Area Tourism Marketing
THE ROLE OF VISITORS BUREAUS IN AREA TOURISM
We have been building area tourism websites since 2002. This is something that we experiment with and think about a lot. For many years we attended tourism conventions and trade shows, and as we travel around, we always study the visitors bureau websites and check out the brick and mortar visitors centers across the USA.
Most people don’t really think about area tourism, but it is a HUGE quasi-governmental industry that spends A TON of money. Every Country, State, City, and County has a tourism bureau. When you stay at a Hotel, cabin rental, Bed & Breakfast, etc. you pay a bed tax AND a sales tax AND often a county tax. Much of this tax money goes to the visitors bureaus. You usually don’t stay in a hotel where you live, so for the locality, bed tax is “outsiders’ money”. Most people don’t consider what happens with this money.
MARKETING BEFORE THE INTERNET
Before the Internet, the way tourism marketing worked was that the businesses would have printed brochures they placed in the city and county visitors centers. When you went to a new city you would go to the visitors center and browse the brochures to learn about what there was to do nearby. The visitors bureaus were essentially specialized AD agencies.
Visitors Bureaus make a percentage of the revenue in lodging stays. If you are a big city or have a major college in your area then 5% of all lodging revenue is A LOT of money. Millions get spent just to market an area.
How are people planning their trips online? The answer is that this is always changing.
TOURISTS NOW RESEARCH ONLINE
Increasingly people just look on their phones for information. Visitors Bureaus try to market online, but it isn’t their focus. They don’t necessarily have to spend their money effectively, they just have to keep their Board of Directors happy that they are doing something to market their area.
Visitors Bureaus still spend loads of money printing brochures about the area, stocking them in rest areas, and handing them out in booths at travel-related trade shows. However, the popularity of these trade shows is waning drastically. Plus, those that do attend trade shows to find out about places to go and things to do generally don’t book at the show anymore – they go home and do more research online before making any buying/booking decisions.
Currently every visitors bureau has a website, and on that website is a list of their area businesses that are categorized somehow. The problem is that Google, Tripadvisor, Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare, etc. do that already, and they do it much better! Right now, if people want to go somewhere they are searching up info online, reading reviews on social media, or asking people on Facebook and Twitter.
BUILDING THE IDEAL AREA TOURISM WEBSITE
How would you build the perfect area tourism guide? This may sound simple, but it isn’t. For 20 years we have been working to figure this out by building websites then analyzing how effective they are compared to others.
The reason we are obsessed with Area Tourism websites is that there are a bunch of major attractions that are big enough to cross state and county boundaries. However, the money to market these places gets spent on the city, county, and state level.
For instance, Dale Hollow Lake crosses multiple counties in Kentucky AND Tennessee. But, if you go to any of the county or state websites then all they promote is their section of the lake. People just want to go to the lake, though, and they do not care about which state or county it is in. So, the best area tourism website should market the entire area, not just a portion of it.