By Sam Hill
Anyone working in marketing/adverting for hospitality oriented businesses in a seasonal market needs to capture the attention of the tourists. Being that I am based out of Scottsdale this article is going to be formed around snowbirds, and warm weather tourism.
In Scottsdale, and many warm weather places, we get snowbirds. People who visit annually, and in many cases, have second homes here. Many tourists in Scottsdale fall under the snowbird category. Snowbirds act similarly to locals. They have the shops they like, the restaurants they frequent, and the activities they gravitate towards. Tourists wouldn’t keep coming back if these things weren’t around. However, they are still on vacation and are prone to indulgence as much as the casual tourist.
Snowbirds are also almost exclusively wealthy and retired. Most people cannot afford and/or get time off work required for long term annual vacations. This creates an interesting demographic, and area for creative marketing.
Veteran snowbirds are familiar enough with the area that they generally avoid the tourist traps, like those overly gaudy restaurants with overpriced reheated Sysco food that have premium real estate. Because of the generally older demographic we also see a slightly lower internet engagement with this group. We are left with the question, “where are they finding new places?” “how do we get their business?” For business with locations off the main drag, this is tricky. There are some obvious answers, like building a good reputation among the locals. This takes time, visibility, and a bit of luck. For a new restaurant this is a challenge.
The agency I work for was lucky to have the experience of taking on the marketing for a brand-new pizza place in town. The restaurant opened its doors right at the start of the tourist season in October of last year. This restaurant was somewhat off the beaten path for tourists. However, we found that traditional physical fliers really worked in for this business. We printed 2000 fliers, and hired a team of day laborers to distribute them during a San Francisco Giants training game. The response was tremendous. Obviously, this is not digital marketing, but we were able to do this rather inexpensively, and the engagement was there. Sometimes traditional methods are effective, and preferential to digital marketing. It might be worth a shot if you can distribute in areas with heavy foot traffic.
What I have found through digital marketing is that businesses with clearly defined categories tend to have an easier time reaching the tourism crowd.
For example, this case study of one of our restaurant clients illustrates this point all too well. Unfortunately, this restaurant had to permanently close. This restaurant had wonderful reviews, and lucrative media exposure from both the local news, and many local food bloggers. There were a few problems with location, and categorization. The restaurant did not adhere to a specific cuisine. It had an eclectic menu that contained elements of different tastes from around the world. It did not fall under traditional restaurant categories. This proves problematic for people looking for new restaurants.
If people are searching for a new place, they generally have an idea of what they want to do. For example, if a tourist is looking for a restaurant they generally have an idea of the type of food they would like. Searches would be things like “Thai food,” or “pizza.”
Having a specific term might narrow the scope of traffic to your webpage, but at the same time it will make you stand out in specific searches which is important for appealing to tourists, especially tourists who are first timers.
This also ties into clientele. The eclectic restaurant previously mentioned was in the club area of town. I am not in the restaurant business, I am in the marketing business so take my diagnosis with a grain of salt, but the other restaurants in that area are all drunk food places. Places that serve $2 street tacos and Pizza windows. A casually upscale restaurant is less likely to pull in the clubbing crowd. This case study can be stretched to stand as a guide to the type of business you are running.
Every vacation I have ever been on has had options for all kinds of tourists. There are family places, exclusive resorts, Michelin restaurants, and greasy spoons. Regardless of if the tourist is a high roller, or a budget conscious person, nobody likes feeling ripped off. I have seen all too many restaurants and shops last less than a year because they think that their location alone will save them. With review platforms becoming more and more invasive, this type of business is getting tougher to pull off. Having a shop that gives fair value is always going to pull in tourists.
Another strategy that is somewhat contentious is Groupon. In my experience Groupon is not a good avenue for repeat customers, and can be demoralizing for staff, especially in the restaurant industry. Groupon tends to attract one-time customers who, meaning this avenue is not preferred for building brand loyalty. This also usually cuts into the server’s tips. However, in instances where you are trying to just get people in, Groupon can help your business to get a piece of the tourist pie. Be cautious of the rates though. Groupon can charge your business up to 50% per coupon, plus you have to offer an attractive discount that really cuts into your margins. If you’re savvy at math, and can still squeeze a profit, this can be a good option.
Scottsdale is an event oriented city. There are countless events all season long where local businesses can further their reach. Many events are foodie oriented, and are always looking for vendor. Restaurants looking to expand their market should always consider these events. In my experiences restaurants also usually get reimbursed at these events anyway, so the cost issue is not there. There is a time dedication.
There is a fine line when marketing to tourists. There needs to be subtlety. Nobody non-ironically likes tourist traps. People also want to experience the local culture, and not get ripped off. If you can accomplish these things, your business will do just fine.