2020 has certainly been a year of unprecedented times, especially if you’re in the business of tourism. As a result of the Ontario Provincial restrictions to reduce the Covid-19 spread, local economies were at a standstill this spring. The tourism season that traditionally began May long-weekend was pushed well into June and in some cases, early July. Having lost the first few months of the season, many tourism businesses are faced with the decision of if and how they should extend their business season into the fall and winter months.
According to Leger Research’s National Pandemic Tracker Study results from September 11 – 13, Ontarians overall remained comfortable with outdoor activities that allowed for better physical distancing and with businesses that have protective measures in place. In addition, according to the Destination Canada’s Resident Sentiment Survey Report (updated September 15, 2020), “74% of Ontarians feel safe when thinking about travelling to nearby communities.” These statistics are promising for businesses considering extending their season and offer insight into how businesses can prepare for it. Depending on what one offers, there are many options available that can support existing offerings or to create entirely new ones.
Here are five ways to build and market into the fall and winter seasons that can help to extend your business season.
1) Take the time to research so you can understand your options for the fall/winter
Before making any changes to your offerings or expanding your business into new ventures, spend time gathering the data. This will ensure you have a solid understanding of what options are available and how they may work for your particular business.
A good place to start is researching what your competitors are offering and/or have offered in the past for the fall and winter seasons. This is useful if these seasons are new to your business. You don’t need to duplicate exactly what they have, but you can compare what they offer and how they’ve positioned it in relation to their summer offerings.
Next, explore what other businesses in your community are going to be offering. Think about what your neighbours will be promoting, when they are taking place and how they are marketing.
And finally, think about what your limitations will be for your business in both the fall and winter seasons. Questions to ask yourself include: will you have the staffing; how will your business hours and operations differ from the summer months; how will your facilities be affected by the cooler weather; should Covid restrictions shift again, how will your business be impacted; and finally, what kinds of activities and experiences would align with your business brand.
*TIP: Reach out to your local chamber of commerce, business improvement area (BIA) committees, or business groups, to find out what seasonal initiatives are taking place locally and if there are any partnership opportunities available.
2) Partner with other local businesses to offer a timely seasonal experience
If you’ve never operated during the fall and/or winter seasons it may be difficult to convert your typical offering into one that will survive the cooler months. One simple option is to partner with other businesses to create a new offering that compliments all partners involved. Partnering with businesses that have a different target market than your own can open the door for you to access new markets and expand your reach for the following summer season.
An example could be a restaurant partnering with trail guide to offer a fall foliage hike followed by a warm meal at the restaurant, or a fishing lodge partnering with a snowmobile club to offer guided snowmobile tours around the region in the winter.
3) Lure back your summer customers with unique seasonal offerings
As the advertising saying always goes, “it’s cheaper to work with existing customers than to attract new ones”. For tourism and the impact of word-of-mouth marketing, reaching out to existing customers with new offerings is the simplest way to market. They are already familiar with your business and have had a positive experience in the summer months, so they will be more open to experience new offerings you develop. Consider offering an exclusive booking/sale period for your existing customers to be first in line for your seasonal promotions or offer a special rate to this group as a thank-you for their sales with you this summer.
*TIP – If you have an e-newsletter, now is the time to use it and grab the attention of your loyal customers about your new offerings. Also, use your Facebook Page to promote your seasonal offerings so that your followers are the first to know.
4) Target a new market by expanding your offerings or repositioning your existing ones
As a result of Covid, many businesses have been faced with the dilemma of whether to pivot their business in order to survive or keep status quo. This could mean changing the entire business model to go after a new market or simply repositioning what already exists in order to meet the new demands of existing markets. Both options have challenges of their own, but they also can help with shifting from surviving to thriving long-term.
If you’re considering expanding into a new market, think about how you can complement your current offering with enhancements or new products/services, such as an accommodation offering rental equipment for self-guided activities like cross country-skiing and snowshoeing. If you’re considering repositioning your offerings in order to attract a new market, the first step is to consider the needs of your target market and to frame what you have to meet those needs.
Recent surveys indicate that Ontarians are not as comfortable travelling within the province and would prefer to stay close to home. This means that for a tourism-focused business tapping into the local market is a game changer. Shifting your offerings from a tourism perspective to a local one will be beneficial for the coming cooler months and means thinking about the needs of your locals. Questions to consider include: what is their appetite for your offerings and what will their willingness to pay be; how does this new market impact your hours of operation; and how will you market what you have to them?
5) Use social media advertising to boost your posts on seasonal promotions
Once you’ve developed your seasonal offerings, one of the easiest ways to promote what you have is by sharing it on your social media channel(s) – the Queen of word-of-mouth marketing. Your fans/following will be keen to hear what you have to offer and are the most likely to purchase since they are already supportive of your business. Make sure to have a graphic included in your post as imagery in posts are shown to perform better on any social platform for engagement than posts with no image at all.
TIP: Create a targeted paid social advertisement to promote your seasonal offering, so you can narrow in on a geographical region, certain demographics ideal for your experience, and specific interests that align with what you offer. You can also simply boost your post on Facebook or Instagram to increase the reach and engagement. This approach can work with any budget and still be effective.
Building a new offering can take time and keep in mind that like anything new, there will be lessons learned along the way. Whatever you create may or may not be successful the first time you offer it, but there may be things you learn that can enhance the offering for success in another season or discover ways to enhance your primary offerings for next year. If it’s anything we can take away from the pandemic is that being flexible and willing to shift directions at any given time are essential if one wants to build for a resilient future.
Need help with creating or enhancing a seasonal offering for your business? Or simply a springboard to bounce ideas off of? Connect with Kasey Rogerson, Tourism Development Coordinator, at 613-966-1311 x 4012 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and she can assist you with any piece of the puzzle when it comes to building out an experience.