Top tourism businesses from across the South West came together at the Eden Project this month to discuss the current state of tourism marketing and possible future opportunities for growth.
The event, the South West Tourism Growth Fund conference, included sessions run by top speakers and tourism leaders including travel writer Simon Calder, speaker Geoff Ramm and Visit England’s Chris Foy.
I was lucky enough to attend the event and came away inspired with new ideas – and I know I wasn’t the only one – so if you didn’t make the conference, or even if you did, here is a round-up of the best bits and a few lessons to consider when marketing your tourism business.
Malcolm Bell, Visit Cornwall
Malcolm Bell from Visit Cornwall introduced their current international marketing campaign which is targeting the United States, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands and Ireland. Key themes of the campaign include:
Is your business capitalising on this international marketing? Is your website designed to cater to visitors from abroad? You could look at offering information about your business in other languages, or adding specific sections to your website that cater to tourists from different countries.
The key themes of the campaign also offer opportunities for tourism businesses who could provide articles on their own websites that link with these – eg. A guide to Cornwall’s top Summer festivals
Travel writer, Simon Calder
Relaxed, charismatic and informative, Simon Calder was the highlight of the morning session, opening with a summary of the current UK tourism market before suggesting possible opportunities for South West businesses.
The state of the UK travel market
Did you know that London accounts for more than 50% of all tourism stay and spend in the UK? Me neither. Calder believes this is due to the strong air travel provision in London, where 180 million people fly in and out every year. Do they ever make it to Newquay Cornwall? Or Exeter? Doubtful.
The international market was also on the agenda with a rundown of the current challenges in Europe – the Paris attacks, terrorism in Turkey, the migrant crisis and shootings in Brussels.
These events are changing our behaviour, but 68-70 million people will still holiday in Spain this year as it provides the climate and perceived safety.
The changing face of competition
Calder bravely mentioned AirBnB (which has been blamed for putting many traditional B&Bs and lodges out of business) and travel portals Booking.com and Hotels.com (a groan from the room at this point….), which take a significant amount of profit away from accommodation providers in commission.
But Calder thinks parts of the industry are fighting back, with some offering creative incentives to guests for booking direct rather than through a third party site: “Book with us direct and get a free breakfast and use of a bike during your stay”.
What marketing works?
Calder recalled a conversation he’d had with Lonely Planet founder, Tony Wheeler the previous evening: “He asked me what should I do in Panama? because he knew I’d been there and would have some suggestions”.
Speaker and audience noted the irony of asking Calder’s opinion rather than buying a Lonely Planet Guide…
Calder had travelled to the Eden Project that morning by bike along the South West Coast Path from St Austell.
“It’s arguable the best known coast path in Europe but I find it a bit daunting. It’s absolutely lovely but I feel guilty that I’m not doing all of it.”
A well-informed delegate (or someone with Google open on their phone…) shared that the South West Coast path is 630 miles long – wow. Not something to whip around in a weekend…. and this was Calder’s point.
If it’s not easy to complete the whole thing, who’s going to travel to Cornwall to walk and cycle the coastal path for fun? Very few – unless it’s a fund-raising event being followed by a TV crew and a charity Twitter hashtag.
Instead, Calder suggested Cornwall needs to unite to offer something collective, just like tourism businesses have in Scotland with their North Coast 500 road – this circular route takes in some of Scotland’s most remote and beautiful scenery, and is marketed as a package to cover in 3-4 days.
“The Clay Trails are a great thing if you’re on your 47th visit to Cornwall – absolutely fascinating – but it’s not Route 66,” he joked.
What could Cornwall offer as an equivalent?
Calder suggests ‘Love 30′, a trip which takes in the sights, sounds, attractions and scenery of the A30 from the Devon border to Lands’ End – by lunchtime someone in the audience had already set-up @Love_The_A30 on Twitter and someone else had purchased the domain… can’t say no-one was listening!
