Do you envy chamber pros from areas that are entertainment or tourist meccas? You know the ones … where their town name is in pop culture songs about going there? (Amarillo, we’ll be there by morning.) Destination marketing is so easy for them.
Do you long to bring in even a few tourism dollars with your limited (okay, maybe nonexistent) tourism budget but you feel like the wallflower at the high school dance where no one even notices you?
Wallflower, it’s time to get off that bench and start showing the world how amazing you are!
It’s not that hard. Any John Hughes fan will tell you it just takes a cool soundtrack and some Aqua Net to turn the wallflower town into a “footloose” tourist hub.
If a lack of destination marketing ideas makes you feel like you’re “destination unknown,” we’ve got at least 16 candles-worth of ideas to help you increase tourism.
We’ve enlisted the help of many creative chamber pros who’ve earned their stripes in the tourism trenches to get your city noticed and on the tourist maps … even when you don’t feel like someone put you in a corner
Now that we’ve got in plenty of 80’s references (how many will you spot?), let’s get to the tourism and destination marketing ideas.
Destination Marketing Strategies
First, before we give you ways to get noticed and increase your tourism draw, it’s important to understand the importance of destination marketing in the equation. There is no way to increase tourism without it. Some you will pay for but, hopefully, most of it can be grown using organic sources like word-of-mouth and social media.
Still, when you are just starting out in your dream of bringing in travelers, you will need to spend some money. Your most valuable spend may be on social media. The ads are inexpensive and targeting can help ensure you reach exactly the type of people who are likely to visit your area.
Start with these ideas to help increase views organically including:
- using hashtags
People use hashtags to find the information they are most interested in on social media so you want to use them. Not only do you want to use your area’s name as a hashtag, but also what you want to be known for such as #agrotourism, #americanhistory, #wintersports, etc. Look at what towns nearby use as well as towns that are similar to yours.
- employing a slogan or catch phrase
A short phrase about what makes you special can go a long way to creating an impression on someone. It can also make people curious and want to explore your area.
- “listening” on the social media channels.
Spend some of your time listening to people on social media. Many people share vacation and planning ideas there. When appropriate jump into the conversation. The Del Mar race track in California launched what turned out to be very successful social media marketing efforts several years ago where they listened to people talking about vacationing in the area and invited them to visit.
- coming up with a clever (or fun) event name.
Sometimes a name alone is a selling point. Twenty+ years ago, when I was planning a vacation to the Pacific Northwest, I searched for events in the area. I came across a wine tasting event called “Wine at the Shoreline.” I bought tickets and attended. Little did I know at the time–I was fresh out of college and didn’t know anything–that I had stumbled across a chamber networking event. Their fun event name drew me in and I spent a couple of hours learning a lot about the area and its businesses. It just goes to prove it’s not always traditional advertising that brings visitors in.
- hosting a blogger or influencer tour.
You need people to talk about you so why not invite a few local personalities or influencers in to tour the area with you. Reaching out to local media is another option. Find out if one of your local stations has a day trip segment. You might be featured on it.
- creating a top 10 list of things to do or see.
Create a list once a year (or by season or interest) of Top Ten Things to Do (or see) in your area. Share it widely on social media and your site. People have a natural interest in completing/checking off lists. Plus, they are apt to share your list especially when you ask them how many they’ve seen (or participated in).
- joining a Facebook group that is inline with your tourism goals.
Peggy Johnson Emerson of the Darke County Chamber of Commerce shared that she is a part of a Facebook group called Ohio Road Trips. She said it “Gives me lots of interesting ideas and it’s a great way to promote our county.”
Now let’s talk about what things you can play up in your town in order to bring in more visitors.
Make Your Town a Tourist Attraction Even If (You Think) There’s Nothing to See
In the same vein that there’s someone out there for everyone, there is something interesting about your town or area, you just need to find the right audience. If you’ve got what they need and want, your destination marketing plan is much easier.
Here are a few suggestions from chamber pros across the country to help you discover what’s already there:
Create a Tourism Assets Sheet
Work with the community to make a list of tourism assets. In addition to tourist attractions like museums and entertainment, list other things such as:
- historic places
list both items currently set aside as historic properties and those of legend, such as the place where a famous starlet once vacationed.
- architecturally interesting locations
think bridges, buildings, painted barns, etc.
