A few weeks ago someone asked me about my favourite product to market. We’ve been pretty fortunate to help market some pretty fun attractions, cool events and interesting products over the years so it’s difficult to pick just one. When I stop and think about it, the answer is pretty easy. The best product to market is a good product.

So what makes a good product? Value? Quality? Price? Experience? Service? There are lots of things that can separate the best from everyone else. When we talk about tourism, good products provide the consumer with a memorable experience. These products are the ones that people tell their friends about. They don’t need to be the cheapest in the market, but consumers need to feel that they got good value for their money. Good tourism products are the ones that people want to experience again and again.

Every now and again, when they let us out of the Strong Coffee offices, we’re able to roam free on vacation. I recently had the chance to spend some time in Calgary and visited one of my favourite attractions… the Calgary Zoo. In my opinion, this is one of the best tourism products in Alberta. What makes it so good? I took some time to document my latest visit (yep.. I was the guy taking pictures of signage instead of taking pictures of animals) and highlight some of the things I liked the most…

Good Signage – Make It Easy For People To Figure Things Out

Calgary Zoo Wayfinding

This should be an easy one but it’s often forgotten. It’s really important to view your attraction through the eyes of a visitor. Pay attention to what someone sees when they arrive. Do they know where to go? Do they know what to do first? Take a walk around and see if you can identify where the nearest washrooms are. Is there a certain path that visitors should take to see everything? Is it clearly marked? People shouldn’t have to rely on asking for directions.

The Calgary Zoo does a really good job with wayfinding. Their visible signage combined with a useful map make it hard to get lost. We did go backwards through the dinosaur exhibit, but I blame that more on our 5 and 6-year-old tour guides leading the way. They can’t be bothered with signs.

A Sprinkle of Technology – Increased Engagement

Calgary Zoo AR

Trust the digital marketing guy to notice the technology stuff. Introducing technology into your attraction can be tricky. There can be issues with accessibility (limited WIFI, limited technology available), cost or just an overall stubbornness to take the leap. Regardless of the reasons, being somewhat connected is vital. You might not want anything to do with social media but your customers probably use it. You might see no value in creating a mobile-friendly website, but I think potential customers might find it handy.

You don’t need to dive off the technological deep end but at least provide a way for people to stay connected. WIFI has gone from a luxury to an essential part of daily life. I understand that your hope is for every visitor to become completely immersed in your experience and put down their smartphones for a few hours. But it doesn’t work that way anymore. Get with the times, suck it up and give people what they want. When it comes to technology, attractions should consider themselves enablers. If you’re able to provide a way for people to stay connected while providing them with interesting content, visitors will do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to user-generated content. I’m always amazed at attractions that encourage people to share pictures and videos of their visit but don’t provide them with a solid WIFI connection to do so.

The Calgary Zoo is pretty well connected. They have a great website, a solid social media presence (with an active hashtag) and they’ve even incorporated augmented reality into their dinosaur exhibit. Oh ya.. and they have Shaw Open WIFI coverage throughout the attraction.

They also employ some low-tech tactics to help with user-generated content. The good ol’ “Hey kids.. go stand behind that thing and I’ll take a picture” character signs have been around forever. You might not realize it, but they’re really effective social media tools. You take a picture of your kid with a dinosaur body, you have a good laugh, you want to show all your friends a few cute pictures of the kids… so you post it on social media. A simple photo opportunity has helped to create a social media post that shows the world that a family is having fun at your attraction.

Calgary Zoo Photo Stand

Don’t tell your visitors to put down their cameras, encourage them to take more pictures. Notice the subtle branding on the sign as well. That’s not by mistake…

The Mighty Upsell – Making More Money With What You Have

Calgary Zoo food, beverage and shopping

My years in retail taught me that a small group of return customers are usually more valuable that a larger group of new ones. 99% of the time our tourism marketing work involves driving people to attractions, events, hotels, etc. The general idea being the more people through the doors, the more money to be made. This is true (usually) but it’s not the only way to increase revenue. Sometimes the best way to make more money is to increase the average spend of your existing visitors. A simple example…

  • Let’s say you have 100 people a day come to your attraction. Their average spend per person is $20 (admission, food, etc.). Your daily revenue will be around $2000.
  • Now imagine if you still have those 100 people a day visit but their average spend per person is $30. Your daily revenue jumps up to $3000.
  • That’s an extra $1000 in a day.

So how can you increase this average spend? The Calgary Zoo does a great job of offering their visitors a wide array of shopping and food and beverage options. They also have a really cool “behind the scenes” experiences that give visitors a chance (for a fee) to get up close and personal with animals. They don’t force you to spend the extra money but they make it really, really easy to spend a bit more. Want to see the kings of the upsell in action? Go to Disneyland with two little kids and try to escape without dropping an extra $100 on food and souvenirs…

A few caveats when it comes to pricing – make your pricing really easy to understand. You don’t want people to feel tricked or mislead when they discover that your posted price doesn’t include certain things. Be upfront and honest – here’s how much it is and here’s what you get. Also keep in mind that if you’re looking to offer some upsell opportunities throughout your attraction, make sure people have a way to give you money. “Cash only” doesn’t fly anymore. It’s 2016.

Events and Bookings – Cool Event Venue

Calgary Zoo venue rentals

We’ve all been to conferences and other business gatherings. Let’s be honest… not many of them are very memorable. People will usually end up forgetting the keynote speakers, the workshops and the gala dinner… but they’ll remember a cool venue. I went to a conference in Montreal in 2010. I don’t remember anything about it.. except for the event venue. Why? Because it was really cool.

The Calgary Zoo has a number of pretty unique event venues and they do a nice job of letting visitors know about them. Event planners always want to create a unique and memorable experience for their guests. Sometimes attractions can provide the perfect backdrop. Your attraction doesn’t need to be elaborate or huge to be a cool venue. If it’s unique, clean, well laid out and you’re able to provide good amenities, people will line up for it.

Lots to Do – Give Them a Reason to Come Back

This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you have lots of different things to do, people are more likely to return. Maybe people need to come back again just to finish their journey. Maybe they liked things so much the first time that they want to come back for seconds and thirds. Think of your signature experiences and/or moments. Are they return-worthy? Do you have fun special events every week/month/year that people look forward to and plan to attend? Do you have a lot of things going on each day that helps to make each visit a bit different than the last?

Calgary Zoo programs and events

Have a look at this program list from the Calgary Zoo. I think it’s safe to say that most people should be able to find a few things to do.

My advice for anyone looking to market their attraction – focus on creating a quality product before starting a campaign. View the experience through the eyes of a visitor. If something doesn’t make sense to you, it’s not going make sense to a visitor. Once you’re confident that you’re putting your best foot forward, tell the world about it!

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Post Written By:

Brian Siddle

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