A lot has been said around the importance of local, domestic, and regional markets to the tourism industry’s recovery. We all know that tour and activity products lend themselves best to this narrative. However, the experiences sector often plays second fiddle to big headlines occupied by the aviation, accommodation, and cruise line sectors. Practical advice can be drowned out by the noise of these larger players in the tourism space.
The irony is that tourism’s recovery is dependent on the experiences’ space recovering first. Experiences will be what drives word of mouth fastest; getting bums on seats, boots on feet, and wine in glasses. That word of mouth will be what drives people back to air and sea travel and booking hotel beds when COVID eventually passes. That, in turn, will bring back jobs to the broader sector and return money to the economy.
We can expect that lockdown restrictions will continue to yo-yo for a while. A measure you can’t control. What experience operators can do, is plan. Have a ready-to-go flexible local marketing strategy that can be activated and dialed up or down at any time.
Below are a couple of promotional mechanics designed as thought-starters, reimagined to add a bit of fun and interest to help you think about ways your business can stand out in the crowd. In our part of the industry, fun and adventure go hand-in-hand with the territory. Your guests are coming to have a bit of light relief and escape the daily grind of the 2020 news cycle. It’s time to get back to the business of fun, and show locals why people usually come from all over the world to experience your product.
What do we mean? Depending on your experience, there’s a good chance that your product may be catered best to someone outside of your region, or overseas. That doesn’t mean you need to reinvent the wheel. Whether you operate your activity or tour yourself, or you have team members that do it, you can back the in-destination knowledge that your operation has.
Our CEO has often provided the example of an imagined walking tour in Sydney that an operator may have that takes in the Opera House, Circular Quay, The Rocks, and Darling Harbour. To Sydneyfolk, this sort of tour is unlikely to capture the imagination of a local audience used to seeing these major attractions in their day-to-day life.
Rethinking your tour product with a local mindset on the other hand might prove fruitful. In this example, pivoting a product like this to a new ‘hidden gems’ tour of a central suburb that focuses on the area’s unique history, local areas of interest, and venues on the other hand could inspire the local market to book.
Here’s a thought: If you’re thinking of trying this idea, why not plan a route and invite family and friends out for a day to experience it. Their feedback will be invaluable because they’re your local market customer. Not only that, but you’ve also started to build a little army of advocates who can go back to their homes and spruik what you’re doing to their neighbours and friend circles.
What do we mean? An ‘experience again’ offer is a pretty simple concept. Encourage past guests to relive an experience that they’ve enjoyed previously. It’s a good way to clear distressed inventory. Perhaps you have a product session mid-week that isn’t as full as you’d like. Or, you have a session that has one committed guest and you want to make your session worth your time. A quick email to your email list with an offer can help you reach your goal capacity.
Remember, an offer doesn’t need to be a discount on the price. Discounting can be a quick race to the bottom. Regaining price perception after prolonged discounting can take years to recover. It won’t help your local area either.
Where possible, consider a ‘value-add’. Include a complimentary lunch, merchandise, upgrade, a mystery extension of your tour, courtesy pick-up, a gift card that they can share with someone else. Be creative. Try a few things. You might find something works better for your local market and something you’ll want to retain after COVID passes.
Here’s a thought: If your tour or activity often finds itself with patchy session capacity, why not create a landing page on your website where you post your last-minute or stand-by offers. Encourage people to subscribe to ‘hear it first’. You can add a copy to the page that has words to the effect: Offers on this page are for guests ready to go today. Or, whatever timeframe makes sense to you. Not only will this help you build out a local subscriber base, but you’ll also have an additional tool to fill up spots.
What do we mean? Like all of us, you probably have fond memories of an experience that you enjoyed with family or friends when you were younger. While not far removed from the ‘experience again’ concept, it gives you an opportunity to capture locals that visited your destination, or experience before you had your business up and running. So, rather than a repeat guest, this could be their first time with you.
There’s plenty of opportunities to have fun with this one. And, better still, you’ll have some great photos for future products of this nature, your website, and your social media channels.
Think of opportunities where you might be able to get people to book something like ‘The 80s experience’ for a select product session. You can provide itineraries that give a nod to how things were at that particular time. You might have food, beverages, or music on offer that tie into that theme. It’s well worth considering a fancy dress option too. Again, perfect for social proof.
Given how COVID has impacted communities, you might be surprised by the uptake as people look for engaging and innovative ways to reconnect with friends and family.
Here’s a thought: If you go down this path, consider drumming up enthusiasm in your social channels and create a small giveaway competition. Create a hashtag. Encourage people to share old photos of when they, their friends, their school, or their family was in your destination or location in the past. A great way to build up brand awareness and give you brand a bit of personality.
What do we mean? We all know the traditional family offer. Generally 2 adults, 2 kids where the kids get a slightly discounted rate. What about a revamp of this classic?
Families are a crucial part of a local marketing strategy. They also come in many shapes and sizes. Consider opening up your traditional ‘Family’ package to guests ‘chosen’ family. Or, the ‘now grown-up’ family where the children may now be adults. It will allow you to get a broader reach for positive word-of-mouth. Positive reviews shared by a family network of adults to their individual networks will increase your reach, that you won’t capture with guests of a younger age. It is a great way to build up a network of new referrals. It will also help you build up a local database for the future and might help develop social proof, sell last-minute experiences, communicate new offerings, and ‘friend-get-friend’ offers.
Another positive with an offer of this nature is that it’s a discount, without discounting your perceived price in the market.
Here’s a thought: Have fun with it! Create a badge or sticker, that says ‘adult 1, adult 2, child 1, child 2’ that the guests must wear on tour to be eligible on the tour. Perhaps even a prop that identifies which guest is which in the group. Great for photos and social sharing. We know guides have great senses of humour, and I’m sure you can have a lot of fun with it.
Remember, people searching for experiences at the moment are looking for light relief from the busy day-to-day news cycle that we’ve been presented with lately. Make it a bit of fun for them and your team (even if that’s just you)!
What do we mean? Couples on its own might be fairly obvious, but it’s important to remember the context of 2020 (how could we forget). A lot of couples have had to delay or scale back their weddings, engagement events, and so on.
Couples’ offers are an opportunity to connect with this customer type and offer something special. Perhaps a slightly more romantic option of one of your traditional offerings. Champagne on arrival, a complementary couple photo, sunset tour option, and so on.
Couples that have delayed their weddings, in particular, are a big opportunity for tour and activity operators into the future. Depending on the nature of your product offering, you may be able to start a conversation with them around their wedding plans. We all know how large weddings can be, with large family groups attending from local communities and sometimes overseas. Capturing this market now could help you rebound really fast in a post-COVID world and if you’re able to get their guests on your guest list you’ll be able to build a large network of referrers on your behalf pretty quickly.
Here’s a thought: You don’t have to overthink it here. Sometimes reducing your capacity on a traditional session to just two is enough. You can increase the price and provide small luxury gestures as part of the experience to create a magical and memorable experience.
We hope you enjoyed this article. Checkout: The COVID-19 Recovery Starts Local Part 2: You have your promotion, so how do you promote it? Here.