Increase the number of tourists – More tourists almost always means more spending and outside revenue. Tourists have a wide range of interests and travel to communities for many different reasons. Experimenting with different strategies to increase the number of tourists may produce positive results or reveal previously unidentified weaknesses. Communities generally attract tourists, visitors, outside shoppers by advertising, marketing, branding, leveraging natural resources, etc.
Increase tourists’ length of stay – The longer a tourist is in a community the more likely they are to spend. The goal of many tourism programs is to increase the number of “heads in beds,” acknowledging that tourists who spend the night are a valuable commodity.
Once a tourist shows up in a community, the goal becomes to keep them and their spending for as long as possible. This is where the number of attractions and the availability of overnight accommodations become important. Most beach resort communities do a good job of increasing and diversifying the number and kinds of attractions. The beach may initially attract a group of tourists but if nothing interests those not thrilled by the beach, or on days when the weather does not cooperate, the chances of keeping tourists and their spending over time decreases. More things to do and see, along with more options to spend the night, increase a tourist’s length of stay. Developing tour packages with both day trips and overnight itineraries gives tourists options and increases spending.
Market the community – The obvious approach is to market the community by advertising in tourism-related magazines, visitor centers, websites and social media. Word of mouth marketing is probably the best and most cost effective way of increasing the number of tourists. Marketing is much more effective when communities join together and cooperatively market a region or group of attractions.
Establish and build a community brand – A community with a brand, something they are known for, makes it easier for tourists to remember a good time. Incorporating a community’s brand or promise into festivals and ongoing events is an effective strategy for establishing and promoting a community.
Improve the overall experience – People travel to enjoy themselves, to learn, and to be entertained. Creating a pleasant memorable experience entices visitors to recommend a community to friends and neighbors. Because tourists expect sites to be friendly and safe, communities must insure that a tourist-friendly infrastructure greets each and every visitor. A high level of hospitality, information, clean restrooms, walkable communities, pedestrian friendly attractions and commercial areas, convenient/safe parking, and clear signage (wayfinding) are all things tourists and visitors are looking for in a community. Superior tourism infrastructure attracts more tourists who stay longer, return often, and spend more money.
Develop regional alliances/ cooperation – Developing regional alliances and cooperating with other communities is one way to increase the number of tourists, their length of stay, and the number of attractions. For example, by creating a heritage trail that includes multiple communities and allows tourists to travel along the trail provides new money to the region and individual communities. Regional trail themes may include local artisans, wineries, antique stores, music trails, etc.
Increase the number and quality of attractions – The number and quality of attractions directly impacts the number of tourists that can identify something they are personally interested in seeing or doing. Tourists who are disappointed in the number and the quality of local attractions do not stay as long, spend as much, or plan a return visit.
The potential list of attractions is as long as a community’s ability to be creative. Increasing the number of attractions builds critical mass and widens the range of appeal for seniors, adults and children. Examples include shopping, kayaking, historic home tours, meetings, conventions, package tours, recreation (hunting, birding, boating, walking, hiking, biking), festivals, resorts, community theater, etc.
Destination businesses are those that tourists and visitors specifically identify as a place they want to visit. In other words, a destination business is an establishment that warrants a special trip, whether it is for a specialty food item or product. Examples include: specialty restaurants, e.g. Mennonite restaurant/ bakery, brewery, winery, antique store, art gallery, flea market/ thrift store, factory outlet, specialty gift/ souvenir store, etc.
Communities do not have to develop attractions on their own. States and the Federal government are beneficiaries of tourist spending and fund historic sights, museums, aquariums, etc. States also support community art programs and facilities that attract tourists. Private developers build malls, theme parks, and other tourist attractions. Nonprofits have been established to preserve historic sites that are open to the public.
Increase the number of spending opportunities – Increasing the number of spending opportunities increases the revenue attraction potential of a community. Tourism without spending is of no economic value. Magnetic Communities increase the number and types of places to spend by increasing the number of tourist and visitor-related businesses. Successful communities create affordable rental spaces for small retail business by subdividing large spaces and creating multi-tenant spaces. Subdividing large spaces also creates a cluster of shops which creates the critical mass necessary to attract tourists. Affordable retail space encourages entrepreneurs and retirees to start locally-owned businesses to serve the tourist trade. Local artists, potters, and theater productions also create spending opportunities. If the tourist attraction is a historic site or natural attraction, communities need to provide opportunities for tourists to spend locally beyond the price of admission, or the benefit will be lost. By routing traffic to and from the tourist sites past shopping and eating establishments, tourists get to where they are going and merchants have an opportunity to sell products.
Increase the value of products and services – Communities can increase the amount of new money attracted to the community by increasing the price and value of items for sale. Fine dining, original art, and handmade jewelry may not fit all tourist destinations, but higher spending can result from both sales volume and higher prices. An example from Charleston, SC is the sweet grass basket sold by locals in markets and along the highways leading into the city. These baskets have increased in quality, demand, and price, making them a major contributor to the local tourist economy.
Recruit, expand, retain, and start businesses that make and/or sell products and provide services to tourists – If the goal is to attract more outside revenue to the local economy, recruiting, expanding, retaining, and starting businesses that cater to tourists are all viable strategies. Starting tourism-based businesses is especially attractive, in that these businesses are usually locally owned and create more economic benefits than chain stores. Opportunities to start businesses in the tourism sector are plentiful and in many cases can be started with a minimal investment. Young people with lots of energy can start a bicycle taxi service, take tourists on kayaking adventures, or become a fishing guide. Retirees can leverage a hobby or special interest.
Recruiting new tourism-related businesses becomes more viable when local tourism is already established. New businesses want to limit risk and prefer to make investments in established tourist areas. They are looking for foot traffic and other successful tourism indicators.
Assist local businesses currently selling to residents add inventory, products, and services of interest to tourists – Many local businesses define their market as residents of the community, which excludes them from the benefits of tourism. As communities, especially downtowns, evolve from traditional retail centers to tourist destinations, it is essential that merchants transition their product lines to appeal to both residents and tourists. This helps the merchant stay in business and keeps the business district viable.
Almost every community has had to deal with the development of a bypass and the introduction of the big box retail store. This phenomenon disrupts the local retail market and shifts spending for everyday goods to the bypass. As downtowns reinvent themselves, local businesses must adapt their product mix to accommodate the change in shoppers. I have seen independent grocery stores add souvenirs, deli sandwiches, beach and fishing supplies, etc. A local hardware store may add souvenirs, specialty garden items, clothing, plants and flowers for the rental house, locally branded canned goods, etc. The purchase of a product by a tourist from a locally owned and operated store is much more beneficial to the local economy than the same purchase by a resident at a big box store.