Wondering how the Coronavirus will affect your tourism or visitor-focused business? What can you do to secure your future?
Read on for some reassurance and practical marketing advice.
We're living through very difficult times. It would be easy to give in to sheer panic. But that won't solve anything. We need to stay calm, and focus on what we can actually do.
I still remember the terrible dread I felt when the first Gulf War was declared, then 9/11, Foot and Mouth, the floods... but over the 30+ years I've worked in tourism I've learnt one thing...
The market goes down, we feel battered and bruised. Then it gets better again. Not everyone will survive, so it's essential you take the right steps now to make sure you're a survivor. The only way to move forward is to believe in the future.
The best thing you can do now is to use the time to improve your marketing. Everything you do now will have an impact on the future, and give your business a boost the minute everyone decides to travel again. It will happen, and you'll be better prepared. I'm always amazed at how many fantastic ideas, and even new businesses emerge after difficult times. It pays to use the time to think differently.
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I know many of you are feeling very anxious about the future. I feel better when I have a good plan so I’d like to share a possible way forward, and try to support you.
It’s clear that tourism businesses are in for a very tricky time. We do need to remember that even this horrible time will pass, and recovery will eventually come. We can be ready, by working together…
We need to accept the lack of visitors, and expect it to continue for several months. We can save energy wondering what will happen by assuming the worst and planning how to make things a little better. Some of our worries can be temporarily put aside through activity. The announcement of the government’s financial support package will hopefully provide some additional reassurance.
Recovery may be some time away but we can use that time productively. Here's how:
I’ve yet to meet a tourism business whose marketing is 100% effective (mine included). We all have plenty of marketing improvements we can make, all no cost or low cost.
Step 1 – plan and be open to future opportunities. I’ll be outlining some of these in a free online marketing workshop, available from this Friday. You need to register now to get access.
Step 2 – improve your skills. I’ve already seen lots of people planning to learn a new instrument, do something creative or re-decorate. Next week I’ll offer details of the online marketing workshops I’ve created, focusing on different aspects such as social media, building a mailing list, improving your website etc. They will all help you be ready for recovery. Stay tuned for many more support tools and suggestions.
By the end of the Coronavirus, I’m determined to have helped everyone to really make their marketing the best it can be so you can leap forward with confidence into a more positive future.
Step 3 – build collaborations, share experiences, ask for help. I’ll send some more ideas about this next week so you can develop your own initiatives. A good place to talk to each other and ask questions is in the supportive Tourism Network online community – please do join us, and post your questions and experiences. Take a look at the Marketing articles in the section under Topics.
Step 4 – this is something you should do all the time. Keep communicating, keep marketing.
We may need to accept that we’ll receive few visitors for a while but that does not mean your marketing should stop. People don’t want to just read about the virus – they want to see beauty and feel uplifted, to see some tantalising ideas so they can make future holiday plans. I’ll offer some more ideas in the online marketing workshop so do make sure you register.
As I’ve said before, I still remember the panic I felt during all sorts of crises over the past 30+ years – Gulf War, recession, floods, Foot & Mouth, 9/11. Yet, afterwards we bounced back. Some brilliant businesses were born. Some did things differently. There will be some positives, and I plan to point them all out!
Just remember – business will get better!
You're an expert every day, probably without even knowing it. You almost certainty take your expertise for granted and don't realise how valuable it actually is.
Your taken-for-granted expertise can really make a big difference to your tourism business.
What sort of expertise am I talking about? It could be anything, from managing a large house and serving breakfasts every day, to your local knowledge, your ability to spot and name birds and other wildlife, your historical knowhow, keeping a gorgeous garden, your cooking skills, balancing farming with running a tourism business... the list goes on.
Every day you do things that you consider simple tasks but which many visitors find fascinating and incredible.
Your taken-for-granted skills are valuable, and you're more of an expert than you realise. Your skills make your business successful.
Could you make more use of your expertise in your promotional activities and attract more visitors? The answers is almost certainly, 'yes'!
