, baggy eyes or chewed lips. In fact I look exactly as I did when I was 25. But when I see myself on camera it’s a different matter. Somehow the camera adds 30 years to my face and videos remind me that my skin is sagging at the same rate as my energy. I know that I could save time and help many more people if I just recorded some brief video clips and marketing tips. But videoing myself is my One Thing. I just can’t bring myself to do it.
Until now. I’m promising myself that this can’t go on. I will do the One Thing.
So, I’m challenging you. What’s your One Thing?
What difference would it make to your business or your life if you did it? How would it feel?
If you think it’s something you can’t do because you don’t have the knowledge, google ‘tutorial on how to…” and I guarantee the answer will be there. No excuses. It helps if you just start – then you quickly realise that whatever it is, there’s a process to the One Thing and it’s easier than you think.
Let’s make a positive out of Covid and turn this time to our advantage. Let’s do our One Thing. Let’s move forward.
There’s one way to make it more likely that we’ll achieve our One Thing. Tell someone what you’re going to do. As soon as you do so, it massively increases the chances of completion. Adding a public deadline works even better.
I’m still cringing in advance at the idea of filming myself. In fact, it’s even worse now because I know when you next see my face you’ll look more closely at my sagging cheeks and remember these words. But I’ve said I’ll do my One Thing and I’ll do it. By this time next week.
What’s your One Thing? When will you do it by?
To increase your chances of success, please tell me in the comments on here, or in the facebook group or Tourism Network online community, or by email and we'll help keep each other accountable.
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Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs