20 years ago I got involved in something that people thought was a bit odd. Most didn't understand what I was talking about or why they should join in.
It was called 'Considerate Hoteliers of Westminster', a group of hoteliers in London who wanted to reduce their environmental impact. I was supposed to promote the group's activities and recruit new members. At the time the main message seemed to be that they could save money if they saved water. This was the early days of those little cards encouraging guests to re-use their towels and putting 'hippos' in toilet cisterns. The hoteliers cared about the environment but they were mainly motivated by their bottom line.
I've no idea where the name of the group came from. 'Considerate' just made them all sound polite and well-mannered, which was largely true. Most of the members managed 4* and 5* hotels, older men dressed in impeccable Saville Row suits, incapable of walking past a cushion without plumping it. I'm not sure that we achieved a great deal but the meetings always included excellent cake. It was an uphill battle to involve others - there never seemed an easy way to explain what we were trying to do.
In the years since then the terminology has changed and responsible tourism has become more mainstream, The bottom line may still be the main motivation for some, but in the meantime the environment has come to the fore. Progress has been painfully slow. Many are only just starting to think about the connection between tourism and climate change.
There are many reasons why progress has been slow but there are two we can actually do something about right now
First of all - the waggy finger, the I-know-more-than-you terminology, and competitive environmentalism. I first heard the term 'waggy finger' from Tim Smit, creator of the Eden Project. He pointed out that many environmentalists were seen as hectoring, lecturing on what people 'should' do. Tim Smit preferred to bring the issues alive and give people a good time as they learnt about them at the Eden Project in Cornwall. Most of us switch off when someone says, 'you should...' whatever the topic.
What do you call 'good tourism' - the kind that respects the environment? The terminology has been problematic, and keeps changing. If you're not very sure how to talk about something without getting it wrong, what do you do? Exactly - you avoid it. So we've not talked about 'sustainable tourism', 'environmentally-friendly tourism', 'eco tourism', or 'responsible tourism' as much as we should (oops). I recently asked some industry colleagues how they now refer to it and there was no agreement on one specific term. In fact, additional terms like 'regenerative tourism' were even suggested. With this in mind, I'm going to stick to basics and refer to it as 'good tourism'.
But is it as 'good' as it could be? No. It could always be better. And that's part of the problem. I've noticed an increasing tendency towards competitive environmentalism. 'What, you only recycle those few materials? Oh, I do so much more'. 'You shouldn't buy fast fashion anymore. It's much better to simply not buy anything and re-wear your clothes more often. Or even better do as I do, and make your own on a hand-powered sewing machine using old newspapers and discarded sheep's wool.'
In the light of these kind of conversations, it can be tempting to just want to walk away. Knitting with yoghurt will only get you so far.
The second reason for slow progress is that many people want to do something but are not really sure what to do. They've been lectured, they've had fingers pointed at them, they feel they're using the wrong language, and they've been told they're not doing enough. But what can they actually do?
Five simple things every tourism business can do right now
I'm no expert but would like to suggest five very simple things every tourism business can do right now. They'll help save the planet and please many 'good' visitors.
1. Be aware of what makes your area different. That sounds obvious but not everyone can talk knowledgeably about their local distinctiveness and sense of place. We travel and go on holiday to relax, and to experience something different, so local distinctiveness is really important. It's the small details that mark one place out from another. If we can encourage visitors to see those differences, they'll really appreciate our individual areas and be ready to spend more time, uncovering them.
Tell people about the quirky stories and details of local buildings, show them where the best walks are, point out the flowers or trees that others wonder at, explain local customs and traditions. Direct visitors to places where they can enjoy locally made food and drink, and see work by local artists and craftspeople. This might not sound like a big contribution to saving the planet, but you're helping others to appreciate your area, and cutting down on their travel.
2. What are your 'doorstep delights'? What are the special treasures and places of interest not far from where you are? Look at the bedroom browsers in accommodation and brochure display racks in many information centres, and attractions and you'll be able to pick up information and leaflets for places that are miles and miles away. Some may be worth the journey but there's equal validity in the places on your doorstep that are less discovered. Add this information to your website - make it easier for visitors to find.
