You can have a thriving tourism industry while you’re grappling with lack of restaurants, empty store fronts downtown, lack of mass transit, and all the other weaknesses you identified as you worked to create your town’s primary vision. (See Part 4 – Building your Small Town Primary Vision into a Brand)
Who will come anyway? In my postPart 5 – Marketing your Rural Tourism Town’s New BrandI talked about marketing to people who already know and love your town.
It’s called niche marketing.
These are the people who return because they’re drawn to your town for a specific reason. They like to fish in your streams. They had a wonderful time quilting at a quilting weekend sponsored by your local quilt shop. They hike, or love your local shops and restaurants, or find birding in your area a real treat.
And these people have friends who love the same things.
You have a ready conduit to new visitors through your satisfied, regular customers.
One of the wonderful benefits to us small towners is that our visitors want to help us be successful. All we need to do is ask.
Here’s the tricky part. The way we ask is important.
In Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick, Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, we learn to connect with people in ways that honor their needs and communicate our ideas.
In this case, we know that our repeat customers care about our businesses and our towns. If we simply ask them to tell their friends who fish or quilt or ski or whatever, what they love about us, most will be delighted to help.
Be careful when using this approach. You are asking your repeat customers to be a part of your future success, not to become your savior or feel responsible for your failure if they don’t act.
Create flyers to hand to repeat customers in your shops and restaurants. Add “bring your friends” invitations to your web site. Use this approach when you’re accepting a phone reservation. Include a request in mailed or emailed information about workshops or events. If you send out a regular email newsletter, have a regular feature on who brought a friend and how that made them both feel.
Here’s where small town marketing differs dramatically from our urban tourism counterparts. Small increases can mean big bucks for us.
If you have a boutique hotel with 15 rooms, and you can increase your off-season occupancy from 5 rooms to 10 rooms each weekend, that’s huge. It’s a matter of finding 5 more visitors rather that 100 or more for the Hilton in a city, to achieve the same basic economic result. And their customers generally don’t feel the loyalty and connectedness ours do.
You touch the lives of your visitors. You can make phone calls, or send emails to fill those 5 rooms using first names because you know these people.
Your repeat customers love your small town for what you offer them every time they visit. They’re delighted with the improvements you achieve, but they accept you for who and what you are, and will gladly share that delight… if we but ask.