Tourist Trap: How to Market Your Small Business to Visitors

attracting tourists to small businesses blog photo

Tourism is a major economic driver for the state of Louisiana, generating direct and indirect revenue and providing jobs for residents. In 2017, 47.1 million visitors spent $17.5 billion paddling down bayous, reveling in the French Quarter and sampling the state’s rich culture and cuisine. They are also your potential customers — if you can deliver the authentic Louisiana products and experiences they’re looking for.

Those who work in hospitality already know the value of tourist spending. But businesses of all kinds can benefit if they are willing to meet traveler needs. Restaurants and recreation providers have obvious appeal to visitors, but they aren’t the only ones. Any enterprise that offers a unique experience or product has the potential to attract tourist dollars.

Evaluating Your Breed of Tourist

So how do you go about luring in these valuable spenders? Research tells us the top three leisure activities for domestic travelers to Louisiana are visiting family/friends, shopping and dining. But with so many different options and possibilities available, how do tourists decide which ones to try?

Let’s take a deeper dive into the psyche of a tourist. Canada leads the way when it comes to research on the subject. The Canadian Tourism Commission’s global Explorer Quotient® Profiles (EQ) don’t make general assumptions about millennials or baby-boomers — instead, they rely on the science of psychographics.

This approach groups people based on shared social and travel values and motivations, helping to identify the most valuable types of travelers to target from a business perspective. In the United States, the Commission identified three general types of high-value tourists: free spirits, cultural explorers and authentic experiencers.

Tailoring Tourism Experiences

Using a consumer segmentation model like this, businesses can more effectively target the right tourists with products and experiences that will be appealing. Free spirits are very social and open to new ideas. They enjoy activities they can do with others, like visiting parks, taking food tours and trying out authentic local cuisines. For example, a business that sells outdoor and camping gear might branch into weekend rental options aimed at free spirit tourists.

Meanwhile, a business that makes and sells boudin or other Cajun food products could offer hands-on demonstrations or tours to authentic experiencer visitors. If you know what people are willing to spend money on, and what they value, you can find new ways of catering to them.

Another challenge is getting the word out. The key is understanding where and how travelers search for information about a place they are visiting. The major sources are word of mouth and online research. This may include consulting the websites of online travel agencies and tour operators as well as specific hotel or attraction sites.

Knowing this gives us better insight into where to best spend money to reach them: for example, travel listings, inclusion on hospitality sites, etc. It might reveal the importance of positive recommendations, an asset for any business but especially one that wants to attract tourists.

Generating Buzz

How can you generate these online raves that travelers crave? Start by getting active on social media. Lots of people are looking for travel ideas and creating their itineraries using  Pinterest and Instagram, so establish and grow your presence in those places. Social media is also where the influencers are; for an example of the best use of Instagram, check out Back Road Planet.

Maybe you can’t afford a professional influencer and his backroad blog, but you can also connect with micro influencers without blowing your budget. Look for local bloggers who specialize in your industry and have a decent-sized following. What you want to see is someone with lots of engagement: posts are liked, commented on and shared.

If you happen to be a restaurant, a comped meal and some southern hospitality can be all you need to earn some influencer love. Da’ Stylish Foodie and Eat This Lafayette are good examples of local food blogs that you might want to consider.

Another source of trusted information and recommendations is your nearest destination marketing organization (DMO). The fine people at a DMO (which might be your city’s visitor bureau or perhaps a regional tourism commission) are there to help connect visitors to local businesses, so they’re a potential ally in your quest for those tourism dollars.

Promotion in Practice

Marie Ducote-Comeaux, a small business owner in Lafayette, Louisiana, can attest to the benefits of connecting with a local DMO. In 2012, Marie took a leap of faith, leaving a career in education to start her own business: Cajun Food Tours.

Marketing a new business isn’t easy, and Marie knew that she needed to take advantage of any resources and help she could get. She started by getting to know the DMO pros in the region.

“I personally visited every CVB from the Missippi River to the Texas Border, meeting travel counselors and staff members and offering them to take my tour. Travel counselors are the faces that visitors see and trust – they’re locals.”

During these visits, Marie also got to know the marketing and communications staff, who told her about marketing resources that were available to her as a tourism-related business. She got Cajun Food tours listed on LafayetteTravel.com and joined the Louisiana Travel Association. She also succeeded in getting listed on  LouisianaTravel.com, a state website with 3.69M visits in 2018.  

Make It Happen

Even if tourists aren’t your primary customer, there’s no reason why you can’t attract more of them to your business. There are some fairly easy ways to increase your visibility by advertising and being active in the online spaces they’re already frequenting.

By learning more about them, you can even tailor a product or service just for their interests. Odds are, it will take some time to see the results of your efforts, but it’s not an all-or-nothing endeavor. Do whatever you can as you are able, and keep an eye out for opportunities as they arise.

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