Small Town Tourism Marketing: What Wild Elephants Can Teach Us

by Joanne Steele on January 4, 2010

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Portrait of an elephant by Brian Gartwicke.

I just read about the ultimate eco-tour in rural India. You can help protect villages from wild elephants. Cool!

You think you have problems finding your customers! Think about this tour business owner’s challenge. To be successful, he probably only needs several hundred customers in a year.

But how is he going to find those several hundred brave souls? Spend a zillion dollars on ads in National Geographic Traveler? Invite Oprah and hope for a television break? Attend every big outdoor trade show in the world until he fills all his slots??

In the olden days… maybe three or five years ago, this business owner would be toast. I doubt if he or she could even exist, because we all were marketing like Disneyland, and Disneyland style marketing is expensive and labor intensive (have you looked at their web site(s)???).

But, everything has changed! And the change puts the prize behind the door marked “Small Niche Business”.

I’m sure that there were at least several hundred frustrated wild elephant guards out there 5 years ago, but they were as stuck as our Indian guide. How could they FIND a place to guard against wild elephants at a reasonable price?

The Long Tail

Small tourism businesses will find their customers in the long tail.

And then came the Internet and the rise of The Long Tail. Take a look at the graph.

The red section is where Disneyland and Hilton hotels and Carnival Cruise Lines lives. They offer a few things that a lot of people want, and make a zillion dollars doing it.

In the past, you and every other small tourism business was trying to get some of the attention of all those people congregating in that little narrow red span. We figured that at least a few of those Disneyland going cruise lovers might also like to guard wild elephants… if we could only afford a big enough ad to catch their attention, or get a story in the New York Times!

Our biggest marketing problems are over! All the wild elephant guarding lovers have discovered each other, and they meet on the Internet! That is represented in that long yellow tail in the graph. Your business is part of that long tail too. It includes antique car buffs, catch and release fisherman who use nothing but bamboo poles, people who travel to see small town historic squares, and leave no trace backpackers!

Included is YOUR CUSTOMERS! You don’t have to scream “wild elephants!” in a crowd of Disneyland goers to find them anymore. They’re all together on social networking sites, travel review sites, forums and visiting YOUR OWN WEB SITE! Remember, I found the wild elephant tour in my Google Alerts.

So your marketing needs to change. As a small business owner marketing to the long tail, your advertising expenses will go down, but the time required to do your marketing will go up because much if it will be connecting with your niche online.

You’re going to be delighted to see how easy this transition will be. You probably already have a web site, and you know more than you give yourself credit for about the Internet.

2010, Bring it on!!

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