Think about everything you do during the course of a 'normal' week and compare it to how many of your visitors live.
Some people avoid cooking full English breakfast at home because they get flustered about getting the timing right for all the different ingredients for two people. You may effortlessly cook breakfast for a dozen people.
Many people don't have a clue about the names of birds, flowers, trees and can't recognise one from another. You know all their names, what happens in each season and have lots of nature anecdotes to tell.
Most people fling a duvet on their bed and their room never ever looks like the instagram photo shoots they love. They run out of loo rolls and resort to eating cornflakes instead of a proper meal because they haven't been shopping. You take care of a large building, make perfect beds and produce flawless meals for many people.
Visitors gaze in wonder at the scenery and love the walks when they come to stay with you but don't know the area very well. You've got a long list of fantastic places to go, and can point visitors in the direction of some hidden gems they wouldn't otherwise discover.
I'm sure you can think of many more examples. The next step is to consider which areas you like to be 'expert' in, and how you can use your knowledge to build awareness and trust in potential visitors.
Read how to use your expertise, what it means for visitors, and some practical examples in the Tourism Network online community - free to join.
I've been asked this question several times lately, so let's take a more in-depth look at what advertising is and what it can achieve.
This article could save you a lot of money!
Just to be clear: 'advertising' is sometimes used interchangeably with the term 'marketing', which isn't correct. Advertising is paying to promote a specific message in a specific way, whether it's an ad in a newspaper or a big budget commercial before the main film at a cinema.
Advertising can be very powerful but can also be an expensive mistake. Maybe you need to consider other options first? How good is your website? Your social media? Your PR? Do you blog regularly? Use direct mail consistently?
If you're uncertain about any of these it pays to get them right before you start to advertise. When some one sees your ad they may well come to your website and if that's rubbish... And you'd ideally want to capture their details for follow up, and continue to raise awareness via social media.
Read on to find out more about advertising and for some tips to avoid wasting money
Advertising is good for creating and building 'awareness' but this is not necessarily the same as building sales. Back in 1925, Daniel Starch said ”to be successful, it must be seen, must be read, must be believed, must be remembered and must be acted upon”. The same is still true today.
Before you spend, think...
Why are you advertising? What are you main reasons? For example:
Advertising has either tactical or strategic objectives. Strategic advertising is concerned with creating an awareness of products, of developing an organisation's identity and image. Strategic advertising takes a longer term view, having a wider impact than tactical advertising – but it will cost more.
Tactical advertising is aimed at specific market segments and persuading them to go to a particular place or buy a certain service, sometimes at a particular time. Tactical advertising takes a more short to medium term view.
Target markets must be clearly defined. Don't be reactive and simply advertise where a sales person asks you. Think about your markets and what they read/see.
One strong, clear message
Most advertising works best with just one key message. This is especially important if you can only afford to buy a few lines or small space. Faced with a small budget and only a couple of centimetres to fill, it can be tempting to get the greatest value for money. Don't cram a small space with loads of detail. It won't have any impact. It's more likely to confuse.
Choosing one main message will help give even the smallest company a stronger identity. This comes back once again to selling benefits rather than features, and stressing what makes you better or different.
How to handle those random advertising sales phone calls
For more tips on how to negotiate brilliant advertising rates, what to say to pushy telephone sales people, and advice on how to make advertising work for you, please see the full version of this article in the Tourism Network online community (free to join).
Most tourism marketing advice deals with promotional tools and marketing methods. I don't think we focus often enough on getting the message right for our target markets or on understanding their mindset.
If you've ever unsure what to say in your social media, on your website or in a blog, a good burst of optimism and positivity works really well.
Everyone loves to feel good. Who would you rather spend time with: someone who moans about life or someone who bursts with enthusiasm about their area or what they do? We're drawn to people with energy and sparkle - the same is true on social media and in marketing.