3. What local suppliers and environmentally friendly products do you use in your business? Can you list them? Drawing up a definitive list helps you think of other things you could do, and reassures visitors that you're trying to do all you can. Displaying this kind of information is already more popular, so it's going to become more expected.
4. Can you provide better information about car-free travel in your area? What other information will help visitors to cut down their carbon-footprint, without nagging them to do so? What activities would help visitors see and enjoy your area without getting in a car?
5. Some visitors like to be part of payback or carbon-offsetting schemes, or make a contribution towards local projects. What local options can you suggest?
Each of these suggestions will only have a small individual impact, yet taken together they all accumulate to lessen the impact of tourism on the environment - and make sure visitors enjoy their time spent in your area.
What other measures do you suggest, to encourage 'good tourism' and reduce the negative impacts of tourism?
Is a photo really worth a thousand words? Only if it's the right photo! There's no doubt that good images can be very powerful in helping to promote your tourism business.
How can you grab attention with images that stand out? What do you need to do to make your photos more impactful?
What can you do to make your pictures more memorable and persuasive so people actually want to visit you?
What simple tips can you use for stronger story-telling and awareness-building?
Whether you're a good photographer or not, these simple tips will help you create photography that grabs attention, persuades and sells.
Read the rest of the article here in our online community - it's free to join.
I'm writing this on the assumption that your marketing budget is much smaller than you'd like it to be? And that you don't have a great deal of time so whatever marketing you do has to be quick and effective? This is what the majority of tourism businesses and my clients tell me. Yet they miss out on a simple technique that could give their business a welcome boost. Piggybacking on current trends is a really easy way to get more attention.
For any marketing to work, the people you're targeting need to go through several stages. Some of these happen quickly almost without you or them realising, but they're still essential - unawareness, awareness, understanding (what you offer and how it can benefit them), conviction and then buying/booking.
One of the main reasons people don't book your accommodation or visit you is because they don't know about you. It's really hard to get attention from new potential customers. But if you use a hook that people are already aware of, or are paying attention to, it's much easier. You're effectively using someone else's marketing budget.
In this article I outlined some trends for 2020. Here are six easy ways to use the trends to build your business.
Read the rest of the article here in our online community - it's free to join.
Will 2020 be a good or bad year for tourism? How will market-place changes affect your business? Read on for my predictions, details of emerging trends and some opportunities for tourism businesses.
I'll start with some positives. When the world feels like an uncertain place many of us have an urge to run away, and that can be a good thing for tourism!
Here are some markets and niche opportunities you might be able to harness in your marketing. In next week's blog and tourism knowhow mailing, I'll give more details of how you can take advantage of these opportunities.
Family focus and time together: precious things that money supposedly can't buy, but we can offer the chance for people to come together and spend time in a beautiful place. Family gatherings and celebrations of big post 30-birthdays and anniversaries continue to be popular and are great for off-season tourism, and introducing new visitors to your area. One person decides where they want to spend their 'special day'/weekend and their families and friends are obliged to join them... What could be better? You only need to influence one person to make that initial booking and they bring many others, all in a celebratory frame of mind, pre-disposed to enjoy themselves, and usually with higher-than-average spend.
Along with greater appreciation of the benefits of spending time in nature and in the open air, more of us seem to be ready to enjoy simple pleasures and to notice the pleasant small details of daily life whether it's a great cake, beautiful flower or unexpected view. Probably fuelled by social media and the ease of phone camera filming, we're ready to take notice of simple pleasures - and to share them with others. What are the simple pleasures on your doorstep, that maybe you take for granted, but which visitors would love?
The beginning of a year is a good time to reflect and perhaps try a new skill. The market for experiences and learning something new or different while on a short break or holiday is still strong. Creative and spiritual retreats are becoming more popular. Quirky experiences, chances to develop artistic abilities, learn about nature, cook healthy or unusual food - these are all likely to prove popular in 2020. One caveat though - we need to make it easier for visitors to find and book such experiences and to combine them with accommodation, whether that's through established online channels or better direct marketing.
