[Our friend Deb Brown wrote up some terrific notes on attracting group tours to small towns, and she was kind enough to share them with us. -Becky]
By Deb Brown
Last week I went to the Central Iowa Tourism Quarterly Meeting. The first part of the day was Creating Pop Off the Page Itineraries. There was a panel of experts who talked about the kind of itineraries that group tour planners were looking for. A couple of Iowa communities were represented and talked about what they’ve done to attract tourists and travelers to their areas.
|What’s your Municipal Band?
NWOSU Alumni Band in Alva, Oklahoma
It got me to thinking. What can small towns do to create a buzz and make tourists want to visit? Most home town people take for granted the things they have. Doesn’t everyone have a Carnegie Library? Doesn’t the Municipal Band play in the summer where you live? Who doesn’t have old historical sites? Why would anyone want to come here?
The first and often repeated thing that stuck out for me was – figure out what you do have. Yes, there are a lot of Municipal Bands in Iowa. Ours plays in a Band Shell newly restored with over $108,000 raised in a grass roots campaign. Ours is also the 2nd oldest in the state.
No, everyone does not have a Carnegie Library! 99 communities in Iowa accepted money from Andrew Carnegie to build libraries. Only 49 of those are still used as a library. The one in Hampton is in remarkable shape and still a beautiful building.
Of course Iowa has historical sites. But do they have the first REA plant built in Iowa that supported the rural farmers? Do they have a tour guide that played there as a child and got to run the machinery once and awhile? Do they one of the few historic stone houses in the state (and the first built in the county) that are still standing and usable? Do they have the Harriman Nielsen Historic Farm – where letters written back and forth to Denmark during the 1900’s still exist and tell the story of the Danish immigrant? Where all the items still in the house came from the family that lived there all those years? Do they have the FIRST G.A.R. Memorial Hall built in the state of Iowa and now only one of 7 halls still left in Iowa?
Next, we were told to think unique. Name the thing you offer by the trip, not by the town name. So don’t say Hampton’s Historical Tour. Try Memories of the Civil War Started Here Tour. Don’t say REA Plant Tour, try Electricity for Farmers – First in the U.S. tour. You’re getting my drift, right?
Avoid the hokey – or embrace it. You’re going to find stops on a tour that are just plain hokey. There are plenty of red neck restaurants, fishing folly fun and ridge runner gas stations. How many trinkets can you take home to people that have no need or desire for them? Now – if you really do have the best pecan pie in the world baked by grandma, embrace it. Have some post cards made of grandma baking pies; sell a few pie tins with grandma’s picture, a recipe and the name of the town in it.
Make your visitors feel special. Most small towns know how to do this. However, if perhaps the local visitor’s bureau could share the news with the chamber that a group is coming in; and then the chamber can spread the word around town. By the time the group arrives, people will greet them on the street, acknowledge them in the restaurants and at tourist sites, have coupons for them to use on their visit – make them feel welcome.
Do something different. Why not create a tour of the local John Deere dealership? Let city folk climb up on the tractors, ride on a piece of equipment? Let the people who work there talk about the busy season and what they do during that time. Find a local farmer willing to take people out and show them his goats, chickens and pigs. Feed them fresh, farm grown food. We take all of these things for granted – and there’s a big travel market in it!
Work together as a community. Hotel/motel taxes make a lot of things possible in communities. Heads on beds create revenue and jobs. Why not involve the community in the planning for ideas of things to do? Why not help promote the ideas they come up with? Explain and educate and involve.
We’d like to hear what you’re doing in your town. Why would I want to visit you?
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