Case studies & inspiration
Prior to his talk, Calder had done his homework. He shared some of the county’s tourism companies’ websites, including Watergate Bay, whose swim clinic was highlighted as a great ‘product’ for guests.
‘Meet Devon’ was also mentioned, particularly for its “Where is Devon?” page on the website, which is answering a commonly Googled question (no, seriously).
Another ‘experience’ highlighted by Calder was the Seafood Restaurant’s Cook & Stay break, which includes an overnight stay and breakfast followed by a one-day course at Padstow Seafood School.
Rail Holiday in Devon was also singled out as an attractive alternative to tourists looking for something a little bit different and Calder thinks more of us are looking for this –
“When I’m planning a trip, I want somebody to help me, to connect all the different experiences, curating them for me,” he said.
In the closing section of his talk, I asked Simon Calder for his thoughts on social media – are people using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest to choose their holidays?
“Social media is very difficult to control – there are a number of people whose opinions I trust online but face to face in the pub is the most powerful thing for me. I think people are using social media as a research tool rather than a definitive guide.”
What incentives could you offer to encourage people to book direct with you rather than through a third party site such as Booking.com? Give people a benefit of booking with you direct to challenge the portal sites’ increasing dominance in the market place.
Peer recommendations matter, and not just on TripAdvisor – we also talk to friends and family about their suggestions for holiday destinations, restaurants and activities, so make it easy for guests to share on social media by providing wifi and of course, an exceptional experience.
Know your customers’ frequently asked questions and provide answers on your website. You might assume everyone knows where Devon is, but if Google’s keyword tool tells you otherwise, you might benefit from providing this information somewhere obvious on your website.
What experiences could you offer at your tourism business?
You don’t need to offer it all yourself but could instead partner with another local company, offering sea kayaking, cookery classes, foraging walks, spa treatments – get creative and offer your guests a fully managed experience that they’ll remember forever (and share online with their friends!).
Matthew Thomson, Fifteen Cornwall
Taking the tricky spot between the keynote speaker and the coffee break, Thomson did a great job of engaging the audience by opening with some attention-grabbing statistics.
According to Visit Cornwall, although Cornwall experienced 14% more sunshine and 20% less rainfall in 2015, the percentage of visitors who would definitely recommend Cornwall was down in the same year from 88% to 82%.
Argh! Why? Thomson suggests it’s down to how customers are treated when staying in the county – he highlighted the commonly-held perception that there is a little professional development in the hospitality sector, and low rates of pay, which in turn provide a poor customer experience.
“Significant wage increases brought about by the living wage will mean companies will skimp on training.” he said.
And this, Thomson argues, is a big mistake. He shared the story of a waitress at Fifteen who had received training as a sommelier and who then doubled spend on wine in the restaurant because of her knowledge and skills.
“The profits from those increased wine sales easily covered the cost of the training and the increased wages.” he explained.
Are you getting the most out of your staff? Are they motivated and inspired to deliver an outstanding experience for your guests? It’s not just training in customer service that can help – additional professional development in areas that will enhance guests’ stays could also make a different.
Chris Foy, Visit England
Do you know what Visit England is doing to promote the UK abroad? Quite a lot if Chris Foy’s talk is anything to go by – he shared some visuals of international campaigns which are targeting very specific segments (including Silver Stylers in Australia!) all over the world.
Take a look at the Visit England toolkit for tourism businesses, which offers advice and resources on everything from accessing funding and developing your team to promoting your business and gaining quality marks.
Geoff Ramm, OMG Marketing
Opening with a dramatic video of the 1980s advert for Cadbury’s Milk Tray, followed by a story about his lifelong ambition to become the legendary Milk Tray man, the audience warmed to Geoff Ramm right away.
(The fact that he got through to the third round of the recent auditions for a new Milk Tray Man before receiving his rejection letter (stifled sob) made us love him even more).
