For smaller towns, identifying unique selling propositions (USPs) that will attract new visitors can often feel like an insurmountable challenge. However, no matter the size or location of your destination, there are travelers who are looking to experience what you have to offer. And while you may not have a big theme park or nationally-ranked beach (or the budget that goes along with DMOs with major attractors), there are things you can do to own what distinguishes your town from the competition and appeal to travelers who are looking to experience something specific.
Activity & Adventure Tourism
There are areas in your destination that are perfectly suited to promote outdoor activities to potential visitors to your area. Climbing, hiking, horseback riding, walking, skiing, cycling, mountain biking, kayaking, etc. fall into these categories. Start the process of identifying adventure and activity opportunities already available in your destination by reaching out to locals. What are they regularly taking part in? Find out why your place is different and/or better for that activity and even consider partnering with locals to learn how to grow visitor interest in the activities and adventures that your destination has to offer.
Nature tourism can be passive, such as viewing scenic areas, or active, such as hunting and fishing. Think about your parks, waterfalls, boating, hunting, fishing, birding, and other outdoor activities that are available in your area. When building the personas of the potential visitors who are seeking nature tourism opportunities, consider potential visitors who live in nearby urban areas who are not regularly able to experience the natural beauty of the outdoors, or think about wellness seekers who want to unplug and recharge. Ecotourism is also in this vein. Read more about ecotourism.
Consumers are becoming more conscious (and genuinely curious) about where their food and beverages come from and how they are produced. Because of these interests, U-pick establishments are growing in popularity and working farms are drawing visitors looking for both education and entertainment. Collaborate with local farms, wineries, distilleries, bottlers, etc. in your area to curate experiences that will appeal to these consumers. Offer opportunities for visitors to pick fruit, pet animals, make (or drink) wine & spirits, or even attend classes on how to grow their own favorite produce. Read more on agritourism. And there is so much potential here to attract multi-generational travelers.
Cultural & Heritage Tourism
Preservation of buildings, highways, landmarks, customs, ideas or activities (think pioneers, native Americans, etc.) fall into this category. There are national funds and federal resources that can be obtained to expand cultural & heritage tourism as well, which provide great opportunities for small town product development. Explore Georgia created a Heritage Tourism Guidebook that you might find helpful.
Leverage Your Festivals & Events
Local festivals — from bluegrass to blueberries — can appeal to a wide variety of people. However, they are usually only a few days at the most, they often primarily draw locals and occupancy is usually already pretty high during these events. However, if you can figure out ways to “extend” the lift you are already getting and become an area more well-known for what your local festival or event is celebrating, you can leverage that annual effort to help drive occupancy for an entire season or even year-round. Start with assessing your community and what local foods, talents or activities currently exist that you can leverage with a little effort. Facilitate a discussion with local stakeholders, artists and planners to make connections between these offerings and your events, and then market them both as “must-do” activities. This is one example of managing your destination rather than just marketing it.
Look through a different lens
It’s often very easy to take what’s right in front of us for granted. Evaluate what you already have that could appeal to visitors, and come up with a plan to market those attractors to their fullest potential. [Hint: developing a MAP for your destination can help]
Once you have identified types of activities that you can lift up, focus on promotion.
- Post activities and events on your website. Post activities in the “What to do” section as well as on your calendar of events.
- Create a social media editorial calendar to help you effectively promote your destination to the right target markets, at the right time, using the right channels.
- Promote on search engines and other listing sites. Include keywords related to the offerings you are able to identify that are available in your destination on your DMO website, and work to get listed on niche websites where travelers might be looking to explore specific activities in areas off the beaten path.
If you need help transforming your ideas into opportunities, reach out to me here.