In case you noticed the Cherokee Hard Rock Casino van cruising the streets of northeast Oklahoma one day last week, I have details. No, you didn’t miss the casino trip; it was just me and several of my peers from Green Country Marketing on an educational trip. I was asked to present a tourism workshop and since I like to take my “show on the road” the invitation invited those in hospitality-type businesses to come and “Treasure Hunt” with me. I wore my favorite pirate attire and we discussed and shared great ideas which are very valuable in this crazy business.
I talked about group tours and how groups have changed over the last couple of decades. Sometimes businesses, whether a restaurant or a hotel, overlook obvious deal breakers like motor coach parking and adequate restroom facilities. I’ve been honored to do presentations many times on this topic, I’ve even traveled to other states to speak on why “the bus won’t stop here.”
We explored ways to share and combine destinations. It’s interesting that people get a bit tunnel vision and can’t see a way to cooperate with fellow businesses.
We discussed who the “front line” folks really are, as it usually isn’t the ones that attend the travel show or answer the telephone at the Chamber of Commerce. To prove my point, we went on a scavenger hunt at some local sporting goods stores, convenience stores, dining establishments and shops. The assignment was to find out what there was to do in town. They were to ask prices and directions. Our “secret tourists” were to gather information as if it were their first time in the area. Because we all know not everyone goes to a Visitor Center or gets brochures from AAA. The results were very interesting! Of course it was just a random sampling, but still very, much like what happens every day with visitors to our area.
I think it was a bit of an eye opening experience for our “visitors” as they began to wonder what folks on the front lines in their cities were telling tourists. We had some great examples of what to do, our crew carried circled maps, and brochures. They were told great places to eat breakfast and the best margaritas in town. Our “treasure hunters” found a couple of jewels at the Grand Lake Sports Center. They were very impressed with the warm welcome and information they received.
But then… there were many that came back without much information. The employees had never been to Har-Ber village, they had no idea where to fish on the lake, or what there was to do. WalMart was suggested as a way to spend time in NE Oklahoma. One clerk at a convenience store was so unhelpful and lacking in local knowledge, a young customer offered to “Google” the answers for them. Ouch. Tourism pays a lot of bills around these parts. My mantra is “We are in the memory making business, not the money-making business. But people will pay money to make memories.” We all agreed being a local ambassador starts at the top and has to be encouraged by employers.
With that thought, I challenge all owners of businesses that employ people that are the front line, the first impressions of the community, to educate their help. Provide resources for what is going on locally on a bulletin board or file. Point out brochures, rack cards and materials that are displayed for tourists to pick up. Encourage employees, especially those new to town, to get out and explore their new area. When someone is excited to tell others what they love about the place they are living and working, it makes a memory! When they don’t know and obviously don’t care, that makes a pretty big impression, too.
I hope this reminder can be shared around the lake, as one never knows when it’s a real tourist ready to spend money on a memory.