Here's our second edition of our Tourism Success Q&A. I'm excited for this becoming a regular feature on our blog and newsletter. Make sure you don't miss out on great tips and advice by signing up for our newsletter!
I live and teach in Bend, Oregon, where we have a very big shoulder season. With 9 months of a shoulder season, I have challenged my students (I work in Oregon State University) to look at other areas in a similar situation. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
I've spent the last 3 hours planning a trip to Bend. I can't believe how much of a gem it is. Bend also reminded me of Interlaken and the Jungfrau region, where TrekkSoft is based.
I don't think the problem in Bend is the shoulder season as it seems that there's something to do all year round. Whether it's hiking or kayaking in the summer, or skiing or snowshoeing in the winter, there seems to be a lot for people to get up to.
Therefore, I'm going to assume that the question is for tour or activity operators who mainly work in the summer months. From what I've found out about Bend, it seems like the summers are short and the winters are wonderful (if you like snow sports).
I'd like to tackle this question then, from three perspectives - as a destination, as a network of operators and as an individual tour or activity provider.
As a destination
As a whole, I think Bend needs to strengthen its marketing message. What do you want the world to think about when they think about Bend? How will Bend differentiate itself from other towns within Oregon?
I think the efforts to market Bend as an outdoor destination are good, but a stronger emphasis on the type of outdoor adventures available would give the destination the boost it needs to attract visitors. Looking at Visit Bend's website, the homepage gives some indication that it's an outdoors-y destination, but doesn't really provide me with specific highlights of the region.
Do people come here to ski? Snowboard? Hike? Tackle the Ale Trail? Find artisanal vegan cheese? The problem here is that the site implies that Bend has all this to offer. While that might be true, it dilutes Bend's core marketing message. Just like how Interlaken tends to refer to itself as the "adventure capital of Europe", Bend could take a similar spin on things. I'd advise you to take a look at how Lapland markets themselves throughout the year.
I also noticed how Visit Bend is interested in the MICE sector, which could be a good or bad idea depending on how much energy and effort they're willing to put into growing in that area. Does the destination have the infrastructure to support large conferences and meetings? Are there enough transfer companies to shuttle people back and forth? How can tour and activity operators make the most from a large influx of people? Are there enough things to do for conference or event attendees to get up to at night? What else can the destination offer to get people to stay for an extra day or two?
Getting a realistic view of the town's capacity will greatly help with the marketing and outreach efforts to event organisers and hopefully, this will help you find events that are the right fit for Bend.
As a network of tour and activity operators
If Bend is anything like Interlaken, there are probably a few big players in the local tourism industry, quite a few small ones, and everyone knows each other. Why not leverage on these existing relationships and turn them into something a little more profitable?
What local suppliers can do is to partner up and cross-sell each others' services online. Here's an example:
Say Company Winter provides winter activities and Company Summer provides summer activities. Company Winter could create a section on their website that lets visitors learn more about the summer-y activities that happen in Bend, and also list trips their partners, like Company Summer, run. If a booking is made via the referral, Company Winter could get a nice referral commission while Company Summer gets as many advanced bookings as possible.
The techy side of this arrangement can be as simple or complicated as you like. Destinations like Interlaken and Fjord Norway connect their local suppliers with TrekkSoft's Partner Network, which you can look into if you like. Alternatively, you could embed tracking codes to your partner's website and tally up the bookings that come from these referrals each month. Operators could even partner up with local accommodation providers, popular event venues and so on.
When you look at it from a macroeconomic point of view, it becomes pretty clear how the entire destination can benefit from working together. Instead of competing with one another, operators can work together to grow the destination further.
Let’s play a fun game. Name this body of Central Oregon water. We’ll pick a random winner from everyone who gets it right tomorrow at noon to win $50 to @cruxfermentationproject for beers and food. Only one guess per person, but feel free to tag your friends to have them join in. Photo by @natewyeth || #visitbend
As a tour or activity business owner
I'll use the example of Santorini in Greece here. The destination has been typically known to be a summer hotspot but in recent years has managed to stay open and profitable all year round. What's the secret?
Innovation. Innovate like your life depends on it.
I like using the example of Greece because they looked at what they had, in terms of resources, culture, history, heritage; and figured out how to package it into a tour or activity that appealed to travellers from around the world.
The Bend Ale Trail is a good example of this. It's not bound to a particular season, it leverages on an existing local culture that tourists can also enjoy, and currently, there's a huge interest in craft beers.
Are there any other similar opportunities in Bend? As a tour or activity operator, what type of tourists do you encounter in your "off season"? If they come to ski, what else could you, a typical summer activity operator, offer them?
Just like how Rolls-Royce started off with cars and now supply engines to airplanes and generators to oil rigs, what are your core services that you can tweak and adapt to suit different climates and seasons?
I hope you find this answer a useful starting point for more discussions to come.
All the best,
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