- last of’s
does your area have a claim to fame like the last few Mail Pouch painted barns in existence or other historic or culturally significant thing that is going by the wayside.
because there are (weirdly) tourists who look for dark stories and tragedies. Or they may have been fans and want to make a trip to see the final resting place or site of the loss of their hero. Think Graceland or the intersection of Highways 41 and 46 in California where James Dean died. While it may not be something you want to call attention to, there are people out there who are interested in these types of pilgrimages.
- unique festivals
yes, even an unusual festival can be a reason to draw more tourists (Mothman Festival, anyone?)
Is there something in your area that is completely misunderstood or mysterious? What about that hum everyone complains about, but no one can explain? The Winchester Mystery house in San Jose and the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz are the most famous examples (it takes a lot to stand out with weirdness in California).
Otherwise known as superlatives, think about whether your area has any -ests. These might include largest, oldest, or smallest post office, ball of twine, cathedral, etc.
In addition to specific spots, you can look to increase tourism interest in something you are already known for (or want to be) such as:
With the growing farm-to-table movement, people are becoming more interested in agritourism.
Some areas have set up vineyard tours, farm tours, and ranching operations to link agriculture production and/or processing with tourism. Jaime Chapman of the Military Spouse Chamber of Commerce shared, “An operational farm/corn maze/pumpkin patch/hay ride agritourism business I take my kids to brings in $20k a day during peak season based on my rough calculations of the 300+ parked cars and ticket costs. In rural areas, especially those outside of urban areas, agritourism can be a great money maker.”
Trails are an ideal way to bring tourists in by linking multiple places to explore under a common theme. This technique can help people feel that your area is worth the exploration, not just a “one and done” site. There are historic trails, wine trails, covered bridge trails, scenic routes, mural or arts trails, etc.
Don’t worry if you can’t think of any links for your area. You can look to nearby areas and build on theirs as well. Still coming up empty on the trail idea? Christina Richartz from the Estacada Chamber suggested creating a list of “‘Insta-worthy’ destinations – vintage shops, historic properties, craft beverages, etc. Make it interesting for folks visiting or adding to their travel itinerary.”
Of course, you also don’t want to discount the appeal of natural trails for hiking, biking, meandering, etc. If you make a list of these provide information for all types of trail explorers whether they are bringing littles, pets, or a hardcore hikers’ club. It’s important to present level of difficulty and resources available on the trails when you market them or provide a resource that does this for you.
You have probably heard that the riches are in the niches. The same can be said for tourism. If you can offer some distinction about your area that appeals to a niche of avid fans and makes you unique, this could be very good for your town.
Maybe you have the most Frisbee Golf courses in the state or maybe your area is home to a very unique battle that war historians would love to explore. Don’t be afraid to speak directly to those people.
To be authentic, speak with someone from your target niche directly if you’re not sure how to market to them. They may have very specific needs (like retail or hospitality) and addressing those alongside the attractions you’re marketing could bring in a lot of visitors. Plus, those side businesses may find a real interest (and may want to sponsor your efforts if they think you’ll be bringing them more business.)
Niche interests are also a strong way to organize your tourism marketing efforts. Speak directly to people with specific interests like they do on the NewayGO exploring page. It’s easy to identify with one of these and select the most fitting adventure.
The Next Generation
When people think of sports and tourism, they often focus on professional teams and their training offshoots.
But there’s another group to think about and it can be vey lucrative: children’s traveling sports leagues, pageants, dance competitions, agricultural competitions and other contests.
There may be hundreds of parents, teams, and coaches in (or near) your community that you don’t even realize are making the trip. They aren’t thinking like tourists, but your destination marketing efforts can expand their outlook. The kids have their event but afterwards, they’re looking for things to do, places to eat, and spots to sleep. Targeting these consistent travelers can be a new avenue for you.
The Finishing Touch
When you are solid about what you offer and have the destination marketing collateral in place to support it, you may want to consider pitching local magazines, newspapers, and lifestyle publications or contact people you see writing these types of articles directly. A few well-placed mentions can bring a lot of new visitors.
If you’re trying to bring new tourism dollars into your area but you don’t feel like there’s much to see, you may be surprised by the opportunities that exist.
Talk to people visiting your area.
Find out what brought them there and how they found out about you.
Look for new ways in their experience that you can use to market your town and use a human touch to attract a new crowd into your different world.