Devising a workable tourism business plan is essential to bringing visitors to your destination. To create an effective business plan, you’ll need to identify your product and audience, formulate a budget, create a brand to advertise and promote your product, and then choose the most effective marketing vehicles for your community, attraction or venue for attracting tourism dollars.
Before you can decide how to market your community, you have to fully identify the product and all its components you have to sell. Divide your community’s attractions into niches: nature, sports, history, shopping, arts and so on. This will help you decide later in the marketing process how you want to target your message to your audience. Your product will also help in the development of your brand and ad campaign, whether the campaign is focused on your community's nature, history, arts, technology or something else.
The audience to which you’ll be selling your tourism product will drive the marketing ideas and business plan you develop. If your community’s attractions are mostly family-oriented places like theme parks, sports facilities, water parks and zoos, your audience would be families with children or grandchildren. You’ll need to create a different business plan if your community’s attractions, such as golf courses, museums and dinner theater, are geared toward a more adult audience.
Corporate visitors differ greatly from leisure tourists in that communities rich in conference facilities and other meeting venues, malls and restaurants are great draws to them, while they often don't care much about family-friendly attractions. Developing a business plan to attract this audience will help infuse your community with important weekday tourism dollars.
Tourism budgets are set up differently depending on who handles the tourism duties. Your tourism business plan may be for an attraction itself. Or the plan may be for a community whose tourism services operate through a convention and visitors bureau, a chamber of commerce or as part of a city’s communications office.
Your tourism budget may come from revenue generated via ticket sales or rentals at your tourist attraction or event venue. If you are devising a business plan for a convention and visitors bureau, chamber of commerce or government entity, your budget will be governed by state regulations. Every state sets its own regulations on how tourism money is allocated, with portions coming from hotel tax revenues, quality-of-life sales tax funds, and money raised through advertising for in-house publications, Web listings or fund-raising events. Explore state or federal grant money as well, especially if your destination has a vibrant arts community or a historical district.
Be prepared for other organizations to come to yours for money as well. Some states mandate that a certain percentage of a tourism office’s hotel tax revenues be allocated for marketing of the arts, for example, so you may want to set aside this percentage as grant money and open it up to groups each fiscal year.
Creating a brand to sell your community as a tourist destination is crucial in your tourism business plan. It involves identifying what sets your community apart from others and presenting it in a catchy, witty or thought-provoking way.
For instance, the brand used to sell Arlington, Texas, as a tourist destination for many years, Fun Central, focused on the amusements in the city in a logo consisting of rides at Six Flags Over Texas, the Texas Rangers ballpark, a water park and other colorful attractions. However, when the Dallas Cowboys relocated to Arlington from Irving, Texas, in 2009, the convention and visitors bureau took a risk by changing its highly identifiable brand to a more sophisticated yet fun-invoking phrase, “and the crowd goes wild!” While this brand encompasses the idea of the Fun Central attractions, it also more widely embraces the two major league teams and the fact that the city is an entertainment and corporate destination worth cheering about. The brand you choose for your city needs to be memorable while effectively representing everything your community offers visitors.
A key part of putting your business plan into action is deciding how to use marketing vehicles such as magazine ads, brochures, radio or television spots, billboards, sweepstakes and other contests, a website and social media like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.
The vehicles you choose will depend on the money you have and what best reaches your audience. The most effective marketing vehicles are those you combine. For instance, you’ll want to create a somewhat static ad campaign, possibly a series of ads identifying various parts of your community but with an underlying theme and a unifying look. You’ll use these ads to drive potential visitors to your website and office or attraction.
Free social media can then supplement the other marketing vehicles to keep your audience informed of everything going on at your destination.
Beth Shumate is a freelance writer and full-time tourism communications manager whose over 25 years of writing experience includes news reporter, magazine contributor and software documentation writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Henderson State University in Arkansas, and proudly became a Texan in 1987.