The Great Lakes Cruising Coalition is working to get more cruise lines enjoying the Great Lakes, to pull into port and visit their small towns. One of their members posted estimates on the economic impact for each day a cruise ship visits.
With just two tourist vessels scheduling 12 stops in one city for 2009, the direct and indirect economic impact is estimated to be more than $523,000. That’s right – a half million dollars with one vessel in port for each of just twelve days:
“Working to bring the vessels here and keeping the operators satisfied takes a lot of effort and over 40 local businesses, many small operations, benefit economically. In fact, despite the vessels only being in port a total of 12 days, the financial impact spread across the tour operators, visitor attractions and vessel support services will create almost 2 full year equivilants of employment. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, every job counts.”
As owner of a rural business that values the tourists who visit us, I am always interested to see how tourism is promoted in other areas of the country. For me, this article also highlighted several other important factors that any tourism-oriented business can keep in mind:
(1) Create Partnerships
Working to create partnerships with tourism organizations and group tour operations makes good sense, because they can bring hundreds of people into an area at a time.
Focusing on your individual customer is always important. Events and ‘consumer shows’ where many chambers of commerce and regional tourism groups promote their geographical area usually focus on attracting two or three visitors at a time. But creating partnerships with tour groups that control where hundreds of people go, and the things they see when they visit, should be an important goal for tourism businesses.
Most large multi-million dollar regional attractions employ full time staff that specialize in the group tour market to promote their attraction. It’s not surprising that they receive the bulk of group tours. But large regional attractions aren’t the only places tourists get to see when they visit an area. And if the large attractions are always the centerpiece of tours, they can actually become a disencentive for visitors to return, simply because visitors aren’t excited about seeing again what they’ve already seen, not to mention they don’t want to pay the expensive admission tickets again!
Most new visitors to an area certainly want to see the large regional attractions on their first trip, but once they’re seen them, it’s the ‘secondary’ attractions – like rural areas and the agritourism and artisans they often showcase – that bring tourists back to visit a second time and more.
(2) Analyze Access Networks
Analyzing how tour groups can most easily reach you is important to you as an individual business owner, even if only to provide directions and maps! But understanding the ‘network’ of other tourism oriented businesses and groups in your region will help you identify those to align with, so you can target communication with those travelers most effectively and inexpensively. Easy access to regional attractions and the support activities around it, as well as a region’s access to ports, airports and major highways can be leveraged to develop new opportunities for a region and its rural communities.
(3) Market The Rural Experience
More than ever, tourists are choosing where to visit based on the experiences they believe they will have, and NOT the destination itself. In fact, the number of travelers who value ‘experience seeking’ in their vacations is estimated to be seventy-five percent (75%).
As we all know, what rural America certainly can offer travelers are memorable experiences, so it seems we have what the majority of tourists want! We need to help our visitors better understand the experiences available to them, so they can select the experiences they would enjoy most. And if we understand better what they’re looking for, we can create rural experiences that better provide what our visitors need and want.
Helping tourists find their way around the back roads of a rural community is one strategy. Helping rural business owners figure out what to do once the tourists visit them is another.
Learning how to describe and market the experiences that visitors can enjoy when they visit rural America is our ultimate challenge.
It’s easy for any of us to take for granted what we have to offer to those who visit our rural communities on vacation. Each Summer I am reminded just how jaded I’ve become, and how I underestimate the power of each and every mile of a trip.
But then every time a child excitedly tells me about seeing their first cow, or when another child won’t get out of the car for fear of the golden retriever with the wagging tail on our front porch, I am reminded of how important the most simple rural experiences can be.