The internet has been flooded (oops) with photos of floods and bad weather. Of course everyone is fascinated by the extremes of weather but after a while they all resemble each other. I recently saw one popular post that illustrates the way optimism works. It was a bookshop in Hebden Bridge. They showed the flood waters in their shop, with an 'after' photo a couple of days later once the shop was cleaned up and ready to re-open. It gave a real sense of hope, a burst of optimism and actually showed that they were ready to welcome visitors, instead of just the usual 'open for business' message that convinces no-one.
During the winter months at some point everyone feels down-hearted and thinks Spring will never come. Short messages of hope and optimism work wonders. Photos of Spring flowers and posts looking forward to Spring can be really effective.
We don't need to pretend bad things never happen but putting a positive spin on things can help everyone feel better and more hopeful. The more you look forward, sound optimistic, believe that things will get better, the more your potential visitors will want to do the same. When they see plenty of positive messages about Spring and Summer and photos reminding them of how it looks and feels, visitors will be enthused and ready to book and plan a visit.
You do need to be careful of sounding overly Tigger-like and too bouncy. Your marketing messages need to sound authentic and genuine so don't gush if that's not your normal approach. Just focus on the positives instead of the negatives.
Talk about things you're looking forward to. Sound optimistic. Show positive change. Be upbeat. Be positive about your business, your area, other businesses.
You might also think about being positive by being generous in your marketing, talking about other local businesses and why you love your area. You might like and share posts by others more often, or comment on people's blogs. Once you do this, there's definitely a sense of reciprocity. Most people will notice when you're being positive about them and want to reciprocate in some way.
The goodwill gradually builds in power. Others will see your positivity and join in too.
I've got Bob Marley's words singing in my head: let's get together and feel all right.
It really does feel like it's time for us all to work together. Tourism can be affected by so many different factors (Floods, Brexit, Coronavirus) which we can't control. We can however make everything feel better.
Community. Collaboration. Kindness. None of them cost anything, yet they have enormous power. Visitors love to be in places where these qualities are strong. Everyone likes to feel a little uplifted and more positive.
If there was something you could do to benefit your business at no cost, and make others happy, would you do it?
I hope your answer is 'yes'?
Amazingly, most people don't do it. Their marketing is very 'me, me, me'. It's often uninspiring, static and unsuccessful.
There's a very simple way to make your marketing better, and benefit others. Be generous.
Relax. You don't have to splash the cash. It's about an attitude of mind, not emptying your wallet. Changing the way you market your business, being more generous, can actually generate better profits for you.
What do I mean? I'm talking about generosity of spirit. Looking outwards instead of inwards. Talking about other businesses, not just your own. Showing visitors that you're not just a lone body.
Here are a few simple examples:
It doesn't cost anything, and makes people happy.
The businesses you recommend will be happy.
Visitors will be happy because they find out about new places to go and things to do. Visitors want insider tips and recommendations, and to feel like they've found a local expert - that's you. Most of us want to buy from people who are good people, so anything you can do that's positive and generous will help.
Generous marketing can work to your benefit in other ways.
Most people want to visit places that have plenty to offer - things to see, good food, interesting activities. If you talk about your area and other businesses, your website will be enhanced, potentially with higher search engine rankings. Talking about other businesses can make your social media posts more interesting, building your reputation as a local expert.
Reciprocity is important. If I invite you to my party or sponsor you to run a mile, you're more likely to invite me to your party and sponsor me to swim a mile. The same applies to recommendations and generous marketing. It won't happen immediately, but your neighbours will gradually reciprocate. By working together and making genuine (just linking to each other doesn't work as well) recommendations, more and more people will notice and perceive your area as welcoming and positive.
You have to put real effort and meaning into your generous marketing though. People can tell when you're just going through the motions.
There's power in an unexpected generous gesture or kindness. It makes everyone feel good. And it can benefit your business. Even better, it's easy to get started with more generous marketing. Nothing is standing in your way. So you can start right now. Let me know what you've done or will do next?
