Turn Your Destination into an Event for New Visitors

By Donnette Engebrecht
Project Supervisor

Tourist destinations face the ongoing challenge of driving visits. Something new—a restaurant, attraction or hotel—certainly can help keep a destination’s message fresh from year to year. But, what about seasons when there’s simply nothing new to talk about? How do you attract new visitors while keeping loyal guests returning year after year?

One solution may be the addition of an event or festival, something that adds a new element and, most importantly for marketers, something new to talk about.

Some destinations have built their tourism reputation on a single special event. For instance, think Kentucky Derby and Louisville; Rose Parade and Pasadena; and if you don’t get Indianapolis from the Indianapolis 500, well, you’re just not paying attention.

Events – Low Cost Options

Adding events doesn’t have to be expensive. While there are festivals that can cost millions to produce, others can have minimal start-up costs and still be highly marketable to new and existing audiences. The key to making a low-cost event successful could be as simple as finding one thing to focus on for your marketing message. Cornbread. Chili. A hometown hero. An historic event. Making that one special thing your target message to sell a new festival will bring in an initial audience that will help it grow from year to year.

Pike County, Kentucky, drew on its colorful history and created the Hatfield-McCoy Feud Driving Tour. The state also is home to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a guaranteed good time, whether or not you remember where you traveled to get to the trail’s end.

Consider Your Audience

Deciding on what your event will be is the next challenge. The most important thing is to know your audience. There is a plethora of subjects from which to choose, including festivals that celebrate food, history, music, nature. Storytelling, re-enactments, arts and crafts, the list is endless.

The key to selecting the right event is to understand your audience. Do you want to expand your current visitor base or do you want to attract new faces? This is a fine line to walk. You don’t want to turn off loyal visitors, but it’s important to introduce new elements that will built interest from a new audience.

Find a time of year when visitation tapers off. Chances are it slows because your current audience simply doesn’t travel at that time of year. This is the ideal opportunity to bring in something new, something unexpected that can be marketed to a niche audience, those who might not have considered visiting your destination.

Tie in Local Partners

Having cooperation from local businesses is vital in selling your destination to these new visitors. Individual businesses should find ways to connect themselves to the event, whether it’s a welcome message on a marquee, or discounts for rooms or meals. Support from the locals can go a long way in validating an event.

Timing is everything when marketing an event to your existing and potential customers. The key is giving people enough time to plan their visit. Start your marketing campaign no later than a year out. Use what your budget allows—print, broadcast, web—to advertise the event in advance. Social media outlets should be used to promote your event and destination right up until opening day, and then encourage your visitors to post content from their visit by providing hashtags or perhaps a special photo-op location.

Whether your event is expensive or its cost is minimal, whether it’s planned for the long run or a limited edition, the addition of a new and interesting reason to visit is a great way to add new faces to your crowd.

Li Brown