+Taking a trip

Robert Chalk, Managing Director of Chalk + Ward, continues his series of marketing insights by looking at one of Devon’s most important economies – travel and tourism – and how the local industry is full of new opportunities for forward-thinking businesses

Summer always gives me an opportunity to reflect on how fortunate we are to be situated in the heart of such a beautiful city like Exeter. When you actually stop to think about the thousands of tourists who visit this part of the world every year, you realise that we are very lucky to call this place home.

When we suffer a few days of rain we immediately write the summer off, yet it never deters people from visiting. In fact, data from Visit Britain shows that the South West enjoyed an increase in visitor numbers in the first quarter of this year, whilst the UK itself is enjoying record tourism numbers in 2017.

Opportunity can always be found in unusual places. Whilst the muddied waters of Brexit unfolded, the value of the pound dropped. For the tourism industry this presented a great opportunity; a weaker pound meant not only more inbound international tourism but more domestic ‘staycations’ too.

Here in Devon, tourism forms a huge part of our economy. It’s our lifeblood. But with so much to do, with so many options for tourists, it’s essential that businesses in the travel and tourism industry capitalise on the new opportunities to engage with a growing audience.

We always talk about the family driving down the M5 for their summer holiday. Before, the kids would be in the back playing I-Spy and asking “Are we there yet?” with infuriating persistence. Now, they’re silently (or maybe not so silently) playing on their tablet, with access to a world of information at their fingertips. And if they aren’t looking for things to do, then the parents most definitely are.

Think about it this way. On average, children start using a tablet at just two years old. 81% of all adults in the UK use a smartphone. As a country, we look at our screens over a billion times… per day. Every single day, just looking for something to engage with.

Until now, tourism destinations have perhaps focused more on traditional media spend, only dipping their toes into the digital world here and there without a clear strategy or purpose. Today, there’s a danger that those who don’t embrace digital will be left behind, whilst the forward thinking businesses reap the rewards of engaging with a captive audience.

There will always be a place for traditional media spend but, put simply, it isn’t where a decision gets made. It might be the start of a customer’s journey but it is your online reputation – your website, your visibility in search, your social presence and your reviews – that will make the decision for them.

If you aren’t a part of that conversation, then you’ve just missed out on the biggest opportunity you have to gain a new audience. These people are waiting to give you their business – you just need to give them a good reason to walk through the door.

We recently spoke about the changing nature of influence; how third-party endorsement is now more influential and prevalent than ever before. That’s why a business’ online reputation and brand is so important. The businesses that thrive are those that build a community of engaged customers, who value their feedback and create a dialogue with them.
That can be a hard task when you’re juggling the day-to-day reality of marketing a tourist destination – managing the fluctuation in guests or organising a year-round calendar of events. However, in a digital world where authenticity is king, creating a community of followers could be the most valuable marketing tool that you have.
It’s more than a just website. It’s more than a high page ranking. It’s more than a great Instagram feed. Yes, they’re all important parts of managing your online presence, but it is the strategy that makes the difference. To recognise what your customers actually want from their online experience and then deliver on it, adapting to change and innovation as they do.
Like I said, we’re lucky to live here in Devon. There’s no shortage of places to see and things to do.

For tourism, that’s a double-edged sword. Because if you can’t convince someone your destination is worth visiting, then you can be sure they’ll easily find somewhere else to go instead.

If you’re ready to be challenged, contact us today.

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