I’ve been giving some thought to this, since TRENZ actually. TRENZ of course is a commercial environment and therefore by definition doesn’t accommodate the ability for free to visit attractions to be put in front of the international tourism trade. Sadly for the regions though, this means some of our best products and experiences that add value to our regions are not known.
From where I sit here in Wellington this is a bit of a challenge. We have very few commissionable products of offer that are put in front of our tourism trade partners, but many many more experiences and highlights not represented. To name a few: The Cable Car, Parliament, Colonial Cottage, Old Saint Pauls, the Reserve Bank Museum, Botanic Garden (it’s a historically significant garden) and many others.
In a recent trawl on Trip Advisor for Wellington I note:
- There are 136 attractions listed in Wellington
- In the top ten are 2 paid attractions (and one of those is an annual event)
- There are 34 cultural attractions listed – most are buildings and monuments
- There are 15 museums listed – most are free
All of these experiences offer the visitor wonderful insights into our region, our history and our stories. We know from research that our international (and many domestic too) visitors are keen to get inside a destination, to understand what makes the locals tick and to learn about our history and culture.
Now I get the tourism distribution system works on commission, everyone needs to make a buck by clipping the ticket. But what if you have no ticket to clip?
The challenge therefore is how do we present these places to our tourism trade partners? And I’m not suggesting our RTOs are responsible for this, I think it’s in the best interests of a region for all operators and suppliers in a region to do this. A few ideas I have thought about (this is not by any means exhaustive) include:
1. Levering off commercial operators by packaging product – around a common theme or story – this enables these institutions to create a revenue earner by offering a small portion of a tour. Could be a cup of tea, a souvenir book, a coupon telling visitors about them, etc.
2. This is where the online world comes in, sites such as Trip Advisor are great at listing free and charged for attractions – after all the content is generated by the visitor. So for these institutions they;d do well to ensure they’re listed on this site.
3, Hosting media – domestic and international – where opportunities arise can help raise awareness. Those resultant stories of course can be circulated electronically and online that can help grow the number of eyeballs who read it.
4. Creating a tour that you can charge for. Te Papa and Museum of Wellington City & Sea have done just that to good effect. It’s not your core business but it is a small revenue stream and gives you something to present to trade.
5. Providing your RTO with stories or personalities, etc that link to the regional story. Make it easy for them to write stuff and share it about your institution. Don’t forget to include pictures!
6. And I’d also suggest you start with your RTO and at the very least list in your local regional visitor guide. These are distributed through every i-SITE in the country. I’d do this if it was the only thing I could afford to do.
7. Influence the influencers! Ensure your local i-SITES know you exist and build a relationship with them. They can be your local advocates. These folk could also include hotels, motels, restaurants, other visitor attractions, etc. If they know who you are and have experienced your product for themselves, they’ll be far more likely to recommend it.
8. Select some well known public figures who can be your advocates. It’s always good when the mayor gives you a mention in a speech!
9. Add value to the work of your RTO. Make sure they know what you offer, build that relationship, support their efforts. They are an important link between the prospective visitors and you!
10. Oh and don’t forget online. In the same way you buy magazines from a shop, prospective visitors will be searching for experiences in a region they’re visiting. Make sure you’re listed in those online portals of entry: newzealand.com (that’s free) and your local RTO website. Also list on any websites of similar products around the country (museums, galleries, event guides, etc) or any local partners you work alongside. Simple to do and up’s your SEO too!
I do think though that in general, we in the tourism sector need to give more thought to this dilemma. It’s sad to think that a region would miss out on international tourism opportunities just because they didn’t have enough commissionable product and therefore weren’t even considered.
It’s an opportune time to discuss this as we work together to create a tourism strategy for New Zealand created by the industry… especially with its focus on economic returns. Many regions are rich with commissionable product, making the job that much easier for the small free institutions just by sheer weight of visitor numbers. But I expect there are just as many struggling to gain attention.
I’d be very keen to hear what you think?