I know first hand how it feels to be adversely affected by bad weather: our house floods and this time it was particularly bad. Nature can be beautiful and brutal.
How easy is it to actually promote off-season, especially after floods, storms and other weather 'disasters'?
My heart goes out to anyone affected by bad weather incidents and their need to gain back business. It's natural to want to put out 'open for business' notices on social media and in the media as soon as possible. But before you do so, please consider a slightly different perspective...
Some suggestions for promoting your area and business in the off-season and immediately after a bad weather incident
Sharing images of floods, high water levels and bad weather on social media is a normal thing to do. We're fascinated by the power of nature. But try not to overdo it. Those images will be picked up by the media and used in articles, mentioning your area by name. They'll stay online for a long time, coming up in searches. The positive side of that interest is that it can help everyone feel like they're part of a community working together against the elements and secure aid from others.
The darker side is that those images may stay in the minds of potential visitors for quite a while, and put people off visiting. Most people have only a hazy grasp of geography and when they read about bad weather in one location, they assume it means half the country.
Don't say 'Open for Business'. Show it.
Once the bad weather subsides and businesses re-open, the next obvious step is to tell people. This is when 'open for business' messages start to circulate. Of course it's important to tell people you're open again, but the way in which you say it is key. During the normal course of events we don't say 'we're open for business' because it's taken as a given. It's become a phrase that's most used after something bad has happened. Many will associate it with a problem that's only just resolved. They may wonder what's happened or focus on the incident, instead of on the positives.
'We're open for business' can convey the image of needy people standing on the threshold of their business anxiously looking for customers. Some visitors will want to support by offering their custom. Others will wonder if it's really safe to visit, if the area will still be attractive, if they'll still be able to enjoy it.
If you sound confident and upbeat, visitors will be more likely to come... Show that you're open for business. Post as many positive images as you can, not mentioning the clear up or what's happened, but focusing on how visitors can enjoy the area or your business. You don't need to deny what's happened, but there's no need to focus on it either. Social proof works very well. People are more likely to believe they'll have a good time and enjoy visiting you if you show others already doing the same.
Give reasons to visit. Show why you're worth visiting. Make your positive messages the ones that people remember.
Optimism and ideas before discounts
This is often the point at which people panic and try to lure back visitors with discounts. That might work, but discounts can also focus visitors minds on the wrong thing. They either subconsciously realise you're discounting because you're desperate (which isn't attractive), or think about the price and whether it's worth it. It's better to focus first on reasons to visit, and use added value offers.
Optimism works well. After bad weather it's easy to feel downhearted and hard to imagine how attractive places can be in better weather. Yet small details like daffodils starting to bloom, snowdrops peaking out from a blanket of snow can cheer and help us all look forward and feel more positive. Look on social media as the first buds bloom and Spring starts to show, and you'll see how much people like to share those positive signs. Add your own, and you'll benefit from the human need to look forward and feel better.
Promoting your business during the off-season
What can you do to promote your business during the quieter months? Here are three important things you can easily do:
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Do you feel frustrated when no one responds to your marketing?
Isn't it a fantastically uplifting feeling when you send out a mailing or post on social media and people instantly respond?
When most people read sentences like these, they can't help but identify with at least one of them. It feels someone understands them. And when they sense that, they're more ready to listen or read the next sentence.
Those two sentences are examples of a sure-fire way to encourage potential visitors to take notice of what you're saying in your promotional activities and get ready to buy, book and visit. Use an emotional appeal.
Anyone can do it. It's free, and it's very effective.
You can get started right now and make a positive change very quickly. You might need to switch round or change the words you use.
Can you think of something you often say or write to promote your business that could be expressed differently to make it more compelling?
Perhaps there's a sentence you often use that you could make better?
I love this sign.
Instead of a bald "keep off the grass", it actually makes you think of the grass as a lovely living thing with feelings!
How to use a stronger emotional appeal
An easy way to get started is to decide what emotion you want to evoke and then chose some 'magic' words accordingly.
