A small town can’t become a tourism mecca on its own but has a better chance if it joins with surrounding towns, municipalities and individual businesses to create a reason for visitors to stop in the area.
“I’m really big on collaboration,” Mike Stolte told a Growing Rural Tourism conference in Camrose this month.
“The key to really good tourism is having a cluster of activities. By working with communities, you can keep visitors in area longer,” said Stolte, president of the Centre for Innovative and Entrepreneurial Leadership.
“Link events and experiences in the area,” he said.
“If there is nothing to do, they will move on to the next community.”
It’s important people in the community know what is happening within their community and know the interesting spots for tourists to stop.
“Get locals to be knowledgeable and proudful of their community,” Stolte said.
One community he worked with shared an interesting story of the community each week. That helped to give everyone some history and interesting stories to share, especially with visitors.
If tourists visit their friends and have a good time in the community, they’re likely to spread the word.
“You want to make sure the messages they are sending home are positive,” Stolte said.
People also stop for rest rooms, snacks or fuel, but they can be enticed to stay longer.
Stolte said money spent on downtown beautification pays big returns. Eighteen percent more money is spent when trees or hanging baskets are added to the streets.
Another payoff is attracting baby boomers, the 50-plus travellers, who are responsible for 70 percent of the tourism spending.
Stolte warned communities to avoid such tourism sins like poor internet service, lack of social media and little or nothing to do in town after six.
“If you are targeting people under 30 and not using social media, you’re not going to get anyone.”