Category Archives: Tourism Management

100 Mile Tourism

Security concerns, fuel prices, lack of time or money, having kids or growing old.  There are a variety of reasons why people are travelling closer to home these days.  As tourism operators, it is important to recognize the importance of attracting not only to the visitors of your community, but local residents as well.

So much time, effort and resources are put into attracting tourists to come to a tourism region, but what is being done to cater to people who live there all the time?

I have now lived in three cities, and one thing I have heard residents say in each of them is that there is nothing to do.   The fact is, all three of these cities are tourism friendly destinations that people travel significant distances to visit… so clearly there are things to do in each of them!

Catering to local residents has many advantages.  Let’s briefly outline a few of them.

  1. Keep money in local economy. If you attract 100 tourists to your destination through marketing efforts, and 100 local residents travel somewhere else, what is the net impact?  By keeping local residents in your community, they are likely to spend money at attractions, events, and restaurants that would have gone to benefit another community.   This helps keep people and money close to home!
  1. Expose residents to their own gems. I spoke earlier of how people can live in a community and yet still say there is nothing to do there.  More often then not, this is simply because they do not know of the great attractions and assets that are close by.  By attracting local residents, they will have more pride in their community and support tourism development in the future.
  1. Word of mouth.  Isn’t it great advertising to have local residents telling friends and family that there is nothing to do in their own community?  By attracting local residents to your tourism products, they will become ambassadors to outsiders, and more likely to recommend these attractions to visiting friends, families, and even strangers!
  1. Repeat customers. The great thing about local tourists is that they are close to home.  With no travel time, if you provide a great experience, they will be more likely to visit again.  With no travel expenses, they may even spend more money too!
  1. Resiliency.  If your tourism assets are heavily dependent upon external markets for visitors and revenue, they are susceptible to economic influences outside of your control.  Case and point, when family budgets tighten, they stay closer to home.  By maintaining a connection with local visitors, tourism operators will be less impacted by a shrinking external tourism market.
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Filed under Destination Marketing, Tourism Management, Tourism Marketing

How may I help you?

So you are thinking of buying that new luxury car you have always wanted. You stroll into the dealership looking to buy not only a car but into the high end brand family. You see lots of well-dressed staff in kahki pants and black golf shirts, as you wander toward the sales floor. Suddenly, what appears to be the dealership owner’s son, pops in front of you and says “Are you looking for a new ride dude”? “My name is Matt and I will be your sales representative. I just started 4 weeks ago, but man do I love these cars…they rock!”

You look up to reaffirm you are not in the local skate shop. Matt has already been distracted by an incoming text on his smart phone, you walk out for air.

This may be extreme, and by no means is it a slam to all of the students who work in the auto or tourism industries, but my point is why do we leave one of the most important jobs in tourism to absolute rookies?

DMO’s spend a ton of money and time to attract visitors to their region using all sorts of online tactics. Once here, some of them, will pop into the local information centre to get loaded up on recommendations, maps, and guides of all the things to see and do. This is a significant sales interaction where the client is standing right in front of you. The opportunity for a stay to be extended, a tour booked, a hotel upgrade found etc. It may not be worth as much as one luxury car, but given the volumes in the tourism industry, it adds up to a heck of a lot more over the course of a season.

So why is it this sales role is generally seen as a minimum wage summer job? Its because the local chamber of commerce, cvb, or tourist association runs on a shoe string budget and can only afford students. If there was some incentive to ‘make sales’ like in the car dealership, the tables may turn.

One of the solutions is to start running information centres like a hotel concierge service and allow the staff to get paid for making people happy. Referral fees or contra, or kickbacks as they are called in the industry are not a bad thing. Bell or concierge staff usually receive a 5-10% commission on anything they sell. One industry insider says that this is why you see a lot of people making a career out of it. Simply put, they make a ton of money.

This approach accomplishes several goals:

1. Attracts a more career oriented staff

2. Raises the earnings of staff substantially

3. Creates an incentive to raise the customer service experience

4. Allows the operators to become competitive and get involved in their local info centre or hotel.

We need to stop treating front line tourism workers as second class. These are the industry’s best sales people who have the ability to interact and engage with the customer standing right in front of them. Not through Twitter, Facebook or the postal service but right in front of them. So look at your organization and see if you can make some changes and run it more like a high-end car dealership or hotel.

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Filed under Best Practices, Tourism Management

COWS

There are some things in the tourism industry that are unexplainable…this is one of those things.
On the weekend while in the Niagara region, we decided to bike along the incredible waterfront trail that follows the Niagara River. Our goal was ice cream in Niagara- on-the-Lake 10km downstream on what was a perfect spring evening. As we cycled along my friend Anne told me about this ice cream store we were headed to called COWS, that originated in PEI and how it is the best ice cream ever. Being a sucker for any kind of unique food reward while cycling I was instantly intrigued. As we rode into town on what was the Sunday evening of the Victoria Day long weekend, the town was buzzing with restaurant patrons, horse and carriage rides and people simply meandering along in this beautiful historic town. We parked our bikes in front of the store and found it mysteriously dark. I went to the door to find it locked…I yanked on the door thinking it was stuck, with enough force to set off the alarm.

Nothing gets in my way of world famous ice cream.

