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    Think of your favorite destination downtowns. What do they have in common? see more

    We call this the 7-8-7 rule because of the three most important statistics that make a downtown a successful and vibrant destination. Think of your favorite destination downtowns. Are they beautiful? Do they feel safe? Are there things to do after 6:00 pm?

    1. 70% of first-time sales at restaurants, retail shops, lodging facilities, and attractions can come from curb appeal. Travelers often use these phrases: “That looks like a nice place to eat.” or “That looks like a nice place to stay.” Virtually every person on the planet has said those words at least once, if not dozens of times. You can spend millions of dollars marketing a town or downtown, and none of that will make me—the visitor—walk through your shop’s door. You, the merchant, must do that. Beautification, or curb appeal, will always be an investment with a tremendous return.

    2. Women account for 80% of all consumer spending. Yes, it’s true. I use this statistic a lot in speaking engagements, and I always pause to hear the audience reaction, which ranges from “You go girl!” spoken by women, to “That’s all?” from the guys. Women will spend more money in places that look inviting, are clean, and feel safe. If you cater to women you will ultimately win the entire family’s business. Women also account for 70% of all travel decisions including places to stay and eat, and “must see” attractions.

    3. 70% of all consumer retail spending takes place after 6:00 pm. Are you open? This is one of the reasons downtowns are dying – they’re not competing with malls’ later hours. In the 60s, stores typically closed at 6:00 pm, 5:00 on Saturdays, and were closed on Sundays. In the 70s malls were open until 8:00 or 9:00 pm, but still closed at 6:00 on Saturdays and were open from noon to 5:00 on Sundays. Fast forward to today, and you’ll find just about every successful mall opening at 10:00 and staying open until 9:00 (or later) seven days a week. Meanwhile, traditional downtowns are stuck in the 1960s, and most are dying.

    While we are moving to the European standard of dining and shopping later in the evenings, downtowns haven’t made the change at all.

    Let me know what changes you are making in your downtown!

  • What is the best term to use for outsiders who spend time in your community? see more

    When I go SCUBA diving in the Caribbean, I go as a tourist. Or is that as a visitor? Or traveler?

    The general public thinks a “tourist” is a leisure visitor. A “traveler” is thought to be somebody who is traveling – sometimes to other dimensions and periods of time. And a “visitor” is someone from out of town.

    But the terminology is not always clear, and at times, can be downright confusing.

    When I go on vacation to some far away destination, like diving along the shores of Bonaire in the Netherland Antilles, I’m obviously a tourist. But if I travel to beautiful Mackinac Island (pronounced Mack-in-awe) – which I highly recommend, by the way – I would probably be referred to as a ‘fudgie’, an endearing term for visitors who buy tons of fudge from the dozen or so shops located in the island’s downtown core.

    Back home, when I talk about the industry, it’s referred to as the “travel industry.” But when I speak about tourists, I use the word visitor. See how confusing things can get?

    The top three reasons for travel include (and this is in order of why people travel):

    1. Visiting friends and/or family
    2. For business
    3. As a leisure visitor/vacationer

    The word “visitor” easily encompasses all three categories without people thinking that “tourists” are only leisure visitors. In reality, anyone traveling 50 miles or further from their home and spending time in your community is technically a tourist. A visitor, in contrast, would include people from other communities perhaps just 25 miles away; the “out-of-towners.” Both are important, because when any of these folks spend money in your community, it’s a good thing!

    Since tourism is about importing new cash into your community, offsetting the export of locally earned money spent elsewhere, you want as many “out-of-towners,” or “visitors” as you can possibly get to spend time and money in your downtown, at your attractions, and with your complementary activities (I’ll explain “complementary activities” in my next blog).

    Since I’m on the road about 250 days a year, I could be termed a professional tourist. Yet I don’t really feel like a tourist because I’m working in your communities as a visitor. That term, visitor, just seems to fit all occasions and uses.

    And by the way, locals often discover the place they live as a tourist. But once they become a resident, they want no more tourism. “Visitors” are always welcome, even if “tourists” are not. Using the term “visitor” is often a softer and more effective way to sell the tourism industry to locals.

    Happy travels all you visitors!


