Adventure Travel

Southern Hospitality Makes Your Events Memorable

I woke up this morning thinking about how important it is to “think like a tourist” when designing a marketing plan for an event. Travel is one of my passions. Especially, short regional trips where I arrive with no jet lag, info on the best spots in hand, and ready to conquer my treasure hunt. My list of treasures: a great dining experience, possible wine tour, definitely some local flavor in the form of some great attractions, and a chance to explore the flora and fauna. Searching my memories for a destination that “got it right” led me to a small Louisiana city.

The Tale

M_, Louisiana was simply to be a waypoint on our Fly Club’s annual Fall Trip. This trip usually has three main points that we visit for two or three days and various points that we touch down or spend the night. This was just such a city. The normal routine would be to land at the FBO (that’s pilot speak for concierge services for travelers and their planes), rent a car, head to the motel (main qualification is inexpensive but clean), dinner at a fast food place and collapse into a bed. M_ decided that would not be good enough.

We planned to touch down after five p.m., the normal time for the sidewalks to roll up in most American small towns. Definitely, the rental car agency would be closed. A panicked radio call to the FBO assured us that this was not a problem. On arrival we were greeted with a row of cars already waiting and a staff member from the local merchant’s association. This representative welcomed each of the guests while the pilots took care of the tie downs, paperwork and usual chatter about the flights. She presented us with directions to the motel (a step above what we normally expected and a free upgrade to boot!) and invitations with additional directions to the best restaurant in town. The chef/owner had arranged to reopen the kitchen for us that evening for a special menu prepared to introduce us to some of Louisiana’s finest cuisine. It was a great evening with the chef, staff and locals entertaining us with local tales and southern hospitality. (Yes, we paid for the meals but at no more than we would have expected for a really great dinner.)

The evening did not end there though. We were escorted to the cultural center for an evening of drinks, desserts and zadeco music under the stars. In case you thought we would have preferred that motel bed, think again. This was pure southern enchantment. A warm, balmy evening with flickering stars and twinkle lights in the trees is always a treat.

When arriving at the FBO the next morning, the president of the Chamber of Commerce was on hand to thank us for visiting and encourage us to return. We were given commemorative coins and information to sign up for the city newsletter. Amazingly, several of us did. In fact, we tried to visit a few years later but were told the motels were overflowing with ex-patriots of New Orleans who had fled the devastation. We expected no more of a town who embraces the weary traveler.

So what can we take from this tale? Several steps can be used to add that Southern hospitality feel to your event marketing plan. The hardest is step one. When we are used to the daily routine of our region, it is easy to lose perspective of the charms. So here is what I learned from my grandmother, a true Southern genteel hostess. (Aside from always having a pitcher of ice cold southern sweet tea in the fridge)

Put the Guest First

Take into account the special needs of the guest and find creative ways to make them feel welcome.

The staff and business owners anticipated the needs of the group. A schedule that allowed the visitors to relax and enjoy a well rounded evening rather than cramming quick food stops and a television in the lobby
elevated the experience into the memorable.

Celebrate Your Culture

Every region has its unique spirit and attractions, a heritage of the people who shaped it. In Louisiana, the Acadian heritage is evoked through the zest for life, regional cuisine and rich music. This music that is at the root of so much American music, resonates with much of American life, providing a connection with tourists.

Here, in Cleveland, we straddle two regions. Cleveland is rooted in the midwest, a part of the country’s rich agricultural and industrial resources, and yet its heritage is derived from its colonial roots as the Western Reserve of Connecticut. Hence its New England feel. Mix this with the legacy of the industrial barons who led the planning for a vibrant industrial base in the early twentieth century and you get an amazing culture. So much to celebrate!

Tap in to the Destination Networks in Your Region</font color>

If you are thinking like a tourist when you hear about some folks coming to town, you are looking for ways to help the tourists make the most of the short time they are with you. think of the four “S”s.

Sleep: Have they booked into a place (hotel, motel, inn, bed breakfast or even a tent site) close to their reason for visiting you (In M, Louisiana it was really preferred to be close to the airport). Does it well represent your town? Is the group getting the best deal? We are spoiled now to have great hotel staff who work hard to bring groups into their spaces and make them comfortable. Get to know these ambassadors. (Believe me, they make have a title of Group Sales staff but they really are your best ambassadors.

Savor: Chain restaurants give us the option of good food at affordable prices when traveling but do little to impress us with local flare. Culinary tourism is a huge part of the growing regional tourism market. Pick a sampling of dining choices that offer the best of the local flavor and that are tailored to the budgets and interests of your guests. If you are blessed enough to have a celebrity chef or a noted vineyard or brewery in your region, be sure to include these among your interests.

Shop: Excursions simply to shop have long been a mainstay of tourism. Witness the duty free shops at ports of call, the masses flocking to New York each season or the thrill of spouses who accompany professionals to conferences. Even high end department stores recognize the appeal of the regional customs. You will find that there are differences in fashion offerings depending on the lifestyles and interests of the locals. thinking as a tourist, I will search out, not only bargains from these high end stores, but uniques shops, galleries and boutiques that provide quality momentos of a special visit to a special place.

This is, of course, a time to relax and re-energize for couples. Include time for pampering in designing the destination package. Include a favored full service spa, Boston limo service and a selection of night spots.

See: Your destination stop may have been a convenience such as my example but, in all probability, it was planned. Most cities and regions compete quite vociferously for conferences, festivals and tournaments that will draw tourists to their areas. Thinking like a tourist means looking beyond what we, as residents, take for granted. How many of us regularly step out of out busy lives to take a look at what makes our areas unique?

There is a more than reasonable assumption that the attractions in your area are what cemented the choice. The attractions may be the terrain, the weather, bricks and mortar attractions, sports, arts and culture or adventure amenities. Seasons and weather are factors. If your main regional attraction is pretty much a single season attraction, consider looking outside the box to attract tourists from other seasons.

Canaan Valley, WV is known for its beautiful vistas and great skiing. It is also known during the summer months as the site for some great mountain bike competitions. Similarly, Boston Mills Ski Slopes in the Cuyahoga National Park System is known locally for day skiing and is now known regionally for a great arts festival each summer. The secret to their success is knowing their visitors and bundling their off season attractions with existing seasonal draws. Both benefit from a strongly defined national park system integrated with local and state park systems.

Extend Your Communication Cycle</font color>

Do not make the mistake of opening communications channels with the tourist when the tourist arrives. If you are given a heads up about a group through a CVB, DMO or Concierge, then act on it. There are some great destination marketing products that will assist you with your destination advertising. One of my favorites is a custom baggage tag travel package that allows local businesses to include personalized offers specific to the interests of the tourist. This pack is delivered to the tourist prior to arrival with enough lead time to peruse the invitations and make reservations before arriving at the destination. Of course, having your Group Sales Representative communicate with the destination organizer is always a beginning.

The hallmark of your impression is great service. I sincerely hope that business owners realize that, regardless of the beauty of the region, the tourist will long remember the kindness shown to strangers. Encourage the local business owners in your destination network to recognize the importance of their staff in building rapport with these visitors. And do not be afraid to continue the communication with a follow up survey and, ultimately, a thanks for allowing their businesses to be a part of making the trip memorable.

In Summary</font color>

These tourists may never have the opportunity to return but they will share their memories many times. Ultimately, positive word of mouth advertising is the most effective advertising that you can have.

Love to hear from you! Please share your comments, let others know about this and use the information to grow your business.

Brenda is the force behind Gemma Event Marketing Associates. She launched Oh!! Gemma to highlight how her buddies and associates are using event marketing to extend their conversations with their clients and customers.