As the world gets crazier, chances to step off the hamster wheel of life, and simply relax and go a little off-grid will be important - but again, we need to appreciate that although there are plenty of opportunities to do this, visitors don't always find it easy to find the right places for them. We need to make it more obvious what's on offer, where it is, what there is to do (or not do) and how to get there.
I've started to notice the growth of a different kind of retreat: retreating from the everyday in order to work. Yes, that might sound odd. Yet there seems to be an off-season (very handy!) trend for people booking to go away, sometimes for an extended time, in order to work. The work might be different to usual, perhaps to do something like write or be more contemplative, and think differently. Thanks to digital communication it's also easier to just carry on working in a different place.
Going on holiday or enjoying a short break has always been seen as an opportunity to relax and perhaps to see something different. It's increasingly being used as a solution, an opportunity to 'find ourself'. Mindfulness, wellness, increased fitness, and re-invention are part of an increasing number of short breaks. Transformative tourism is definitely a 'thing', whether you set off to transform yourself or a community. Adventure travel is part of this - the chance to not just conquer a mountain, but your own mind too.
I think what I call the 'muddled middle' of accommodation will continue to struggle. There's growing interest in spartan and very simple accommodation and wild camping but there's also demand for luxury at every level, whether that's a five star castle or glamping. Distinctive accommodation will continue to do well. The novelty value of camping pods, shepherd's huts etc may diminish, but there will still be a demand for simple accommodation. Mainstream, middle-of-the-road accommodation will need to find a way to be different or better in someway, in order to stand out from a crowded market place.
Different is so much easier to sell, than muddled middle. In a mature tourism market, we're continually looking for something different. Travel journalists often do call outs for unusual, quirky, and distinctive - and receive surprisingly few usable responses. If you can create something that's a genuinely new and meaningful product, offering good value for money, beauty and intrigue - you'll go far.
TV programmes often have a strong influence on the tourism industry and what visitors enjoy. There's been a flurry of programmes offering the inside view on everything from the royal family to behind the scenes of supermarkets. The urge to look inside, find out the story behind places and people and to satisfy curiosity seems set to grow.
Another programme that's fuelled interest is Who do you think you are? leading to a growth of interest in genealogy and ancestry tourism. Some TV series take a while to build interest and then suddenly seem to be among the most popular. The Repair Shop has been described as 'the TV equivalent of sinking into a warm bath'. Along with other series on crafts and history there seems to be an increased appreciation for the handmade. Combined with a search for authenticity and visitors turning away from homogenous high streets, there's an opportunity for us all to showcase the individual, independent, different, handmade, local... But it's not enough to just say it's 'local' - you need to tell the story, show the evidence and provide chances to visit and experience.
Food is no-longer just fuel. It's part of our 'life-style', a choice, a way to express ourselves and our values. Again, it's not enough to simply tell visitors the food we offer is 'local' - people practically want to know the name of the pig from which the sausages are made. Or they don't want to know that at all, because they are vegan, vegetarian, pollotarian, or something else we're not yet heard of. One thing is for sure - in our privileged part of the world, food types, ethics, origin, farming methods and much more will continue to be discussed and debated. Some of us will get pickier. Some of us will get fatter or thinner. Some of us will just crave simple food.
I've talked about local distinctiveness and it's importance for the tourism industry for almost 20 years (I know). The words used to describe it vary but essentially, tourism wouldn't exist without 'sense of place'. It's not going away. The fact that we're still interested in all things local, handmade and carefully crafted, having new experiences and thinking much more about the environment and climate change suggests to me that local distinctiveness will become even more important to tourism in 2020. So please listen to me when I go on about it!
Many of us are discussing climate change but fewer of us are making the connection between tourism and the environment. I think climate change will have a far bigger impact on what we do, and the market for our services that we currently realise. 'Flight-shaming' has already had an impact in some parts of Scandinavia where holiday-makers are now looking at staycations or destinations to which they can travel by train instead of air. For years the tourism industry has had a growth mentality - more visitors, more spend. Now some destinations are starting to question the value of promoting to visitors a long haul flight away. Perhaps we'll all start to pay more attention to our 'doorstep delights' (remember how I mentioned local distinctiveness...)? Staying visitors have always been prized over day visitors but now they're set to become even more important.
