Key Elements of a Destination, Part 5: Amenities
In the final installment of this series, we take a look at the role amenities play in shaping the visitor experience and how your DMO can leverage them to encourage return visits and positive word of mouth.
Regardless of why visitors have chosen your destination for their next trip — whether for business, leisure or bleisure travel — tourism experts agree that there are fundamental expectations your destination must meet in order for visitors to recommend their experience to others and to return with friends or family. These key elements are known as the 5 A's: Access, Accommodation, Attractions, Activities, and Amenities.
In the final installment of this five-part series, we will address the fifth A — Amenities. You can catch up on the first four articles in this series here:
Key Element — Amenities
Amenities include (access to) basic facilities and services that help a visitor feel comfortable and secure in your destination. Sometimes referred to as the “pleasantness” of a place, they play an important role in shaping the visitor experience and include things like public restrooms, signage, connectivity, emergency services, postal facilities, roads, sidewalks, safe drinking water, etc. And while it can be tempting to take these elements for granted, ready access to them plays a major role in determining whether visitors will plan a return visit or recommend your destination to others. While providing all of these visitor amenities is certainly not solely the role of DMOs, collaborating with local service providers, city officials, stakeholders, and support personnel to ensure they are well-equipped to meet these expectations is absolutely within the purview of today's DMO (Destination Management Organization).
Let’s start by discussing the amenities in your destination that your DMO can impact directly.
If you have a visitor center in your area, ensure that it’s staffed with people who are both hospitable and knowledgeable about your destination. They are sometimes a visitor’s first interaction with your destination, and what they say matters. Regarding the visitor center itself, what are the conditions of the parking lot? How about the bathrooms? Is it well-lit?
I recently visited a small town for a half marathon, and one of the first things we did following the race was find the visitor center for more information about the city. Unfortunately, the center was closed that day. I was a bit surprised since this event was widely publicized and clearly drawing many visitors to this destination. It is certainly understandable that keeping your center open for longer hours on slow days in your market can be expensive. But dedicating a small, well-lit, weather-proof area outside the center for a map, visitor guides, even lists of recommended restaurants, activities and attractions is worth the investment to help visitors that do arrive outside of business hours feel welcome.
An attractive, user-friendly, easily navigable website is another important amenity that your DMO should offer to visitors. No doubt your site already has information for travelers who are planning a visit, but what about for visitors who are already in town? Featuring weekly articles on your homepage that suggest a list of the top 5 things to check out that week is a great way to make visitors feel valued while they’re in market. Also, make sure your content calendar is up to date and easy to filter according to interest. Offering sample itineraries can also help visitors make the most of their time by suggesting attractions, restaurants and local shops that are in close proximity to one another.
Partnering With Local Stakeholders
Work to be sure your DMO is at the table for city planning meetings, and always attend prepared to represent the visitor’s perspective. The conditions of the roads and sidewalks in the most trafficked areas of your city should be on your agenda so local officials can (hopefully) prioritize them when it comes time for maintenance and repairs. And, in the same way you are keeping your website content up to date, the wayfinding signage in your destination can likely always be improved upon. Be sure this signage is on your agenda with this group, and voice the value of wayfinding to the visitor experience so regular updates and major upgrades can be included in the city’s planning budget.
Think about the last time you visited a new place. Do you recall seeing law enforcement out and about? On foot, car, horse, motorcycle, bicycle, standing scooters, etc.? Did you see them only at night? Or only as security at the big events in town? Residents might not notice when they see police out and about, but knowing they are close by can create a sense of safety and security for visitors who may be unfamiliar with your town.
Local law enforcement are also brand ambassadors for your destination. Consider scheduling some time to meet with them and discuss the role they play in representing your destination’s brand, mission and values. They are vital in shaping your destination’s image as a safe, friendly city where visitors feel welcome, relaxed and secure.
Hotel staff are some of the first people visitors encounter when they arrive in your city. Their professionalism and ability to accommodate visitor requests play a crucial role in shaping overall perceptions of your destination. Help your hotel partners anticipate and stay one step ahead of guest requests by educating them on who your target markets are and what they expect during their stay.
For example — some travelers prioritize exercise before their day begins. While for some that may mean utilizing gym facilities, for others it means an early morning run. Talk to your hotel partners about offering options beyond traditional amenities, such as maps that outline the various mileage of different jogging routes to simplify the process for their guests and offer them safety and peace of mind.
At the end of the day, every interaction visitors have in your destination matters. Your DMO works hard to promote brand awareness and positive associations among potential visitors. By evaluating and improving the amenities your destination has to offer, you are that much closer to ensuring visitors leave having had a good experience, intending to return AND most importantly, recommend your destination to others in their (real or virtual) social circles.