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Community Champions

What are Community Champions?

We’ve all been there: a stranger in a new city with no idea of what to do for the afternoon/morning/week. We’re sitting in a restaurant and strike up a conversation with an employee about things to do in town. If we weren’t in the tourism industry, we may not even think of going to the visitor’s center. The bartenders and wait staff are as good a source as any, right?

It’s no surprise that this happens with visitors a lot. The cashiers and waitresses around town are often your de facto tour guides and not only do they offer advice on how people can best enjoy their visit, but they also get to hear about the issues those visitors are having along the way. In fact, they probably hear tourism complaints that never make it to the tourism office.

Every area has this dynamic, and they also have people that experience it more than others. These workers are an awesome resource for tourism if you make the most of them – I call them “community champions”. There are a number of ways that you can leverage their unique role in making your tourism marketing more powerful.

Develop an Ambassador Committee

Much like a Restaurant Alliance or Business Owner’s Association, the Ambassador Committee is comprised of these local celebrities. You know the type: the bartender that everyone talks about, or the shop worker that seems to know everyone. Bringing them all together to talk about the gripes they hear around town about parking, inconvenient hours, and so on will inform your team on areas to either address or promote.

Meetings don’t have to be often – perhaps once per quarter. Reward them for their time with lunch. It’s well worth the investment.

Spotlight Your Community Champions

Authenticity should be a hallmark of any tourism campaign. Since these individuals are already serving as spokespeople for your destination, give them a bit more visibility. Find ways to include them in your marketing through videos, social media posts, photography, etc. Let them tell their stories about what they love in the area or about their jobs.

Tourism marketing is sorely lacking in showing the people that make their destinations great. Community champions fit that role perfectly.

Craft Your Own Ambassador Program

Large cities like Oklahoma City and Columbus, Ohio have a more formalized version of this program, but not everyone has their resources. Moreover, a packaged ambassador program may not be a fit for the unique needs of your community. Here are some things that you can start with, once the committee is identified.

  • Create buttons for community champions to wear that visitors can easily read. They can say something brief, like “Ask me about [destination]!” to invite visitor questions.
  • Host a thank-you event to offer public recognition for their participation. Partner with your Chamber of Commerce; they may already have a recognition event that this can simply be added to.
  • Invite them to ribbon-cuttings as a welcoming group to new businesses. Their attendance will encourage new businesses to adopt the program as well.

Whatever you do, make sure that they’re not too encumbered when they actually have to do their respective jobs. Retail and restaurant work can be grueling; adding much more than brief conversations probably won’t go over well.

Every destination has community champions and they can be your eyes, ears, and hospitality committee – if you make the most of what they already do every day.

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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