Here are some examples:
If you want people to feel curious and keen to read more, you might use words and phrases like what no one tells you, behind the scenes, insider, or secret.
If you want to evoke a sense of urgency you might use words like instantly, quick, remarkable results.
Sometimes it's helpful to show people what they're missing out on, or how you could help them. Then you might use words and phrases like unsure, tense, or stressed as in 'are you feeling tense, like the world's getting on top of you? Time for a break...'
When you want people to feel they've made a good choice by choosing to book, buy from or visit you, you can use words that make visitors feel safe and secure such as easy, guaranteed, safe.
Tourism marketing often depends on helping visitors to feel happier, less stressed, and calmer. Words like delight, relaxed, thrilled, exhilarated, serene, at ease, glowing, healthy would work well.
Ask any tourism business what's their most effective, lowest cost marketing method and they'll almost certainly answer 'word of mouth'. It's easy, it's free - and it 'just happens'. Or does it?
Most businesses just hope for word of mouth publicity and recommendations from satisfied customers. They do a good job, and hope word of mouth referrals will follow. Now we have 'word of mouth on steroids', in the form of social media so it's become even more important to impress.
Surprisingly few people actually set out to do anything in particular to stimulate word of mouth publicity. In theory if you do a good job, people will recommend you to others, yet it might be worth thinking about ways you can make word of mouth publicity more likely?
Some businesses spend very little on any other marketing methods because they're perfected the art of 'surprise and delight'. There's an American restaurant that uses a very simple tool to encourage diners to talk about them - a joker card. Instead of allocating table numbers, diners are asked to choose a random card from a large deck and use that. If they draw a Joker card, their order is free of charge. When it happens, it creates quite a stir, with other diners celebrating with the winners. Naturally the winners share the story of good fortune with many others. This simple technique has ensured queues out of the door.
Many years ago when Richard Branson set out to create 'six star' hotels and resorts he needed something that differentiated them from other properties. Making people smile is an easy way to delight. Branson wanted to go beyond beautiful settings, and excellent service from friendly staff. How could he make his resorts really memorable? At the luxury level a new trouser press probably isn't going to differentiate one hotel from another.
So what was his way to surprise and delight? A rubber duck was placed in every bathroom. No one else did it, and it was bright and colourful enough to stand out. It acted as a 'talk trigger', something people talked about before going on to describe the other features that made for a good time. Google 'Richard Branson Rubber Ducks' and you'll see they've even become collectible items, for sale on ebay.
Years ago I had a client, Ian who ran a hotel in Kings Cross, London. At that time the area had a terrible reputation and many of the local hotels were badly run and often filthy. Ian wanted to differentiate his hotel from the others and ensured his hotel was scrupulously clean. It was a good idea, and many visitors returned again and again, but Ian wanted to take it a step further and find a way to stand out more. The trouble with telling people that your hotel is clean is that it's really just what's expected. How do people really know it's clean? Photos of gleaming surfaces on Ian's website just looked 'normal'. Instead he put on a mop cap, pinny, Marigold gloves and posed in every room with a feather duster or mop. The photos were eye-catching and made people smile. Bookings went up. To make people smile when they checked in, Ian also had a colourful display of his collection of fancy rubber gloves at reception. His hotel was by far the most popular in the area, and he was soon able to raise his rates.
Last Christmas I did a lot of online shopping. Most of the presents I ordered arrived on time and were what I expected. There was no reason, good or bad to talk about any of the businesses I bought from. Except one. That company still sticks out in my mind, because they did a very simple thing. I ordered some stationery and earrings from Oliver Bonas. They arrived quickly and with an unexpected addition - two Lindt chocolates. I still remember the nice surprise I got when I opened that particular package. And I've told a lot of people.
