Creating a Successful Rural Tourism Business Shoulder Season for 2010

by Joanne Steele on September 9, 2009

Right now is the best time to put the marketing pieces together for an improved Fall shoulder season next year. Here are 5 things you can do this September to ensure a great Fall 2010.

1.  Take pictures.
You know the adage about pictures being worth zillions of words. Create a big file of wonderful fall images to use to in future marketing.
Get great shots of that beautiful fall light. Photograph the September full moon.
Get shots of the beauty of your downtown in the early morning or late afternoon, which photographers say is the best time.downtown Mt S
Get lots of pictures of happy people milling around in your business and your town (Be sure to get people’s permission to use their images if their faces are prominent in the picture – especially children).

2.  Collect endorsements and kind words about your business in the Fall.
These will be valuable for shoulder season marketing for years to come.

Be active about this. Ask questions of your customers that will guide them to the kinds of responses you’re looking for.

“What do you think of the view from your room?”
“What about coming at this time of year do you like best?”
“If you were to return again next year, would this be the time you’d choose? Why?”
“ What about (your business) do you like best this time of year?”

3.  Keep track of who is in town this September.
I know of small businesses who have accomplished the following on their own. Julia at Klamath Motor Inn in Yreka, CA has single handedly turned her town into a motorcycle destination. It’s a big job, so see about collaborating with other businesses or the chamber to accomplish the following.

Remember, whether it is a single business or a whole town, it is always easier and less costly to keep a satisfied customer than to create a new one. So…

If a Harley Davidson club, or a group of old car enthusiasts, or a group of people dressed in square dancing clothing, or quilters, or people with Silver Stream Trailers are in town, talk to them. Find out how they chose your town. Make certain that they are getting their needs met this year. (Report what you find to your chamber if there are any problems you hear about.)

Take pictures of the group. Get their testimonials. Find out who their leader is and get their contact information so you can invite them back next year. If you followed through with yesterday’s suggestions and made a discount coupon, hand them out right away to benefit from the group this year.

4.  Work with other business people and your chamber to create a plan to invite the group(s) you discovered back next year.
You have contact information for this year’s group leader. Get an invitation out for next year before Christmas. Often leadership for these activities changes from year to year. Starting early will make certain you get to the new leader before any decisions are made.

Research online for other similar groups. Name drop. Use the endorsements and photos of this year’s visitors to attract groups with similar interests. Thanks to the Internet, it is easy to find these groups on social media sites and forums. It’s also free!

5.  Start a Fall event.
If you haven’t noticed any groups wandering your town’s streets, here’s another route to take for next year.


thanks, Mark Gibson Photography

Events require lots of advance planning and work. By starting now for next year, you can get most of it done during your slower season.

Think about what kind of an event would work best for your town. Gather a group of other business people and brainstorm to come up with the best possible idea.

Do you have great roads for Fall old car or motorcycle rides?
Are you an ag community that should have a Harvest Festival?
Is your river too low and slow for rafting now, but still high enough for inner tube races?
Do you have dark skies and an astronomy club that could host a star gazing event?
Do you have a growing arts community that should be showcased with a Fall art and wine or food festival?

Set the date in September to compliment other regional events. If you’re creating an event to attract a particular interest group, check their calendar as well.

Build a committee and work with your chamber. They often can cover the basics like event insurance and connections with the city for closing down streets etc. saving your committee time and energy.

Spend the winter doing the planning, bringing all the needed players on board.

Don’t forget to create a solid marketing plan with a timeline for implementation. You’ll want to have information about your new September event on your community calendar beginning in the early spring. Visitors all summer long should be invited back.

Give your new event several years to grow. In little Etna California, their Bluegrass Festival started modestly and within 4 years became a destination event for bluegrass lovers.

Expanding your profitability into the Fall shoulder season takes planning and hard work. But the proven value is greater profits for years to come.

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