We all need to get better at helping visitors to appreciate more of what's in one area before they move on to the next.
The weather is awful - or the forecast says it will be, which can be just as bad for business.
Many businesses panic and start offering discounts to attract visitors, but that's not really the answer.
What can you do to prevent your tourism business being ruined by bad weather?
Here are a few ideas that really do work: click here to read more.
You’ve put everything you have into making your business as good as it can be. You’ve poured in blood, sweat, tears, money, your heart and soul. And then like a slap in the face, you suddenly get a bad review or negative feedback.
I’ve spoken to many tourism business owners who feel really demoralised when this happens. It’s so easy to focus on one bad review, even when all your others are excellent.
It’s even worse when the reviewer is being dishonest or unreasonable. So, what can you do?
Everyone has off-days and it’s unrealistic to believe you can please everyone all the time. Sometimes bad reviews are nothing to do with what you’ve done, but more to do with how the reviewer was feeling at the time and what’s happening in their life. Think about it - if you go out for a meal with a partner in a bad mood, you’re far less likely to think the meal was good. You might be readier to find fault, because that’s how you’re feeling. As a business owner, you have little control over the attitudes of others.
But don’t get too demoralised – the odd bad review can actually be good for business! Really? Yes!
Click here to read more, and find out what to do about bad reviews.
"Buy one, get one free!".
Sound familiar? Of course it does.
20%, 50% discount... price led promotions are everywhere.
Don't show your desperation
There's a place for them, but more often than not, price-led 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. Years ago marketing tactics like this were less usual. They had more impact. Now they're the norm. No matter how big the discount they don't stand out so they have little effect.
Some people think they raise awareness of particular products but how can they do that when the market is saturated with them? When they need more business, many business owners use a price-led promotion without considering other marketing methods. Far better to try everything else first and maintain your prices, then discount when absolutely necessary. Click here to find out how to avoid using discounts - and when they work
I've had a lot of conversations recently with business owners and managers who don't want to be too 'salesy'.
They worry that if they talk up their business too much, and describe all its benefits in great detail, they'll sound like they're boasting. They don't want to be 'pushy'.
Does this sound like you?
Are you good at telling people about your business? How good are you at selling what you do?
I'd say that out of every 100 businesses I work with, fewer than 20 are actually good at selling themselves. Even those that are good at selling could do it more. So there's huge scope for growth of your business.
Here are some suggestions, and responses to frequent comments and concerns about selling and promoting your business, whether you do it in words on your website, in your social media or in person. Read more here:
Can I trust you? How do I know that you're trustworthy? Does it matter? Yes, it really does - you can't build a business without building trust.
Few of us are ready to pay good money for something that we're not certain of, or don't trust. We may seem to happily hand over our cash for goods and services online but in our sub-conscious we're constantly asking ourselves questions.
Is this really as good as it looks? Is it worth the money? Is the company genuine? Is it too good to be true? How do I know this will live up to my expectations? If I pay now, will my money be safe?
Tourism business owners often ask me how they can make their website or social media more effective, to generate more revenue. There are lots of different ways to do that but one aspect is often forgotten.
You need to build trust. People will only visit you and stay with you if they believe what you say online. They need to be convinced, and building trust is part of the sales process. Quite often people are on the point of buying from you but there's something almost indiscernible in the way. Building trust helps get you over the final hurdle to a sale.
Here are some tips to help you build trust:
We ask questions to find out more, and to reassure ourselves that we're making the right decision. If we're looking online for something, it's harder to ask questions directly so we expect to see all the information we need clearly laid out for us. When we don't see it, or when we need more reassurance, we go to other sites such as TripAdvisor. That's when we often get side-tracked and forget to go back to the original site. One of the most common web mistakes I see is not providing enough information. So long as you layer the information (most important info at the top of the page, less important a click away), and break it up with cross-headings and sub-titles, you'll build trust without overwhelming people with information.
