Ellen Huber: Marketing our community and businesses as destinations
Beyond time and budgetary constraints, a common barrier to marketing most rural communities as destinations is a perception that “there’s nothing to see or do here.” Becky McCray, co-founder of Tourism Currents and writer for the website Small Biz Survival, suggests evaluating a community’s assets, experiences it offers, and opportunities for renewal that involve, engage or transform visitors.
McCray was a guest speaker at the recent Governor’s Rural Community Summit in Minot. She specializes in providing educational services on how to put social media to work for tourism.
McCray calls the advancement from commodity, to asset, to experience, to renewal, the “progression of engagement,” explaining that the farther along in this progression the more likely a community or business is to engage prospective visitors.
Commodities are generic and can apply to any place. “Every community can say it is a ‘great place to live,'” notes McCray. Moving along the progression, she provided this example:
1. Having a bunch of antique stores in a community is an asset.
2. Eating in a restaurant with a bunch of antiques becomes an experience special to a community or business.
3. Interacting with play actors in a historic setting (such as the Custer House at Ft. Lincoln State Park) provides for renewal and transformation to another time through active participation.
McCray says, “In order to be a destination as a small community, you have to engage your potential visitors more deeply. At the highest level of engagement, your visitors know that their participation is part of a renewal of something valuable.”
She also shared eight elements of rural culture from the Kansas Sampler Foundation (www.kansassampler.org). These elements again can help a community or business see their story so they can tell it in a compelling way that interests visitors.
1. Architecture. What unique buildings and structures are in your community?
2. Art. Do you have sculptures, murals, an art gallery, ethnic art, or live entertainment?
3. Commerce. What are your core businesses, past and present? What specialty shops do you have?
4. Cuisine. What ethnic or specialty foods are served in your community? Are certain foods produced in your town? Do you have any food festivals?
5. Customs. What traditions does your community have? Annual events?
6. Geography. What are the community’s natural landmarks, rivers, trails, physical characteristics, and scenic drives?
7. History. How was the town founded, significant events, museums?
8. People. Historically significant people, present-day characters, ethnic groups, etc.
Once a community or business has determined its story, McCray recommends sharing it both on paper and on-line.
Mandan already is a destination for thousands of visitors each year and we have many unique businesses. There’s potential to do more.