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Promoting Local Getaways

In his 18th century novel, Voyage Around My Room, Xavier de Maistre goes to prison and spends weeks within the confines of a very, very small space. He wasn’t allowed out to the local city, to experience the world. Sound familiar? COVID-19 was a very similar experience for some.

Also like many of us, de Maistre got creative in his confinement, traveling from wall to wall, finding ways to pass the time. He eventually got out of prison, writing, “Imagination, realm of enchantment! – which the most beneficent of beings bestowed upon man to console him for reality – I must quit you now.”

This imagination, this creativity, however, is forever a part of the tourism experience in this new norm. We’re not about to quit it. Instead, we can take a cue from de Maistre, to learn to make do with the spaces we have, to embrace the hyperlocal. The idea of a staycation, of traveling nearby, within a local region or a state, can be just as exciting as going to Italy. If de Maistre could do it in a prison, clearly destinations can make a similar argument for travelers within a regional or national radius.

Support your locals

With foreign travel picking up slowly throughout the rest of 2020, your destination’s local businesses need all the support they can get. Looking across state borders or to adjacent counties, you can market actively to those who want to get away but are not motivated to go far.

The perk? You can fill beds, restaurants, and cultural institutions that may otherwise suffer and potentially close. It’s all very obvious, but that doesn’t mean destinations are doing it. Everyone wants the big-spending international travelers, Chinese and Americans who take that one big flashy vacation. Until that becomes the norm again – if it ever does – a destination needs to cobble together a bunch of small fish for its meal instead of hoping to land one white whale.

The big fishies will come back one day, but a lack of a crystal ball means doing what we can now with the information we have, and we know people will travel closer to home.

Promote hotel stays

The most important way to do this is by getting hotels involved. We want heads on pillows, and after weeks of being cooped up at home, sleeping in a hotel even just two hours away sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? In-state or regional travelers won’t instinctively think about booking a getaway nearby, but if hotels can get on board and offer special deals to local travelers, destinations can appeal to an unexpected market.

It could be small things like free parking and breakfast for those from certain nearby zip codes. Or consider discounts for in-state travelers. Get creative if you can, doing whatever it takes to entice them to stay for a few nights. If a hotel offered us a free spa treatment for booking three nights, we’d be hard-pressed to say no, especially after being home for months on end. Just a suggestion!

Distribute the travelers

Social distancing measures are an opportunity to tap into under-exploited towns or resources. No one is flocking to Venice right, but there are dozens of towns in Italy that would be happy to receive local European visitors. No one ever talks about your state’s parks? That can change now. Does your region have something else that you take for granted that might appeal to someone a few hours away? Market it, share it, promote it – this is the time.

Destination marketers often aim to spread travelers throughout a region, to prevent over tourism and loss of appeal. There is no better time than now to lean into that trend wholeheartedly. If there’s a dusty little town somewhere that wasn’t exciting before, there’s likely countless ways that could change given the new reality.

Promote new experiences

To that end, look even more closely at your destination’s major attractions and ask if there is more out there. Are there local winemakers in your region that no one knows about? Has anyone ever kayaked in your rivers? Is there a local artisan who is doing something wacky or unique? Now is the chance to promote it, to test it out, to see what sorts of experiences might attract local travelers.

By establishing these sorts of activities now and testing them on a smaller market, your destination can be better prepared to apply them to larger markets in the future. Maybe that little artisan doesn’t know how to brand themselves on social media, to get their messaging out there, or to find customers. Now is the time for destinations to help and set them up for success.

Experiment with branding

By focusing on smaller regional markets, this is also the time for DMOs to reconnect with their destination to understand if it’s all branded correctly. If you start promoting new things and no one shows up, you may learn it’s a bust. If you start promoting with a new idea and it creates a huge wave of interest – well, we’re onto something, aren’t we?

With smaller campaigns targeting smaller populations nearby, you’ll be able to get a sense of what works, what doesn’t, and how you can adapt these lessons when mass tourism becomes more, well, mass.

We’re doing a bit better than de Maistre in prison, but the world has certainly shrunk in many ways since the onset of the pandemic. Instead of continuing to rely on old habits, there’s little to lose in thinking outside the box – or prison cell, as it were.

Overwhelmed with all of the possibilities and struggling with where to start? We get you. DCI has been at it for 60 years, helping destinations find themselves in the face of adversity. Now is no different. Get in touch with Karyl Leigh Barnes at [email protected] to learn how our agency can help you think more locally.

Written By

Karyl Leigh Barnes

Karyl Leigh Barnes is President of DCI’s Tourism Practice. Since joining the firm in 1998, Karyl Leigh has led destination strategy and created marketing communication programs for destinations on every continent except Antarctica.

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