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Attracting Tourists to Smaller Communities

Tourism can transform the economic health of small communities

There are increasing opportunities today for communities of all sizes to build a local tourism industry. This trend has come about for a couple of reasons. One is that tourists are becoming more demographically diverse and more interested in new kinds of tourism experiences, especially those that don’t require a big cash outlay.

Many tourists are looking for an authentic “rural” experience. This could take the form of exploring the countryside, organized tours, experiencing local culture and heritage, hiking, biking, walking. Small municipalities can develop a surprisingly broad range of attractions through culinary tourism, agri-tourism, festivals, events and other niche opportunities (see “New Ideas for Tourism Niches” published May 12).

Tourist attraction has evolved into a web-based activity

Another reason why small communities have growing opportunities to become tourist destinations is that tourism has evolved into a web-based industry in the past decade. The majority of travel-related business transactions take place on the web. And the web is a relatively low-cost marketing medium, so smaller communities are not hindered from marketing their tourism products by a lack of funds for expensive advertising and promotions.

The web is a local tourism enabler, but to use it successfully communities need to adopt the trends and tactics of modern destination-marketing organizations (DMOs).

First of all, a small community’s tourism website must be competitive with those of other communities, regardless of their size. The web is a fiercely competitive place for destination marketing but also a great leveler. With the right tactics you can draw eyes to your site first. Your top initial priority should be to create a strategy to bring traffic to your tourism site through traditional and online marketing tactics, including e-mail, advertising and social media campaigns.

Converting web visitors to tourists

Equally important, however, is that once you have drawn people to your tourism site you must be sure that they will stay there and make decisions that lead to action – a visit to your community.

That’s not simple. The role of a DMO, and of a destination marketing website, has shifted from simple transactions to trip research, planning and packaging.

Today’s travelers use destination marketing websites to learn about travel destinations, service providers, and pricing options to inform and make their purchases. They generate their own content and exchange information via blogs, social networks, Twitter, and other modes of interactive social media.

Research by PhoCusWright, a US-based international travel research firm, has found that consumers are as active on DMO websites after they book their travel as they are when planning and shopping for their trip.

“The key focus for DMOs is to understand how today’s consumer wants to interact on the web when it comes to travel planning and research,” senior analyst Joe Buhler says in a recent report. “DMOs will have a great opportunity to capitalize if they evaluate their web presence and better integrate next-generation tools.”

Small communities need to keep this in mind when developing their tourism strategy and particularly their website design. Once someone is on your site, offer the information they need to plan their trip quickly and easily. That includes:

  • Searchable attractions
  • Searchable event calendar
  • Searchable tourism business directory
  • Maps, tours, events, special promotions
  • Suggested and personal itineraries

Is this costly and difficult? No. Small communities, just as large ones, can now afford to convert website visitors to tourists by using smart website tools.

Tourism Websites Tools are Enablers

Modern do-it-yourself tools can be added to existing websites so that tourists can find answers to questions of personal interest, and have confidence that the information they find will be up to date.

Attractions and events information can quickly and easily be published by the businesses and operators themselves, relieving staff effort. Tourists can find out about them on your website through simple, advanced or calendar-based searches.

Small communities today can compete on the web with larger centers by taking advantage of the local attractions and character that make their tourism products unique and offering potential visitors the same interactive services. More and more, web technologies are becoming enablers to spread the economic benefits of tourism across the countryside.

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One Response to “Attracting Tourists to Smaller Communities”

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