This is one of the most important things you can do to create trust and build your business. Keep a consistent style through out your website, and use the same colours and fonts in everything you do. Think about your public communications - are they consistent, do they build trust? If you post on social media once in a blue moon, and then do a flurry of posts or post about a load of different and random topics not relating to your business, you won't build trust.
If you send out an irregular newsletter and don't say in advance that it's intended to be irregular, you won't build trust. I find that it's much easier to be consistent if I set a day/time when I'm going to do something and let others know, and then deliver as I promised. So for example, I send out a mailing to tourism businesses every Tuesday. Over time, those businesses start to notice that this is something I do every Tuesday, and hopefully they'll trust me and be ready to use my advice.
Be an expert
There is masses of information available on the internet but we increasingly turn to people we trust rather than faceless organisations. You can very easily build a reputation as a local expert by creating content about your local area. This will help build your search engine rankings as well as helping visitors to trust you.
Be real, be visible and have two way conversations
We all want to buy from real people we trust. But it's hard to trust some one if we don't know who they are! Have you got information about you, your business ethos, your interests on your website? When people talk about you on social media do you respond? Do you share their posts and encourage conversations?
Use social proof
We are much more likely to believe recommendations from people we think are like us. Social proof can be very powerful - look out for more information about this in next week's blog.
Imagine if I tried to get you to pay money for something you'd never heard of? Would you pay? For your sake, I hope not!
Would you buy something you knew about, but didn't see how you could benefit from it? I doubt it.
Imagine now that your friend has recommended something to you. They're full of praise and you can see how great it would be for you too. You're thinking about when you can buy it, how you can get it. Your mind isn't even focusing on how much it costs - you're ready to pay what is necessary to have it because you can really see how you'll benefit.
I quite often tell my clients to try to get inside the mind of their visitors and customers. That can be quite hard to do, especially if you don't necessarily get to actually meet them all.
Why do I suggest this marketing mind-reading? If you can imagine what your clients and visitors are thinking, it's much easier to create promotional messages on your website, in your social media and other activities. It makes your marketing much more effective. You tend to stop saying 'we' and start saying 'you', an important transition.
You might say you don't know how your potential visitors think, yet hopefully you know your own mind, and can distance yourself a little from your own marketing, to see it from the visitor's perspective.
My example above illustrates that it's much harder to get people to part with their money if they don't know what they're buying. Most of us don't spend money until we've got a good answer to the essential question, 'what's in it for me?'
If someone you know has made a recommendation to you, and you can see how you'd benefit, (you've mentally answered 'what's in it for me?') you're ready to pay money.
So, it's worth bearing in mind the five stages we all go through when deciding to buy something.
When people haven't heard of you at all, it's much harder to sell to them. At this stage you need to stand back a little and consider how to get them interested in the first place. Promoting your local area and telling potential visitors about the destination will be more important than simply telling them about your business. You need to use some kind of hook - such as the beauty of your local area - to attract them in the first place.
At this stage, media coverage, general social media messages and local collaborations work best. Messages need to be repeated quite frequently to have an impact. It's best to vary them, and try to think about your business through the eyes of someone who's only just finding out about it. What do they most need to know to become more interested?
Once people have heard of your area, or maybe even your business, your promotional work isn't over. You now need to help them think about what you offer, and to start to show how it's relevant to potential visitors. This is when you need to start to show what's in it for them.
Once some one can positively answer the question, 'what's in it for me', everything changes. They start to imagine themselves spending time in your area. They can see why it's worth considering your business. They start to need more detailed information, becoming more interested as you enhance their understanding of what you have to offer. But remember, they may still also be considering other places too so you need to keep promoting to them, to show how your business is special, better or different from others.
This is where potential visitors have moved beyond understanding the answer to the question 'what's in it for me?' to actually wanting to come to you, buy from you or make a booking. They're convinced. You could still fail to give them the right information, upset or irritate them in some way, but if you get it right, these visitors are yours! This is also an important point when if you impress, they may start to tell others about you.
Response means they're now booking, buying, visiting, and actually paying money! We used to see this as the end goal but that would mean ignoring the power of recommendations, reviews and social media. You can't quite rest yet - you still need to impress and encourage the people who like what you do to tell others....
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Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs