EcDev Journal

Promoting Tourism to the Local “Stay-cation” Audience

Posted on Tuesday September 16, 2008

Travel has become more demanding than ever, especially air travel with its security lineups and hassles, and people are time-starved.  Add the effects of the recent recession and the bottom-line result is discouraging for destination marketing organizations – at least for long-distance travel. 

The Hotel Association of Canada projects that hotel occupancy levels will be only 59% this year, up slightly from 58% in 2009.  In the United States, after averaging 55.1% last year, occupancy will tick up to 55.4% this year, according to a forecast from PricewaterhouseCoopers.  That''s still well below the 20-year average of 62.8%.

Within this dark-tinged picture there’s a contrasting light patch in the market segment called “stay-cations.” This is a vacation that does not involve long-distance travel; instead, an individual or family stays at home or takes day trips from their home to area attractions.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence in the tourism industry that the popularity of stay-cations has surged since the recession began.  Many destination marketers in small to mid-sized towns and regions are promoting stay-cations for their residents to help replace the tourism dollars lost from a drop in far-away visitors. 

This trend, like all others in tourism, has implications for the web.  The design of tourism websites should include elements that appeal to stay-cationers and encourage them to explore tourism products close to home. 

Here are some design objectives to keep in mind:

· Devote a section of the site to stay-cationers: on the home page of your destination marketing organization (DMO) website, place a visible icon where visitors can click to see information compiled specifically for those that live locally. This is in line with the principle that tourism websites should be designed primarily to satisfy the personal goals of tourists (see Niche Tourism Websites published in this series February 23).

  • Maximize opportunities for tourism operators: enable local tourism operators and event-planning organizations to post their own events and attractions on your DMO website. This can be done with simple web tools and is by far the most effective way to provide tourists, including stay-cationers, with up-to-date information. It also improves productivity within your DMO by relieving staff of tedious updates.

  • Emphasize events, no matter how small: most tourism organizations find it impossible to inform local and regional tourists about all of the many and varied events being planned in their community. Yet this is the primary interest of stay-cationers. Make sure they can easily find any kind of posted event by means of searchable listings, calendars and itinerary planners.

  • Publish maps, maps, maps: always assume that your web visitors do not know how to get to the location of any given tourism product, even if they live locally. Integrate information about any and all sites, organizations and events with maps downloadable from the same web page. Integration with Google maps is one simple and inexpensive way to do this.

Chatting and Notification

One design element of a DMO website deserves special attention in connection with stay-cations.  The impact of social media is likely to be most pervasive when the services are being used by people discussing where to go for fun and relaxation in their own region.

It has become an inescapable reality in the tourism industry that travelers use social media all the time to consult one another on the desirability of events and products, and often make decisions based on those interactions.  Research by Forrester Research has shown that two-thirds of US travelers who use DMO websites engage in some kind of social media activity, whether that''s creating their own content with blogs or videos, collecting and organizing content or consuming content that others have created.

It is a high-priority job, then, for DMOs to contribute to these interactions, supply accurate information available through social media services and draw the participants to their websites.  One effective way to attract stay-cationers is to invite them to keep informed of local attractions through RSS feeds.

Many tourism and economic development sites are now RSS enabled but the service pushes out information that is drawn from the entire site.  Much of it may be irrelevant to stay-cationers. When setting up your niche site for them, consider establishing an RSS feed that draws specifically from that site and will be more effective in stimulating comment and inquiries about the attractions that your local region offers its residents.

Attracting Tourists to Smaller Communities

Tourism can transform the economic health of small communities
There are increasing opportunities today for communities of all sizes to build a local tourism industry. This trend has come about for a couple of reasons.  One is that tourists are becoming more demographically diverse and more interested in new kinds of tourism experiences, especially those that don’t require a big cash outlay.  

Many tourists are looking for an authentic “rural” experience. This could take the form of exploring the countryside, organized tours, experiencing local culture and heritage, hiking, biking, walking.  Small municipalities can develop a surprisingly broad range of attractions through culinary tourism, agri-tourism, festivals, events and other niche opportunities (see “New Ideas for Tourism Niches,” published May 12). 


Tourist attraction has evolved into a web-based activity

Another reason why small communities have growing opportunities to become tourist destinations is that tourism has evolved into a web-based industry in the past decade.  The majority of travel-related business transactions take place on the web.  And the web is a relatively low-cost marketing medium, so smaller communities are not hindered from marketing their tourism products by a lack of funds for expensive advertising and promotions.

The web is a local tourism enabler, but to use it successfully communities need to adopt the trends and tactics of modern destination-marketing organizations (DMOs).

First of all, a small community’s tourism website must be competitive with those of other communities, regardless of their size.  The web is a fiercely competitive place for destination marketing but also a great leveler.  With the right tactics you can draw eyes to your site first.  Your top initial priority should be to create a strategy to bring traffic to your tourism site through traditional and online marketing tactics, including e-mail, advertising and social media campaigns.

Converting web visitors to tourists

Equally important, however, is that once you have drawn people to your tourism site you must be sure that they will stay there and make decisions that lead to action – a visit to your community.

That’s not simple.  The role of a DMO, and of a destination marketing website, has shifted from simple transactions to trip research, planning and packaging.

Today’s travelers use destination marketing websites to learn about travel destinations, service providers, and pricing options to inform and make their purchases.  They generate their own content and exchange information via blogs, social networks, Twitter, and other modes of interactive social media.

Research by PhoCusWright, a US-based international travel research firm, has found that consumers are as active on DMO websites after they book their travel as they are when planning and shopping for their trip.

 “The key focus for DMOs is to understand how today’s consumer wants to interact on the web when it comes to travel planning and research,” senior analyst Joe Buhler says in a recent report.  “DMOs will have a great opportunity to capitalize if they evaluate their web presence and better integrate next-generation tools.”

Small communities need to keep this in mind when developing their tourism strategy and particularly their website design.  Once someone is on your site, offer the information they need to plan their trip quickly and easily. 

That includes:

  • Searchable attractions
  • Searchable event calendar
  • Searchable tourism business directory
  • Maps, tours, events, special promotions
  • Suggested and personal itineraries

Is this costly and difficult?  No.  Small communities, just as large ones, can now afford to convert website visitors to tourists by using smart website tools.


Tourism Websites Tools are Enablers

Modern do-it-yourself tools can be added to existing websites so that tourists can find answers to questions of personal interest, and have confidence that the information they find will be up to date. 

Attractions and events information can quickly and easily be published by the businesses and operators themselves, relieving staff effort.  Tourists can find out about them on your website through simple, advanced or calendar-based searches.

Small communities today can compete on the web with larger centers by taking advantage of the local attractions and character that make their tourism products unique and offering potential visitors the same interactive services.  More and more, web technologies are becoming enablers to spread the economic benefits of tourism across the countryside.


Social Media as a Cornerstone of a Creative Economy Campaign

If attracting the creative class is a strategy for economic growth in your community, you need to be aware that social media will likely be a key communications channel for your marketing campaign.

Why? Because social media websites and tools provide the most effective and economical means for you to segment your target audiences and to measure how much activity your messages are generating.


Challenges of Segmentation

Creative economy campaigns are focused on people as opposed to industries. This requires a different marketing approach, as we have pointed out earlier in this series (please see “Marketing to Attract the Creative Class,” April 13, 2010). The first challenge is that the creative economy is so broad that marketing dollars can easily be wasted by not hitting the right points on this very large target.

A necessary first step, then, even before a strategy is developed, is to define your target creative audience. This can be done using consumer marketing type segmentation – by age, by hobbies, by education and by job title, for example.

Next steps are to define the other basic elements of creative economy marketing: key messaging, differentiation, unique attributes and examples of successful creative class persons in your community.

With these elements in place the attraction campaign can be developed. It will essentially be a lifestyle campaign. While lifestyle marketing can and should be done using multiple channels, social media websites and tools are essential to the campaign because they can precisely reach audiences that are already qualified.

By “reach” we don’t mean simply sending messages. Social media by definition is interactive, and it is this very characteristic that it a favourite of the gregarious creative classes. They want to be part of communities – so the objective of your creative economy campaign is to draw them to yours.

The campaign should identify relevant associations and their groups, forums, or discussion groups. Your carefully selected communicators should join these groups so they can take part in, and create, relationships. Examples of ways to use social-media websites include:

  • Developing fans and sharing relevant information using Facebook;
  • Using YouTube to disseminate success stories;
  • Using Twitter to reach varied target audiences.

All of these channels need a central point of reference, a home base for your communicators and their messages. That’s why it is necessary to have an alive, active and powerful website to convert those visitors who are interested into enthusiasts and evangelists for your municipality.


Ideas Into Action

The ideas presented here are more than theoretical; they have been put into action by forward-looking communities and regions in North America and around the world. Here are a couple of examples:


Enterprise Florida

The mission of Enterprise Florida ( is “to diversify Florida’s economy and create better-paying jobs for its citizens by supporting, attracting and helping to create businesses in innovative, high-growth industries.”

The agency uses a wide variety of social media marketing tools including:

  • Facebook
  • YouTube, with uploads from many companies displaying their innovations
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • RSS feeds of frequently updated announcements


Regional Municipality of Halifax

The Greater Halifax Partnership, a public-private partnership that is the catalyst for economic growth in the capital city of Nova Scotia, has adopted a full complement of social media marketing tools at Visitors to the site are able to access:

  • A LinkedIn profile
  • A Facebook fan page
  • A Twitter feed
  • A SmartCity blog
  • A Flickr site with 18 pages of photos
  • A YouTube channel that has drawn about 1,500 views in little more than a year.

The channels that these organizations have selected contain messages and conversations aimed very carefully at the creative people they want to attract. At very low cost, they can reach audiences that can be tracked and measured over each channel, but are essentially limitless. In fact, never before have so many people been so reachable in segmentable target groups.

That’s why social media should be a cornerstone of your creative economy attraction campaign.

Anya Codack

Yfactor Inc.

phone: 416-977-9724 x 509