The air is damp, the news is full of school's going back. It's easy to feel that Winter will soon be on its way, together with that sense of hibernation and endings.
But after such a slow start to the 2020 season, I'm not sure we're ready to retreat quite yet. It's been a difficult year so I think it's time to pick out some positive news.
The season is not yet over, and there may be some better times ahead, despite the weather and Covid.
I hope some of these positives will spur you on to thinking about how you can extend the season, ad consider some new ideas and ways to market your business.
People want to book trips when times are hard to cheer them up. They want to book trips when times are are good, to celebrate.
I really don't want to dismiss the struggles that many have faced during Covid-19. It would be very easy to feel downhearted about the state of the economy. However, there are some pieces of good news and if we want to steer our businesses in the right direction it's going to be up to us to seize on the positives and decide how we can thrive. While I'm on the subject of positive news and being optimistic, you might want to read this post too.
Do you know why visitors often go to a review site after they've been to your website?
Some do it because they want to know what others say about you. Many do it because they lack reassurance and want to feel more confident they're making the right decision. Others do it because they want more information than you have on your website. I often look at review sites to find more photos because people often don't have many on their website, or to find out more about the area.
Even if you have fantastic reviews, there's always the chance that visitors will get side-tracked and forget to come back to your site.
So it's essential to provide all the essential info on your own website.
There are 3 things every visitor wants. Have you got them all on your website?
Obviously the first priority is to talk about your own business, but whether you're targeting staying or day visitors, at some point everyone wants:
Whether you offer accommodation as a base to do all these, or can offer any of these directly, adding information about them all to your website will only enhance your offering, make your potential visitors even happier and position you as a local expert.
There's no need to add masses of different places - just think about your favourites and the places you'd really recommend. Visitors are very keen on 'insider tips' and that's exactly what these are. You could add them to your website, create a new blog about them, or do several different social media posts about them.
You could increase the impact of all this by contacting your recommended places in advance and asking if they'd like to join you in some collaborative marketing? It won't cost anyone anything but could be really powerful.
Many businesses tell me they'd like to do more local promotion and collaborations but it's hard to get started. This is the ideal way - start small and see how the idea grows.
You're probably (hopefully) too busy to do much marketing right now, yet there are a few things you can do very quickly that will be a great investment for future marketing activity.
With more visitors around, it's a good time to ask some important questions and get valuable information you can use for your website, social media and other promotional activity.
This is a good opportunity to learn from visitors.
Take every chance you can get to ask questions, and make a note of the responses.
Ask the right questions to get the right answers
Try to focus on questions with a specific purpose, such as those that might help you work out what improvements you can make, or how you can create more effective promotions.
Ask open questions - those to which the answer isn't just 'yes' or 'no'.
Try to avoid the obvious ones like 'how did you hear about us?' Many people will give vague answers like 'the internet' which don't really help.
Some examples of questions you might ask:
Every single one of these questions will lead to some interesting answers that you can use to improve what you do. I find it helpful to make a note of what I'll do, as soon as I've found out new information. The responses often spark immediate ideas that can be harder to spot if you're just reading through a list of answers later.
What if you don't usually meet your guests, for example in a self-catering property?
Leave a short and simple form with the questions in your property. Don't ask too many and leave plenty of blank space for the responses. Explain why you'd like to read their answers. Now's a really good time to do this because people are aware of the impact of Covid-19 on tourism businesses and are more willing to help. Leave the form (and pen) next to a bowl of fruit, bottle of wine or some biscuits and you'll notice response rates go up, and answers become even more helpful!
When it's mid-season and you're (hopefully) busy, it's hard to find any time to do any marketing. Yet this is the time when you can stimulate recommendations and repeat business.
If they've had a good time, most people want to talk about it, and will tell others. But... they often forget. Or they get busy and only tell a couple of people.
That's where 'talk triggers' come in. Small gestures, or things that remind people to talk about you. Memories are wonderful, and I keep saying that people value experiences more than 'stuff' but small physical reminders are still very useful talk triggers.
Here are a couple of examples, followed by some other ideas you might use for your own business.
I took my mum out for afternoon tea at the splendid Grantley Hall yesterday. As we left, she was given a doggy bag containing the remaining scones and pastries. She would have probably told others about the excellent afternoon tea anyway, but the doggy bag meant she had something to show as well. It was a simple cardboard box, but printed on shiny green with the hotel's crest on it - all very much on brand, looking smarter than the average doggy bag. We'd already paid for the cakes and the box would cost little to print but it had a huge impact.
By the evening my mother had invited a friend to sample the left over treats, decided to invite some other friends to go for afternoon tea another day (using her smart doggy bag to show them why). She sent a photo of it to my daughter who declared it looked very 'instagramable' which of course means she now wants to go too. I told some friends about our afternoon tea, showed them the doggy bag and its contents and we all decided we'd like to try lunch there another day. That's a lot of additional business stimulated by just one cardboard box.
Speaking of doggy boxes, I hit on a very simple way to get repeat businesses for my dog-friendly holiday cottage. Lots of people say they 'accept dogs' but dog-lovers don't want their doggy darlings to just be tolerated. Genuinely welcoming dogs can have a big impact. The first times I 'accepted' dogs in the cottage I offered a couple of items to off-set potential damage: dog bowls so guests didn't just use my 'human' dishes, large towel to encourage owners to clean their canines, a couple of dog chews to distract any furniture nibblers, and some poo bags. It was funny how many dog owners left me thank you cards written by their dogs. When I added some suggestions for dogs-off-the-lead walks as well, they were ecstatic. And most dog owners know plenty of other dog owners...
Another example comes from a long time ago when I worked for a small tour operator. When visitors arrived in England from overseas we used to give them small welcome packs including a pre-stamped postcard to encourage them to write home about the destination. Postcards are now even more of a novelty so perhaps that's something you could offer? Adding a stamp puts up the cost but is much appreciated.
The key to getting more recommendations is to be remarkable, or offer a physical memento. Travel mints or sweets with the name of the accommodation and website on the lid is a good touch. I know of accommodation owners who use small touches like cleaning guest car windscreens before they leave to make themselves more memorable. Actions can be small and cost-free but must be remarkable to ensure word of mouth recommendations.
It's worth thinking about any niches you target to consider what might be most appropriate for your markets. For example, walkers might appreciate maps or small guide books (make sure you stamp them with your business name), parents will love little pocket puzzles for children to enjoy on the journey home.
Activity providers might offer ideas for post-experience exercises or more activity suggestions for another time. Many accommodation providers offer cake on arrival which is a lovely touch - is there something you could offer to make a lasting impression on departure? One B&B I stayed in had a novel touch in their room - they had a tray with two glasses, a cocktail shaker, small bottles and recipe to make a cocktail on arrival. They'd thought of every detail including a tiny jar containing the two blackberries to garnish the cocktails. They'd cleverly not mentioned this on their website or in any of the booking information so it was a complete surprise. I couldn't help but take a photo and post about that place on social media...
Many restaurants serve homemade fudge and chocolates with coffee at the end of every meal, but by that time most diners are already full. Offering a tiny box (bearing the restaurants name and number) of chocolates after the bill has been paid will have more impact and memorability.
Do you already offer some kind of 'talk trigger' or have your got an idea for one? I'd be interested to hear your ideas, and how they work for you.
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Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs