If you're anything like I am on vacation, the first thing I do after I check-in at the hotel is call down to the front desk and ask, “What’s good in town? Where do you go for a meal out?” Or, if we’ve had a long day in the car, we flip through the take-out directory. I've had very few bad experiences dining out after the concierge has given me a list of their favorites. You always trust the locals, right?
Well, do the locals trust you? Because if they don't, it's probably the reason why you're the only joint on the block with available al fresco seating on a Friday night in July.
That's because marketing to tourists is something of a creative endeavor and involves some hand-shaking. Marketing to locals is more like it. I've been thinking about ways your business can attract tourists’ tummies and wallets, especially during peak seasons. I chewed on it awhile and decided it comes down to two main strategies: local and social.
Well, duh. We know you are. But does your community know? As Dean Small, founder and managing partner of Laguna Niguel, California–based Synergy Restaurant Consultants, tells QSR Magazine, “If the locals love you, the tourists will flock to you because they want to be part of the local scene.”
The US Small Business Administration (SBA) suggests getting to know your local chambers of commerce, economic development boards, and tourist bureaus so you can build relationships with key decision makers and access latest news on laws and tourist trends that affect your traffic. Plus, you’ll meet other Main Street Marketers with whom you might partner to host events and cross-promotions, or just brainstorm together for better business.
Keep your eyes open for upcoming events, including local farmers markets, where you can host a booth or a concession stand or send a mobile unit like french restaurant Chez Pascal's Hotdog Truck. You’ll see notices in the paper, fliers on the wall, in the church bulletin, or hear about it over the garden fence. If you can’t participate or sponsor as a business, try to attend as a business owner or, better yet, as a volunteer. Find and thank the organizers for a great event and get on their mailing list to help put it together next year.
Speaking of events, you could host your own. Perhaps a Meet-and-Greet at the end of the off-season for returning locals, and early tourists, to get reacquainted with each other and you. If you go in for branded swag--and who doesn’t, right?--and you’ve had seasonal giveaway items printed up, like water bottles or reusable bags, fill them with something yummy from your friendly, local co-sponsors and send them home with the good folks. Marketing to tourists can be fun!
As Food Service Warehouse points out, some of your possible cross-marketing allies are more diverse than you might realize, “Partner with charter bus companies, travel agencies, local hotels and event centers. … Some hotels and convention centers will even give visitors a coupon book for local businesses.”
When you have an event or will be at one, tell everybody about it, in real life and on your online channels. Consider ads in the paper. Get the local press involved; offer interviews about the effect on the economy or the community-building objectives of the event. One of the easiest ways to tell your guests is with table-top sign boards. Handwrite the details for a homey touch.
To recap, some of the ideas that we’re filing under local include printing paper fliers, getting listed with the bureaus and chambers, forming relationships with other local businesses, and participating in as well as hosting local community events during both on- and off-season.
Use all of your customer touch points, in person, at events, on your site, in e-newsletters, on your social media channels, and in your local review sites, to promote and connect. As Food Service Warehouse says, “Since they do not have firsthand knowledge of the region, tourists and out-of-towners are even more likely than the average customer to surf the Internet for a good place to eat.”
That means, you should have an up-to-date online presence. Make sure your website has a clean user interface, loads quickly, is mobile-friendly (no Flash!), and gives all the key information--like hours, location, and menus--upfront. Calls to action on your website might be contact forms or links to email, brief sign-ups for email newsletters and incentives, buttons for your Twitter and Facebook pages, and links to review you on Yelp or Google Local.
Capture your guests’ contact information when they’re in the store by offering drawings, specials, or regular e-newsletters. Each mailing could share recipes and anecdotes of local color. You could even congratulate big announcements from staff, like weddings and pregnancies, as well as from guests, like milestone anniversaries. Stay in touch with them throughout the year so they know you’re still there and ready to serve when they come back.
If they opt out of receiving special incentives through email or text messages, call them to your Facebook page or Twitter channel. The SBA gives a neat example from North Carolina’s Outer Banks for how to engage customers even during off-peak season. Vacation spots there post videos of the beach during winter. A yoga retreat center in northeastern Pennsylvania tweets quotes from their teachers, publications, and even from their guests, gathered during regular in-house tweet contests. Their Facebook page adds photos of their lush surroundings, gardens, and trails.
Whatever your niche and whatever your channel, just remember how easy it is to be social. Just share compelling content that makes the heart warm and the mouth water, tickles the funny bone or strikes your fancy. They'll be back for tourist season next year, and they'll be at your door as soon as they arrive.