  • Do you market your location or the experience your location offers? see more

    The Internet has changed the world. These days if we want a horseback riding experience in Northern Texas, we’ll Google “horseback rides + ‘Northern Texas,’” and within a third of a second we’ll get 74,000 responses. People now search for the experience first, and the general location second.

    If we’re visiting Vancouver, British Columbia we might search for:

    • Best restaurants, downtown Vancouver
    • Greek restaurants, North Vancouver, BC
    • Job opportunities, southern BC
    • Downhill skiing, British Columbia
    • Ferry schedule, Vancouver to Victoria BC
    • Things to do, Victoria, BC
    • Wildlife viewing, British Columbia
    • Apartment rentals, Langley, BC
    • “Best hiking trails” + “Canadian Rockies”

    To be successful, you must market the experience first, and THEN your location. But the key is to make sure the experiences you’re promoting differentiate you from everyone else in your market. Every place has “outdoor recreation” and “unique shops and restaurants.”

    Have you ever gone anywhere because it was a county? And yet, county-wide marketing usually promotes the fact that they are a county, before they ever give you a reason to want to visit.

    To win you must answer this one question: What do you have that the people you are hoping to attract can’t get or do closer to home? Whatever it is, you need to hang your hat on that. You simply can’t be “all things to all people” and win in this new age of branding.

    The surefire way to kill your marketing effectiveness is marketing your downtown, town, city, county or region - your geographic location - BEFORE experiences, the things to do that make you worth a special trip, even if it’s just a ten minute drive to your downtown from the suburbs.

    So QUIT marketing your location first.  And quit marketing your organization—it should be the very last item in any ad or website. Visitors (even local residents) don’t care about the actual organization when they are trying to find things to do, places to eat, and places to stay. Sell the experience first, and then the location.


    1. Google your community name. I’ll bet you’re right at the top of the list.

    2. Now Google your top activity. If you’re an equestrian destination search for “horseback trails” and then the general area “Western Washington.” Do you show up? If not, you have some work to do. Try another primary activity such as “Micro-brew” and “Metroplex” (the Dallas/Fort Worth area and a dozen other communities). Does your website show up on the first page of search results? Try some others as well.

    Fact: 86% of search engine users never go past the second page of search results. Do you?

    3. Look at your introductory text. Does it mention the one, two, or three best activities that really set you apart and make you worth a special trip? This is where search engines get their keywords – that opening paragraph.

    4. Rewrite your introductory text to promote the top one, two or three things that really set you apart. Then reread the previous two articles to make sure you’re complying with those rules. Then post it on your home page.

    5. Consider purchasing a “pay per click” program through Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines. If you have to buy your way onto the first page, then do it until the search engines pick up those key words. No one is going to find you if they look for “horseback riding, western Washington” and you’re listed on the 64th page of search results!

  • Here areĀ four things to considerĀ before you spend big resources on your visitor information center. see more

    Does your community sport a fancy visitor information center? Are you thinking about remodeling, revamping, or rebuilding yours? Here are four things to consider before you spend big resources on your visitor information center.

    1. With the abundance of cell phones, smart phones, tablets, and mobile computing, visitor centers are becoming less relevant. People can do so much of their planning and research online and stay connected even when they’re away from home. There is less of a need for a physical building with staff for people to get information;  it is all at the tip of their fingers wherever they are.

    2. Add up all the costs of your VIC, including staffing, insurance, taxes, rent, Internet access, utilities, supplies, everything. Then divide by the number of visitors that use the center. In many cases, about half the people using the VIC are locals using it to get information about other areas. Eliminate this group and then calculate your cost per visitor. Chances are pretty good that the cost far outweighs the benefit.

    3. However, there is still a need for visitor information services! There are other ways to keep information available and easy to access for visitors, while freeing up funds and resources for other things. Visitor information can be available in a retail store or in kiosks. Check out the portable, seasonal kiosks used in Banff – they can use these during the summer and store them in the winter.

































    4. Definitely utilize visitor information kiosks, whether permanent or seasonal. These can include brochure distribution and QR codes. These should be in various locations, and ALWAYS in the heart of the spending district(s).

    Bottom line? Invest your money where you will get the most return on that investment. In most cases, that will be in product development, rather than visitor information centers. Make your community stand out and deliver on the promise of your brand – that will do more to encourage visitors and spending than any visitor information center could.