This is the second installment of a three-part blog; if you missed part 1, click here. This blog will provide the next couple of steps for your product development initiative.
Okay, you and other stakeholders have met and agreed that your corner of the world will benefit from increased visitors to support the local economy. Maybe you are an established destination looking to spice things up a bit, perhaps a downtown that wants to add to the local color or even a regional economic development corporation that understands the value of its assets and want to take a town or region to the next level.
Good for you! You are taking an important step towards success.
So…next steps. Below is the first part of an approach Eastwick takes with every destination, regional or downtown we work with to build a tourism and destination-centric product.
1. Research the market and trends.
The first step is research; this may require some road trips or time spent in front of your computer, but it’s important to research your current market and nearby towns or destinations, and understand current trends to understand the audience you want to attract and what your town may be complementing or competing with.
Research current tourism trends to understand what individual travelers and group tours want in a visitor experience; look at market segments and driving distances i.e. who do you want to attract and how far do you think people would be willing to travel for it. Another consideration is to try to figure out how long a visitor will spend in your town. To do this, add up all the current attractions combined with an hour (+ or -) for shopping and another hour for dining. Ideally, a visitor should spend between 5 – 8 hours in a destination or downtown.
It’s helpful to create a spreadsheet with various available information about existing retail, restaurant, attractions and museum hours of operation, so you can develop product that complements existing assets or fills a gap.
2. Recruit your Product Development team!
Develop a tourism product development team consisting of a healthy mix of stakeholders from different walks of life (public and private sectors). Be sure to include your destination marketing organization (if they are not leading it the initiative), a person from economic development organization (like a Main Street or county agency), the chamber of commerce, local government (someone from the planning and/or parks & recreation departments, are good choices), some retailers, representatives from the tourism industry (hoteliers, attraction owners, etc.), the local historical society and of course, people representing the arts and culture community. Remember…this will benefit all the above key stakeholders, so get them involved from the beginning to facilitate support and buy-in.
This part of the process may seem unwieldy so it’s helpful to set a schedule that will keep you focused and should meet on a regular basis.
3. Establish goals and criteria
The team should establish short, medium and long-term goals. Setting goals will create a framework to work within and should be used in the future to evaluate the success of your effort. The exact time frames for these goals will vary, you should consider when visitors are likely to visit and how long it will take to develop products and any related collateral.
Next, develop a criterion for what is deemed “visitor-worthy” and be (slightly) ruthless. Assess strengths and weakness of potential venues, locations or experiences; keep in mind you are looking or an attraction, activity, event or experience that sets your destination apart.
4. Audit your destination
Time to hit the streets with your team and audit potential visitor experiences, using your goals and criteria. Generate a checklist, collect some clip boards and start your scouting expedition. Your goal is to assess the:
the tourism or visitor potential of a site or experience. Is it an asset that you always wanted to do more with? An existing gem the team can enhance?
visitor readiness of the venue (staff capacity, parking, restrooms, ADA accessibility, etc.)
type of experience (is it a self-guided experience? Immersive?)
determine type of audience (individuals? Families?)
age and interest level appropriateness
length of the experience (is it a ½ hour stop or 2 hour stop?)
additional enhancement needed (signage, benches, info placards?)
potential partners that can be bundled or complement the experience
5. Dig deep
When considering potential products, go beyond the typical visitor attractions. One of the hottest trends in tourism is “dark tourism”, the concept of crafting a story around an event that is historically associated with tragedy or death to tell a truthful story of the town or society’s past. These are opportunities to teach and encourage reflection. An outstanding example is Montgomery, Alabama which has created experiences around slavery and lynching; https://saportareport.com/dark-tourism-the-world-comes-to-montgomery/. Have you thought about your local cemetery? Check out Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia thelaurelhillcemetery.org/events for ideas on programming and events. The dead never had it so good! Want more inspiration? Check out http://www.dark-tourism.com. On that site you will find out about Centralia, PA a town in Northeast PA that was abandoned due to a fire in a vein of coal that ran under the town; the streets still seethe with smoke as the fire rages on. If a destination pursues this path, make sure you have your facts straight and collaborate with as many partners as possible.
Keep in mind, the objective is to create or enhance a visitor experience the will attract people to your destination or venue as a gateway to a broader experience that supports the story of your destination. Your destination may be eclectic or firmly rooted in a theme but collectively, all product should convey the personality and culture of the town.
The next installment will cover:
Connecting the dots
Marketing and promotion
Investing in product success
Kimberly Stever is a seasoned tourism and economic development professional. She has worked with multiple destinations, small towns, and major attractions. To learn more, visit eastwicksoutions.com
Eastwick Solutions develops revitalization strategies for towns and municipalities, activates rivers and trails through recreation, education, and environmental programs to spur economic development in nearby towns, provides Main Street marketing to supplement existing staff, engages stakeholders of all levels to ensure buy-in and support, stimulates economic development strategies leveraging nature-based assets (rivers, trails, agriculture, events), designs and develops nature-based asset programming, events and activities to maintain engagement and build affinity, writes grants for project-related funding, and conducts asset assessments to build image, programs, and events around.