Marketing how-to – Using tourism and bus tours to grow your business

Marketing a service or product unique to your region? You’re business might want to move into the tourism game.

Whether it’s an incentive trip to reward advertisers or customers for their loyalty, or a guided tour to show the history of your product, small businesses can find support for tourism initiatives from a variety of sources.

The first step is to develop a solid marketing plan to help explore tourism-related activities and how they might fit within your business goals, says Marty Eberth, director of industry relations at Travel Alberta.

Exploring the explorers

“Sometimes smaller businesses will focus on what works for them,’ says Eberth. “It’s tougher for them to turn it around and say, ‘what can I do that would really be of interest to the traveler?’”

To help business owners find that x-factor, she recommends the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC)’s new Explorer Quotient (EQ), a proprietary tool that helps companies build tours for their target audiences, while also enabling them to meet their own business objectives.

Available online at the CTC website, EQ divides tourists and travelers into nine categories — including free spirits, no-hassle travelers, and even virtual travelers — and offers a variety of practical tips for small and medium-sized businesses to attract each. For example, “cultural explorers” and “authentic experiencers” are interested in understanding the people and places they visit. These travelers might be interested in “Get Outta’ Town” tours offered by Lethbridge’s Galt Museum, which bring tourists to Hutterite communities and sites of historical disasters in southern Alberta. They may also appreciate motor coach tours to Illes de la Madeleine, offered by tour companies such as Hanover Holiday Tours Ltd. Run by Jim Diebel of Hanover, ON, about 180 km northwest of Toronto, the tours are led by guides trained to give in depth, interactive talks covering the culture and history of the area.

“It’s not the same motor coach tour that your parents went on,” Diebel says.

He spends time talking to customers before and after tours, and also asks them to fill out comment forms, then uses their feedback to keep his company’s offering relevant.

“I think at the end of the day, success comes down to really understanding what the traveler is looking for,” adds Eberth.

Attracting attention in the marketplace

The small business owner needs to remember that travelers look for a total experience — one including transportation, lodging, and attractions, Eberth says. Even if they’re traveling to Canada because of a specific event, such as a concert or convention, most tourists will look for additional attractions to fill each day of their visit.

So, if business owners have a product, event or attraction that might be of interest to an existing tour or travel initiative, they need to get the attention of tour operators like Diebel. But breaking in isn’t always easy — when Diebel’s looking for new attractions to offer, he generally sticks to the suppliers with whom he already has a relationship.

“We’ll deliver to them 40 or 50 people at a time, and we have to have faith that they are going to deliver the services and amenities that they’ve promised us,” he says.

Still, there are ways to attract the interest of tour operators. One of the best methods, says Eberth, is to network with other businesses, business groups, and “destination marketing” organizations. This can help a small business determine what other attractions are in their surrounding area, and how to best partner with others to meet the needs of travelers.

Uniquely Canadian Highlights

Local, national, and international conventions and trade markets help bring tour operators and business owners together. International touring companies also search for regional Canadian destinations at such events, says Kevin Desjardins, Vice President, Strategy and Public Affairs at the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.

Attending national events, such as Rendez-vous Canada, the CTC’s key marketing and sales event, is useful for making connections. Regional marketplaces, such as the Canada West Marketplace for Alberta and BC businesses, offer the opportunity to meet face-to-face with tour companies looking to add new choices to their itineraries.

“I think the international traveler is looking for something unique and authentically Canadian,” says Desjardins.

A business highlighting those aspects will increase its chance of success.

“Any time we can start to provide more choices for travelers, it creates more reasons for people to choose Canada,” says Eberth. That way, she adds, “everyone wins.”