Seasons come and go, but for destinations with tourism as the economic driver, events are the way to keep the cash flowing, whatever the weather conditions.
They’re an effective way to deliver a message that your town is open for business year-round. Here are some tips.
1. Start small and see what works.
Estes Park, Colo., gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park, is a tourist shopping mecca (and home to the fabled Stanley Hotel where Steven King’s “Shining” was filmed.) Populated by numerous independent business owners, the downtown merchants got together to plan a Winterfest Weekend focused on food and entertainment.
The success of that spawned snowshoe weekends and skate and ice-fishing weekends.
The idea is to bring people in and let individual business owners create their own hook to get customers in the store.
2. Capitalize on what makes you distinct.
Cape May, N.J., which is also blessed with a natural attraction of Victorian homes and history, has the distinction of being the only seaside resort in the Garden State where you can see the sun rise and set. That’s because of its location at the very tip of the state.
The Cape May-Lewes Ferry, which operates year-round connecting New Jersey and Delaware, is a romantic vantage point for the view and is encouraging people to think that way by offering a special cruise package for Valentine’s Day weekend, tying in fudge and champagne.
The entire city will be in love mode through a Love Cape May weekend promotion organized by Cape May magazine. The appeal is heightened by the convergence this year of both Valentine’s Day and a three-day holiday weekend.
3. Get a good non-profit or board behind you.
The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities, a non-profit arts and culture organization whose mission is to promote Cape May and preserve its history, started in 1970 to expand the reach of the tourist season to year-round.
The center uses social media heavily to promote its events and partners with the local business community. Its staff includes both a marketing and communications coordinator.
4. Adapt to what works.
While tours of its historic buildings was an obvious beginning for MAC, it became clear people were drawn to historical fun as well. This spawned historically researched ghost-walking tours and there’s now something going on virtually every weekend of the year, including a wine and music festival and two Sherlock Holmes weekends.
5. Tie in news hooks and be nimble.
The region generated a record-setting September and August marketing “Escape to the Cape,” geo-targeting Philadelphia, which was becoming a highly secured area for the papal visit. While some were flocking to Philly to see Francis, many locals were happy to leave town. (No doubt renting their properties out for a profit on Airbnb.)
6. Get physical.
Taste of New Haven organizes walking tours around both old and new eateries in the home of Yale University. Since its launch, that business has expanded to offer pizza, biking and beer tours and even a day-long festival that shut the streets of downtown.
The events help introduce new people to the city and get them comfortable walking and biking around a place that does not have a reputation for safety.
7. Make a message.
The city of Hoboken, in conjunction with a local tech entrepreneur, is planning its first Propellerfest, a music and technology festival set for a pier overlooking the Manhattan skyline. While there’s no trouble getting people to visit Hoboken, the festival aims to attract businesses, too, by showcasing all the exciting technology that is happening in New Jersey and New York. (A title sponsorship is still open!)