The only thing on the door was a Health Notice about not bringing pets into the store, no hours of operation, no reason why it was closed. Dumfounded why an iconic ice cream store would be closed in what I would consider prime time ice cream eating time, we collected ourselves and parked our sorry butts on a bench in front of the store. As masses of evening tourists streamed passed I said to Anne “Watch this…lets just sit here and see how many people try the door”. Within 15 minutes, group after group yanked on the handle only to have the same reaction we did. We estimated that they missed atleast $250 dollars of revenue within 15 minutes selling their premium dairy treats and merchandise. Their loss and my loss as I was excited to try it. Not sure what their reason was for being closed, like most small tourism businesses it could have been staffing issues, product issues, or simply a bad judgment call.
The moral of the story is to always call ahead like Ron, Anne’s husband said before we left and we both replied: “Yah right, its an ice cream store in a tourist town on a long weekend” “Its COWS”.

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Filed under Best Practices, Tourism Management

The Little Bench That Could

Recently I learned of a very interesting story of one person’s determination to make his downtown more inviting…. a place that people would want to come and spend time in.

It’s an atypical downtown where a major highway dissects it and large volumes of transient traffic flow through each day. That in it self stacks the cards against this small town. It has likely been atleast 20 years since any major physical improvements have been made and the retail sector has suffered the usual Walmart big box store invasion. Some merchants have made façade improvements but its just not getting there.

Bring in, lets call him Walter, who purchased a very small linear store to operate his office in. He didn’t have to locate his business in the core but wanted to in order to be able to help contribute to real, positive, meaningful downtown change. His business would have survived nicely in a back ally, industrial park or side street but he decided to be in the downtown.
Immediately after taking ownership Walter significantly improved the interior and the exterior of the store. Change was beginning. He then worked with the municipality to change the signage bylaw to allow perpendicular business signage, a major downtown design fundamental.

After the flower planters, it was time to give passersby a place to sit. Like all other downtown design elements, places to sit are very important. People are social creatures and want to be with other people….and where there are people there is happiness and where there is happiness there is commerce. Walter’s little bench on this busy thoroughfare is symbolic that small things can make a difference. You watch, it started with one, lets see how many sprout up and see how many more people call this downtown a place to be.

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Filed under Rant, Tourism Management

Building Budgets – Getting Destinations Resourced

After spending the last 10 years embedded in the middle tier government system, it taught me some valuable lessons on how to build the case for tourism within a regional system. Here are some tips:
Trust – There is trust on two levels. The first is trust within the senior management and the elected council. Trust sounds like a dangerous word; it is if you don’t have it. Trust in government is earned by performance and public relations. Since there is a ton of PR value in good performance the more successful results you have on smaller projects the more accolades your leaders will receive from their constituents. This immediately trickles down to you as you tackle bigger initiatives. The second level of trust is with the business community whom who serve directly. Your job is to make them money and if they see direct value in what you do, you will have earned their trust. The business community speaks directly to the politicians….you see how this is working.
ROI – Measurement in the tourism destination management business is often tricky. Web visits, brochures handed out, event attendees are soft measurement tools that are important but don’t create a splash. What builds trust is when the business community is making money and they are communicating that to you and the elected officials. Establish good trusting relationships with your operators and they will tell you pretty quick if they are seeing return and will lobby on your behalf to make sure programs are resourced properly.
Community Benefits – Governments love to spend money on projects that increase the quality of life for their ratepayers. Positioning tourism projects that not only stimulate economic development but are also a legacy for residents. Trails are a big part of this approach. Destination trails attract visitors but for the remainder of the 8 months, they are real community assets that improve health, enhance alternative transportation needs, and make people want to live there. Be sure in all tourism projects to make this connection, it is one of the real benefits of a tourism-based economy.
All levels of government play substantial roles in the delivery of tourism experiences. They are often the land manager, infrastructure/service provider, transportation corridor manager, and so on. In order to be competitive and deliver experiences that exceed expectations they need to be well resourced. The tourism economy after all can be very lucrative for tax revenues. It is your job to build the case, earn the trust and deliver successful projects that create better destinations.

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Filed under Best Practices, Tourism Development, Tourism Management, Tourism Marketing

Volunteer Tourism

Think about all of the core tourism experiences in your region. Who manages them? Who runs them? Who makes sure the visitor is having the best experience possible?
In a lot of cases its volunteers, who ironically are not directly in the tourism business. Lets look at organized snowmobiling in the Province of Ontario. This is the largest snowmobile trail system in the world with over 40,000km or trails criss-crossing the province. This network is built almost entirely by volunteers. They plan routes, stake, sign, fundraise, purchase and maintain equipment, groom this massive system both for their own enjoyment but also for the visitor. Snowmobiling is big business and these volunteers are in full control of the delivery of the tourism experience.
Is this right? Is it fair? Ask most volunteers why they do what they do and almost none of them will say, “to contribute to the tourism economy”. They do it out of a labour of love for their sport or activity and in turn what it creates is an authentic tourism product.  But, the issues arise when the destination marketing organizations really start to push these experiences as viable tourism products that generate huge economic activity….on the backs of the volunteers. It suddenly turns from a labour of love into work.
Lets face it, volunteerism is suffering. Lack of engaged youth, aging demographics, and simply too many tasks with too few people is creating massive volunteer burn out.  The destination managers and marketers need to understand their products and what stage of the lifecycle they are at. If they are heavily dependant on volunteers, they need to be sensitive to those organizations and find ways to assist them in ensuring the product stays on stop at the same time appreciating and understanding the volunteers.
Here are 5 ways to engage with your volunteers:
1. Get down on their level – Attend their meetings, and work bees and get engaged.
2. Understand their needs – Do they require more bodies, cash for upgrades, or expertise?
3. Don’t let them get bogged down with rule compliance and regulation – These people all have day jobs and volunteer as an outlet. Help them.
4. Lobby – Use your connections to push their needs through government channels.
5. Offer to help – Allocate budget, staff time or other resources to help them with the tasks that your organization is good at.
Resources: Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs   World Volunteers 

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Filed under Best Practices, Tourism Management