But this story wasn’t just a crowd-pleaser – it was a fantastic example of exceptional advertising by Cadbury’s – what other chocolate ad of the 80s featured a hero leaping through the air, skiing down snow-covered mountains, and abseiling down buildings?
Ramm defines this as an OMG moment – an Observational Marketing Great.
Ramm’s whole talk focused on encouraging us to look out for these moments in our everyday lives – what marketing messages really resonate with you and why? What promotional emails do you open and why? What billboards catch your eye as you’re driving? What junk mail makes you want to read them rather than throwing them straight in the recycling?
Ramm’s fabulous stories had the audience gripped – his photo of the Dinosaurs Unleashed event at the Eden Project showed his two-year-old’s delight at the animatronic beast roaming the biomes.
And he wasn’t alone – this event generated tonnes of photos and videos on social media, and it’s these moments that families remember and talk about.
Another example of an OMG moment Ramm shared was of a hotel room in Malta – he’d arrived in the dark and was told he had the ‘music room’. Being tired he didn’t think much about this title but in the morning he had the opportunity to have a proper look around, when he discovered black and white photos of musicians and bands covering the walls, and a glass table with a drum kit built into it!
Ramm went on to encourage delegates to keep a watchful eye on possible PR opportunities. He gave the example of a B&Q “leaked” memo which asked staff to familiarise themselves with 50 Shades of Grey and stock up on bondage supplies including cable ties and rope – seriously?
This turned out to be a hoax, capitalising on the buzz around the best-selling book, but it generated thousands of pounds of publicity for the retailer.
One of the best stories Ramm shared during his talk was of a visit to Hamley’s Toy Store in London. He describes the scene – a member of Hamley’s staff doing a painting demo for the assembled crowd of parents and children before inviting them to purchase the (very expensive) painting set. Hesitant to spend the money, Ramm hung back but was approached by a member of the sales team:
“Is this for anybody special?” was her opening line.
He was hooked. Of course it was! It was for his daughter Grace’s birthday, but he’d already bought her a present and she didn’t really need it…
Not a problem – the eager member of staff painted a quick picture of a rainbow and a butterfly using the painting set before adding Grace’s name with a flourish: “Give this to Grace from me for her birthday.”
Of course he bought a set – and she’s used it twice.
But the member of staff secured the sale through personalisation – finding out the potential recipient’s name and making it near impossible not to buy.
The final part of Ramm’s talk focused on the importance of video in your marketing – a potential customer is fair more likely to book with you if they can see your face, hear your voice, see where you are, and relate to what you’re saying.
How could you delight your guests? What experiences could you introduce that they can’t wait to share with their friends and family online? Visual props work well as people share photos of them online.
Consider introducing themed rooms – The Lego Friends room at the Legoland Windsor Resort Hotel costs £481 a night for two adults and one child in April, while the same night in a Holiday Inn just 8 miles from the resort is £175. That’s quite a difference but families will pay it to get the whole ‘Lego experience’ during their stay.
Follow the media to keep track of big launches, national days and other events that you could tie in with. I share monthly marketing themes each month here on the Perfect Balance Marketing blog so subscribe below to get a whole bunch of ideas delivered by email every month:
Use personalisation in your marketing wherever possible – when responding to enquiries, sending quotes, posting brochures – always personalise the response so it’s tailored to your audience.
Use video testimonials on your marketing – get a wide range from guests so you can send links out to enquirers and share them on your website and people will relate to at least one.
The South West Tourism Growth Fund Conference Cornwall was packed with useful information, inspirational speakers and creative ideas – my only criticism is that there wasn’t enough time to network! Having all those tourism businesses in one room was a real opportunity to talk to them and find out their biggest marketing challenges right now but the packed programme meant less time for talking.
Can’t complain though – fab day.
I hope you’ve taken something from my outline above – find out more and get the presentations from the event here.
Did you attend the event? What were your highlights? Share in the comments below.