We all know how bad it feels when marketing isn’t bringing in the visitors. Although you’re using all the right gear and bait, sometimes the fish just aren’t biting. What you don’t hear about often enough is when tourism marketing works a bit too well. That’s a different type of pain, but it can be just as exhausting.
Last weekend, I ran into a longtime DMO client of ours and we got to talking about how things were going over the past few months since we spoke. She starts with this long, pained sigh like I just asked her to help me choose a dentist. Put simply, she and her entire team are exhausted. Their Fall Festival just wrapped up and the turnout was bonkers-level huge. Now, they’re staring down the barrel of three more events before they can even focus on the holiday season. They’re short-staffed (as most DMOs and CVBs are), and the excitement of return-to-travel is long gone.
We’re all aware that most cities and towns white-knuckled through 2020 and most of 2021, bracing themselves with the hopes that the crowds would come back soon. Now, the weekends are looking more like Times Square on New Year’s than they’re accustomed to and prepared for and, inevitably, chaos ensues.
If this sounds like you and you represent a city, town, brewery, distillery – wherever people gather in droves, this may sound familiar (or it may pretty soon). There are a few steps you can take before and during these waves of visitors that will make sure that your tourism marketing works and that your team is ready to deal with it – often on their own – while creating a better experience for your visitors.
The first thing you can do is to document more so you can train less, and you can do this by creating SOPs for your organization. SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedures and they’re an approach to documenting tasks once to create how-to’s that are available in perpetuity. Do you have a standard practice of promoting an event or setting up equipment the night before? Write them down, step by step for others to follow.
By making your standard procedures available for everyone on staff to read (or watch, if video helps), you remove yourself from having to explain the same things over and over. This really comes in handy if you recruit volunteers for large events or have any amount of employee turnover. Here are just a few things that you can create SOPs for:
- Handling customer complaints
- Hazards or crisis management
- Setting up events on Facebook, Eventbrite, etc.
- Event advertising (audiences, budgets, schedule)
- Social media management
- Visitor or customer parking
- Tradeshow logistics and scheduling
- That guy that drinks too much, passing out in a restroom with his phone in the toilet
- Working with tour operators
- Vendor management
And that’s just what I could think of in 30 seconds. Over the next 6-12 months, look for any repeatable tasks and jot them down step-by-step in Word documents. I have some SOP templates that I can send over to get you started – just contact us and I’ll send you some. You can also throw in screenshots and links to other documents if it helps to explain the job. Anything that’s repeatable, while ensuring that crowds are managed and tourism marketing works, is a candidate for an SOP.
Build a volunteer pool. Five days before an event is too late to start asking for help. Cities and towns need to consider volunteer recruitment the same way companies look for new customers, by making it an ongoing process. Add a section to your website that asks for locals to sign up and share it every few weeks on social media. An evergreen call-to-action in your email marketing doesn’t hurt, either.
And while I’m on the subject of engaging locals, make sure to build resident advocacy or, in other words, keep your locals from hating your visitors. I wrote about this back in my “Destination Life Cycle” post here and it’s even more of an issue nowadays when the idea of packing people into close quarters is far less popular. Keep in mind that, while your job is to bring new people to your city, those new people will become locals if you’re doing it right. So, those two audiences should be given an equal amount of attention. Check out my article about overtourism for some ways to address this.
This article is by no means exhaustive; here’s also a great video by CrowdRiff on how other destinations are dealing with the resurgence of visitors.
When tourism marketing works too well, new problems emerge. However, by planning ahead of expected surges and getting your community on your side, events run smoother and your support system is large enough to handle the crowds.