One of my clients had a hotel in an area of London where competition was really strong. There were many similar hotels with similar prices and services. We struggled to find an angle that would make her hotel different. She simply offered bed and breakfast in a fairly simple room, so the options felt very limited. Our light bulb moment came when we realised everyone also offered breakfast at similar times - from about 7.30 - 10. My client started to offer breakfast from 6.00 - 10 and publicised that fact. It was a small detail but worked amazingly well. Some visitors were jet-lagged and desperate for breakfast by 6, some wanted to start exploring as early as they could or be first in the queue at Madame Tussauds. They were always really pleased to be able to eat so early - and word of mouth publicity spread as a result.
You don't have to do anything major to surprise and delight. In fact it's often the small details that make the most difference. Outside a pub in Masham there's a tiny beer barrel with a tap and dish. It's marked 'dog rehydration station' and both drinkers and passers-by take and share photos of it.
You can influence visitors' minds even before they visit, by taking opportunities to build their anticipation. About two weeks before they arrive, I send my holiday cottage guests a long email with lots of local recommendations for things to do and places to go. It mentions local shops with information about their owners. Every guest says that they feel they know the area even before they get here, and look forward to meeting some of our local characters such as 'dancing Dave' the greengrocer. It's a small thing to do yet very effective.
Do you have a good way to surprise and delight your visitors? I'd love to hear about it.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if there was a way to make visitors feel so enthused by your area that they want to stay for much longer, take loads of photos, share them with all their friends and tell everyone?
Ideally, it would be a way that costs very little, worked as well in Winter as in Summer. In an ideal world, it would also lesson the impact on the environment, perhaps encouraging visitors to explore on foot, and spend more money in local businesses too? For once the ideal isn't an impossible dream. It is possible. Let's take a fresh look at local distinctiveness and sense of place.
I'll offer some practical tips on how you can actually use local distinctiveness later in this article.
First though, what does local distinctiveness actually mean and why is it important?
It's what makes one place different from another. Major landmarks and famous sights can mark one place out against another but it’s not just big features that are important. It's often the small details that many of us take for granted. It's the 'essence' of a place, that tells you where you are. You can't feel it in a chain pub, even when they've put mass-produced pictures on the wall and bought in old books by the yard. It's hard to find in most newly built chain hotels. It's much easier to find in independent businesses. You can feel it in a forest, or at the top of a hill, in a tiny hamlet or a large town. Sometimes you notice local distinctiveness without really realising. Sense of place can be an instinctive feeling, which is all the more appealing to visitors once they've noticed it too. Survey after survey shows how much visitors enjoy 'savouring the ambience' of a place. This is largely down to local distinctiveness.
Our impressions are formed through so many aspects of an area’s character. Local distinctiveness is 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. Local distinctiveness can be experienced and enjoyed with all our senses. Everyone appreciates something different, whether it's drinking beer in a cosy pub, overhearing snatches of conversation in a certain accent, hearing birdsong in a hidden valley or the nostalgic feeling of cobbles underfoot.
Features that you take for granted aren't necessarily obvious to everyone. They might be special and extraordinary for some visitors. So to take advantage of your local distinctiveness, you have to find it, describe it and make it more apparent, and easier to enjoy - without making it feel contrived, or taking away its authenticity.
Changing markets - the time is right to use local distinctiveness
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.
An opportunity to offer a different type of information
Traditionally in the tourism industry 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. They 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.
How can you use local distinctiveness in your business or area, to attract longer staying, higher spending visitors?
Most tourism marketing talks about the highlights, the well-known, the headline-grabbers. This is important but as these images become more familiar, visitors mentally tick them off their list. They start to move from one 'big name' to another, barely noticing what's in between. When we only promote the honeypots, there's a tendency for visitors to move quickly between them and then think they know an area, without feeling inclined to visit again.
We need to slow visitors down, to help them see the undiscovered gems, the places that are special but often hidden or less obvious. Visitors who enjoy a different experience are more likely to stay longer and spend more. They have more of a story to tell so they recommend the area to others. They also realise that neighbouring areas are likely to be equally interesting and may come back to explore other places.
Here are 3 simple things you can do to use local distinctiveness right now:
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Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs