In a Small Town Everyone Is a Tour Guide

by Joanne Steele on October 25, 2011

I just came across an article I bookmarked in January that I want to share.

The Irish Countryside

The Irish countryside… beautiful, but probably no more beautiful than where you live

“Independent People: A gem of local knowledge” is the story of an Irish tour guide, Barbara Hunter and her insights into the value and importance of rural tourism to the sagging Irish economy. The article is rich with information for rural areas everywhere.

Most people traveling to Ireland go for the scenery and rural experience, so having an association of tour guides makes sense. In most other countries including the US, visitors are on their own, making it essential that all small town business owners and their employees be ready to fill the role Hunter describes in this article.

Shoulder seasons are a great time for small town planning and training.

We’re in the shoulder season in the US now, with many small towns and rural areas empty of visitors (except for the leaf peepers). It’s the best time of the year to find those marketing and visitor service deficits and figure out how to fill them.

Because most small towns don’t have trained tour guides like Barbara Hunter, everyone in town is responsible for “creating the context” that Barbara talks about and guiding a new visitor’s experience.

Look at you town through the eyes of your visitor?

What catches your eye first? What is your first impression? What is the first action as a newcomer that you are motivated to take?

If you and your fellow business owners don’t like the answers to the above questions, this is the season to make changes.

Dusty vacant storefronts?  Start now with a plan to get those windows filled with art or historical displays.

Feeling confusion? Look at what signage needs to be added, updated, more strategically placed or eliminated. Here’s a past post about conducting an sign audit: “How to Conduct a Sign Audit of Your Rural Tourism Town”

Not clear at first glance about what your small town has to offer?  Here is where local casual guide service skills are important.

When I traveled in Denmark many years ago, I only had to stand on a street corner for a moment looking confused before a townsperson came up to me to ask if I needed assistance.

Every small town and rural community needs to train residents to keep their eyes open for visitors. I spent an extra week in the Danish countryside because it was so easy to get local assistance.

Every small town and rural community needs a rural tourism neighborhood watch program ready to help newcomers and visitors find their way!

Everyone talks endlessly about improving customer service and training front line employees to better serve visitors. Is this the year to implement this in your town? It doesn’t cost much – great for a time when money is tight – and the benefits could outstrip anything you might spend big bucks on.

We know that the world of marketing has dramatically changed, with the focus squarely on building relationships with your customer.

Take a break from your computer and internet marketing (just a short break!) and make sure your town’s face to face marketing is also about creating meaningful relationships with visitors that will lead to repeat visits.

Here are several past posts to help:

Are You Taking Your Most Loyal Customers For Granted?

Meet the best tourism marketing team in Mt. Shasta California.


Photo on Flickr by roblisameehan

1 Barbara L Steinberg October 29, 2011 at 7:26 am

Amen to Barbara Hunter’s article! I had a recent experience with a local in Redding, California. She was amazing! And I made sure to let her employers know! The best marketing ever.

2 Joanne Steele November 1, 2011 at 8:41 am

Good idea, Barbara! When we experience great customer assistance from an employee, letting the owner/manager know helps the employee and gives the owner some extra impetus for more good training.

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