Leveraging Events to Generate Overnight Stays

By David Allred

Leveraging Events to Generate Overnight Stays

By collaborating with your local stakeholders to leverage their events to help generate overnight stays, your efforts will boost economic development for your destination and encourage repeat visits. Read time: under 3 minutes

When most of us think about group travel, we think about more traditional meetings and convention markets as well as the SMERF markets. But if we define “group” as “a number of individuals assembled together,” our horizons for attracting group travelers can be expanded and new opportunities to generate overnight stays can come to light. This thinking was born from recent interactions I have had with leaders of two different attractions:

The first opportunity

The first occurred as I gave a presentation at a DMO-sponsored stakeholders gathering, where the executive director of a regional theater asked: how can (arts) attractions generate room nights? After a brief discussion of their upcoming season’s schedule, we identified Elf the Musical as an “opportunity” to consider leveraging to generate overnight stays.

A breakdown of this example:

  • Already scheduled: 7:00PM Saturday night performance of Elf The Musical
  • Idea: Offer a day camp for kids the following Sunday from 9:00AM to 4:00PM
  • Details: For an additional fee of $25.00 per child, parents could drop off their kids back at the theater on Sunday morning (a known-to-all, secure location) for a backstage tour, activities and some quality time in “Buddy’s Workshop” where they could be Elves themselves—making hand-crafted holiday gifts for family members and friends. Parents could take advantage of a late Sunday checkout, enjoy a leisurely lunch, do some Christmas shopping, gas up the car, pick up the kids that afternoon, and possibly even have dinner out together before leaving town. The DMO can (now) justify partnering with the theater to promote this offering because it has the potential to generate overnight stays and additional economic development activity. And this excursion might even be penciled in on family calendars in future years as a greatly anticipated tradition.

The second opportunity

The second occurred during the discussion session following a seminar where an attendee heard me speaking about how everyone in the room could figure out ways to leverage their events and/or venues into economic development opportunities. This prompted the marketing director of the destination’s local library system to challenge me to brainstorm “economic development” ideas for their annual (and very well-attended) Children’s Book Festival.

A breakdown of this example:

  • Already occurring annually: 10AM to 4PM Saturday Children’s Book Festival
  • Idea: Offer a Saturday night kids lock-in and/or possibly extend programming to Sunday
  • Details: As we began to brainstorm about leveraging what had been a successful event for the last 5 years, I wondered out loud to this individual about the selected times of the event being from 10AM to 4PM on a Saturday. To my surprise, she said out loud to a room full of tourism stakeholders that these times were deliberate so that “folks traveling from out of town could drive in and back home on the same day.” Based on the reactions of the stakeholders present, she apparently didn’t understand how insensitive her comment was and it demonstrated to me just how MANY TARGET GROUPS in your destination could contribute to your destination’s economic development efforts, but JUST DON’T GET IT!

Once she understood the role of the DMO and the importance of generating overnight stays in her own market, one of the ideas discussed was that for a small additional fee, parents could have the option of their kids attending a “lock-in” of sorts at the library (a known-to-all, secure location) for extended kids programming until possibly 11PM. This would give the parents a night out alone for dinner, etc. And if they were from out of town, this effort could dramatically increase the likelihood of participating families spending the night in the market. The library was already paying for accommodations for many of the guest authors, speakers and program presenters to stay the Saturday night following the festival, so we also  suggested “celebrity” guests be leveraged for some possible “parents only” dinners while the kids were secure in the library. And we even discussed the option of extending the event programming into Sunday (from possibly 10AM to 2PM) to encourage out-of-town attendees to take part in both days of programming and spend the night in the destination during the event. We even convinced the DMO to offer a portion of a month's digital media budget prior to the event as a digital media co-op for attractions that wanted to advertise their events to out-of-town. If the attraction puts up to $500 into the buy, the DMO will match it with up to $500.

What is a DMO’s role in all of this?

So, what can your DMO learn about leading destination management efforts in this area? Monitor and then approach organizations very soon after their respective event(s) to ask how the event went. After listening, take a moment to "remind" the organization how important overnight stays are to your destination and that the role of the DMO is the increase them. Then segue into a discussion of ideas for leveraging their future events to generate overnight stays. If at all possible, try to concentrate your initial efforts on attractions that understand the economic benefits of tourism and travel and are open to new ideas. This approach should lead to some immediate mutual successes and prompt others in the market to follow this lead.

Follow these steps when approaching attractions:

  1. Be complimentary of their efforts on recently completed events.
  2. Explain how leveraging their existing offerings and venues can contribute to the local economy by generating more overnight stays, and commit to helping promote their expanded offerings once they include a room night generating aspect.
  3. Offer to lead a brainstorming session with the attraction or venue about how they could leverage their existing offerings, keeping in mind the following goals: increasing attendance, providing additional revenue and potentially boosting exposure for the organization—all for almost the same effort/expenditure.
  4. As promised, regularly assist your attractions in their efforts to promote these “expanded offerings” while reminding them that out-of-town attendees need more time than locals to plan their trip. Work together to start feeder market promotion efforts 45 to 90+ days before the offering occurs.
  5. Consider a 50/50 digital media co-op program as long as the DMO places the buy in the previously identified feeder markets.

By working as far as you can in advance (and following up regularly with your contact about their progress), you will position your DMO as a leader in destination management while allowing plenty of time for your attractions to firm up plans for their additional offerings and to adequately promote them.