Fifty years ago if I offered you the chance to go on holiday almost anywhere, you'd grasp the opportunity. There wasn’t a massive amount of choice and holiday-makers made their decisions based on a leaflet or a January advert in the Radio Times. There have been some huge changes since then, particularly during the last decade. Have we adapted our marketing enough?
Today’s visitors are so different to those I promoted to when I first started working in tourism marketing over thirty years ago. Now we have an incredible range of marketing tools and opportunities open to us, but I’m not sure we’re taking full advantage of them all.
The majority of tourism businesses are quite small. Many feel like they're in the shadow of bigger, better-known businesses, or places that attract more visitors. Traditional marketing, especially advertising, can be very expensive. It can be hard to compete with the big budgets of the chains and larger businesses. Now the world’s changed and thanks to the internet, even the smallest niche business can build its profile and attract visitors.
Big name destinations and major events do attract visitors. But so do smaller, lesser-known, off-the-beaten track places. Quirky sells. 'Different' and 'better' attract.
To do this, we need to harness the power of the internet. Some time ago Chris Anderson wrote about the "Long Tail". He related it to retail, yet the ideas he developed are equally valid in tourism marketing.
Before the internet, retailers could only sell what they could fit on their shelves. In the case of a bookseller, this meant the blockbusters would be prominently displayed because they sold in large numbers, generating the biggest income. It was harder to get hold of more niche publications. Shelf space was precious. Thanks to the internet, retailers like Amazon found that while their sales were driven by big names, it was much easier to sell many other niche publications. Buyers loved being able to easily buy almost any kind of book, no matter how off-beat or specialist. Each individual niche book may not sell in large volumes, but collectively they account for high revenue.
The same can happen in tourism. Big names will still attract and generate huge revenue. Yet the collective power of many thousands of small businesses also generates massive income, and provides more choice for visitors to enjoy. It’s so much easier now to promote to niche markets. The internet and social media enable us to tailor our messages to appeal to multiple markets.
Pre-internet, a niche had to be sizeable to make it worthwhile. Social media, websites and email marketing now make it easy to reach even the smallest special interest group.
How can we use all the power of the long tail effect, niche products and markets?
Once upon a time, if I wanted to promote the Yorkshire Dales and to attract a high number of visitors I'd have to focus on 'honeypots' such as the Wensleydale Creamery, Malham's limestone pavement, Bolton Abbey Estate, and walks around the Three Peaks. Together such places would account for the lion's share of visitors. It meant that visitors were clustered around a few key areas, and was harder for small businesses outside those areas to benefit.
Now I can write blogs and post on social media, writing about more niche activities. Topics can include anything from paragliding in the Dales, the story behind a beer, where to see red squirrels, bluebell woods and Elaine's Tearooms.
Individually each of these are small-scale, but collectively they have the potential to attract visitors who stay longer and spend more than the traditional day-trippers. It costs me practically nothing to write the blogs and share them on social media.
It's easy to raise awareness and get more people interested in lesser known destinations. The challenge is to take that interest and turn it into bookings. Making it easy to book is essential. Some people will always want to pick up the phone and speak to an owner directly. But many more want to book on the spur of the moment, often at unsociable times so online booking is important.
I’ve sat in so many meetings when destination managers have talked about the challenges of making it easy for even the smallest business to accept online bookings, about how hard it is to compete with giants like Booking.com and how they’d like to be able to somehow bring all the different online booking channels together. It often felt like the conversations just went round in circles because of the complexity involved.
And then along came TXGB, designed to do all this. Finally, we have a chance to really take advantage of the long tail effect. All tourism businesses could potentially benefit.
In case that seems too good to be true, I do think there are challenges ahead. Work is needed to make the system easy enough for the least ‘techy’ business to get onboard, and to convince every booking channel to participate.
The good news is that the TXGB team seems ready for the challenge. With many eyes on their progress, it feels like 2021 will be the year a record number of tourism businesses start to take online bookings.
© Susan Briggs/The Tourism Network 2020/2021
Susan Briggs is Director of the Tourism Network and offers free information and support for tourism businesses through www.tourismnetwork.co.uk . Visitor-facing tourism usinesses can join the private facebook group: