January 6, 2024

Small towns and rural communities have so many opportunities to expand tourism, especially in view of the 2024 tourism trends that all point to success in attracting more visitors.  A question we’re often asked- where do we start?

Having begun this process with many communities, we’re going to go against prevailing advice.  Don’t start with a huge process to develop a community vision and get lots of people involved.  That will come later.  Starting with a complex visioning process can create lots of expectations, some of which may or may not be possible when the vision comes up against reality.

Start instead with a small team willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work of creating a comprehensive inventory of what is available to promote. Be thorough, because that information informs new experiences that can be created and the visitor markets that will be attracted. That should be coupled with a capacity assessment to determine the ability of the community to handle more visitors. Armed with even just those two studies, you will have a much better idea of the level of new visitors that ca be served and what they can be offered.

From there, completing an assessment of competing communities in the area answers the question of why visitors would go to their communities instead of yours. Plus, if you can field a first impressions process who will view the community through unfamiliar eyes provides information about how the community will appear to new visitors.  A profile of current visitors is also important to understand who the community is attracting now. Knowing their demographics, psychographics and other descriptors will enable understanding of the current positioning in the minds of visitors.

A last assessment that has proven very helpful are “Listen to Learn” interviews, with the purpose of really listening.  They provide information about ideas that suppliers and community officials have considered and the barriers they see hampering efforts to attract more visitors.   Some of best ideas of how to proceed to attract more visitors have come from these conversations.

Having all of the above information in hand when you do engage the community to create a vision, will get the process off on a much better foot.  Then the vision won’t be pie in the sky.  Instead, it will be a realistic, achievable vision that can be the subject of an agile plan to make it happen.  Start by defining the purpose of the tourism effort and articulate the mission, how you are going to go about implementing the purpose. A strategy with target markets comes next, along with defining the values that will guide the work, the goals to be achieved and the positioning that will establish the impression in the minds of visitors that you are looking for.

Folding it all into a plan creates a road map to success.