Entrepreneurs need to be nimble at the best of times to succeed and the have to take advantage of changes in the environment around them. No where is this fact more true than the tourism industry, an industry that has seen its share of changing environmental elements.
In the past, our traditionally low dollar value against the US currency has been a central point in tourism marketing for us all. "You Dollar goes further" was a staple of visitor attraction programs. In the past two years, we've seen several cycles that have brought our dollar on par or even greater and that means we have to rethink our approach and messaging.
The core elements to this changing environment are quality, value and relevance - pure and simple. Now is the time that tourism operators and marketers need to look at their offerings and ensure they are offering experiences that make consumers feel good. Whether its exceptional customer care service, going the extra mile to make visitors feel welcome and comfortable, spotless rooms and exceptional dining experiences, quality is always appreciated. I shake my head when I drive by a property that hasn't cut its grass in 3 months and even recently, I had to call 4 restaurants to order 8 sandwiches - 8 simple sandwiches - on an hour's notice before someone could help me. Quality and customer care start at the most basic levels.
Value doesn't mean gutting rates simply to retain visitors. Reducing prices too much makes it hard to raise rates again in the future and could undermine operating viability even in the short term.. Its important for operators to find that balance of offering quality experiences that consumers feel good about without them feeling gouged. These experiences make them feel pampered, appreciated and wanting to return. As an industry, we need to be confident in the quality of our experiences and charge accordingly - competitively but appropriately. We have to remember that there are a lot of travelers Globally who want the outdoor adventures we have around us and place a value on them.
The last simple tip is relevance - perhaps the most important element of all. We all need to market experiences that consumers want. It sounds simple but for years. we've created products and experience we think consumers want and often, tourism development and marketing in rural Ontario has been based on political boundaries and destinations rather than consumer research based around experiences. Remember, 75% of travelers look for an experience first, not a destination, when planning their vacation.
We've made some bold shifts in our own marketing strategy to target experience seekers in specific categories where we know we have an advantage and that seems to have been successful in 2009 judging by the positive US Border traffic coming into Thunder Bay at Pigeon River. By focusing on avid outdoor seekers and touring groups such as motor cycles, RVs and auto clubs, we've been able to reach new relevant demographics effectively. Individual businesses too, have match their products and experiences to the consumers who want them and while that sounds like a daunting task, knowing your customers is the foundation of success in business.
We all need to know exactly who are customers are and match their needs to the experiences we know we offer well. This blog's regular postings on travel statistics helps small businesses plan their marketing and product development initiatives. The recently released Premier Ranked Destination Framework is an invaluable tool to help small businesses in the Thunder Bay district analyse consumer needs and the Ministry of Tourism (www.tourism.gov.on.ca/english/research/index.html) 0ffers a wide range of research tools online-free of charge - to assist the tourism industry in ensuring our experiences are what consumers are looking for and targeting them more effectively.
There are certainly no end of ideas for small businesses to pursue in reaching new markets and meeting the needs of new consumer environments but hopefully these three elements -quality, value and relevance- remain the foundation we all remember when we undertake our business planning.