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Building your tour or attraction brand during the downturn

It’s easier than you think, and more important than ever, to differentiate your offering from others in your market.

Michael Lattig, 31st Jul 2020

With travel volumes well below summer norms, many operators are holding off on marketing investments, reducing the number of tours they offer, and working in every way they can to ensure that when travel does return, they can welcome experience-seekers with open arms. 

One of the things you might not think of doing to set yourself up for that day, but could pay huge dividends, is developing your brand. 

Why focus on your brand during the downturn, and what does "brand" even mean? 

When people think about building a brand, their mind quickly drifts to logos, names, and slogans. They think about spending thousands of dollars on advertising to drive brand awareness. But the reality is those things—ads, logos, and so on—are simply the outward markers of a brand. The visible tip of a brand’s iceberg if you will. 

The real power behind a successful brand is beneath the surface. It’s in the ability to deliver an authentic, differentiated, consistent experience that your target audience loves. These three elements underpin every great brand. 

So let’s explore how you can get started now, or improve, in these areas so your tours and attractions brand is ready to thrive when travel returns. 

Let’s begin with Authenticity (because you probably already did)

The strongest brands center their culture, their identity, their personality, and their product offerings on an authentic truth that answers the question: Why do you exist? They then weigh every decision against whether it reflects and supports that truth. 

That is great news for tours and attractions operators because most everyone conceives their business from a unique passion, interest, or skill, and a strong desire to bring that vision to the world. In other words, the authentic truth is clear and present from the beginning. 

If you are not sure if or how you’ve done this, ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Do you have a mission statement about your business? 
  • What words do you use in that mission statement to describe your business?
  • How does that translate to your actual product? Your website? Your logo?
  • How do you describe your business to your friends? To a potential customer?

When you ask yourself questions like these, it helps you understand how to accurately and powerfully communicate that authentic truth. 

And, just as importantly, it becomes clear whether you are delivering that truth in a way that is unique and compelling for travelers in your market. Or, as we might say in brand-speak, a way that is Differentiated.

Delivering unique value in a crowded market = Differentiation

Let’s create a hypothetical example of what we mean by differentiation. Say you’re in New York and you have a passion for pizza. Well, you’re not alone. That’s why there’s Famous Ray’s. And Ray’s Famous. And Original Famous Ray’s. And Ray’s Original Famous Ray’s Original. OK, maybe not that last one, but you get the picture: it can be a crowded and confusing scene for a business that wants be the trusted expert in a city known for its pizzerias. 

So, how can you build an Experience around your authentic love of pizza in a way that is different from everyone else with a passion for pies? 

This is where differentiation comes in. It’s not enough to simply pizza and share that with the world. You have to find the UNIQUE way or perspective that you bring to the pizza tour game. 

Perhaps it’s simply the personality with which you deliver the experience. Maybe you have unique access to some of New York’s finest pizza establishments. Or you deliver pizza with a side of history. Those are just a few examples of ways you might differentiate your pizza tour from the myriad other options. 

Clearly defining that difference, and how you communicate how your pizza tour is unique, become critical to developing a strong brand and a strong business. 

The Consistency conundrum: It’s the hobgoblin of little minds, and the key to a strong brand

So you have an authentic passion or skill that drove you to take the leap and start your business. And you’ve figured out how to deliver that passion or skill in a unique, compelling way that travelers love. That’s great. But can you do it consistently, day in and day out? And does that unique perspective come across in every touchpoint you have with travelers, from your website and emails to the shirt you wear and the personalities of your guides? 

Consistency is what ultimately separates a great brand from a great product. 

If you have a great product, people will take your tour and think, “that was cool.” But if you have a strong, authentic, differentiated, consistent brand, travelers will feel a deeper connection with you. Their experience and affinity will grow from the minute they learned about you to the time they leave a glowing review. Because every interaction will reinforce who you are, why you exist, and why they love you. 

This is particularly important as you hire new guides or expand the experiences you offer. In both cases, you want to make sure that your new guides reflect the personality and promise you’re making in your marketing or on your website. That any partners out talking about you, or your product listings on the OTA sites, are saying the right things. And that any new experiences you create remain true to why you exist and how you deliver unique value for travelers. 

So, what now? Here are the three steps to a stronger brand

As you wait for travel to return, think through how you can be certain that you’re delivering the most compelling, authentic, differentiated, consistent experience possible. 

1. Remind yourself: Why did I start this crazy business in the first place? What is the authentic truth behind why this tour/attraction exists? 

2. Ask yourself: Am I doing something truly unique for travelers? What differentiates my offering from all the other things they could choose to do in my city? 

3. Double check: Are my authentic truth and unique value coming across in everything I do and are they communicated consistently across every contact I have with travelers?

Answering those simple questions will likely give you a few ideas on how to refine your offering as you await travel’s return, and will surely pay huge dividends when it does. 

If you want to learn more, or talk about ways TourismSolved can help you strengthen your tours and attractions brand, please reach out to us: GrowDirect@tourismsolved.com.