COVID-19 demanded businesses large and small, niche and mass market, urban and rural, to rethink their visitor experience, product offers, physical and emotional guest interactions, safety requirements, price point, and business models to survive the present and thrive in the future.
The entire tourism industry was forced out of their comfort zones and into the fear zone when the pandemic shut down travel worldwide. 2020 was a challenging year, but it had a silver lining. It forced businesses to move into the learning zone, look for new opportunities, innovate, attract new customers, invest differently, and take chances to stay in business. We learned a great deal, and now is the time to move into the growth zone; to dream, set new goals, invest with purpose while continuing to adapt.
Attracting small groups is a short-term requirement but represents a part of a long-term solution.
The entrepreneurial spirit of two companies with different approaches illustrates how innovation and reimagining how to use your assets can lead to new tourism experiences that attract new customers.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the premier Roots, Rants and Roars festival did not stage its annual event in 2020. Rather than ‘wait and see’ the wide, they got creative, building on their core assets and converted their festival to a revenue-generating food hike; and it was a hit.
The goal: To create a new experience that would compel residents to travel within the region and drive business to their restaurant partners.
This event provided:
- A new option for people to support the festival and local businesses around the region
- Flexibility for business partners to add picnic business off their peak serving hours
- Maintain the Roots, Rants and Roars market presence while harnessing the power of user-generated content and social media traffic
Leveraged core assets: Music, chefs, staging experiences in nature, a flagship brand, and the organizational will to try something completely new, with sustainable practices baked in from the start.
Developed a new small group experience: My Food Hike tapped into the desire for small groups to be social, out in nature. It engaged 16 restaurant partners to create, price, and sell unique picnics in a branded insulated backpack. Spotify provided a digital outlet for festival music and used hiking locations promoted by the province.
- Shifted from an inward focus to seeing their communities and region as a new stage
- Designed an experience that wouldn’t be impacted by changing COVID guidelines
- Took calculated, shared risks with restaurant partners
- Set goals, performance targets and tracked results
- Created a new, permanent expansion to their core festival
- Extended the appeal of Roots, Rants and Roars offer to a broader market that allows for a four-season revenue-generating opportunity
- Drove provincial interest for 2021
- Generated exceptional social media results and sales for businesses
Westben, in Campbellton, ON, cancelled their in-person shows and introduced digital concerts in the barn in the 2020 season due to COVID-19. They used their performing arts asset to keep their business and artists connected to valued patrons. Uncertain of the future for large events in their barn, which can seat 400 guests, Westben embarked on a strategic journey to re-envision their property.
The idea: To stage smaller groups in nature by configuring part of their land to host different sized groups.
Core assets: Musicians, staff, performing arts network, a loyal customer base.
New venues to stage experiences: Developed three new outdoor venues. The Willow Hill venue is an outdoor amphitheatre catering to 100 guests. The West Nature Conservancy can host small groups of up to 50 people, and the Campfire venue will welcome 15 to 25 guests to enjoy exclusive concerts and time with the artists.
- Maintained partnerships
- Invested in adapting their land and facilities to include three outdoor venues
- Stayed true to their core business and shortened the length of concerts (removing intermission), modified the event, traffic flow, optimized multiple times in a day to carefully use performers for more than one event, invited guests to bring their lawn chairs
- Digital concerts are generating revenue
- New venues are poised to offer new experiences in the summer of 2021 and beyond
- Permanent choice and flexibility for hosting multiple group sizes are in place
- Have plans that address multiple scenarios
- Identify, develop, and maintain relationships with people to support your future directions
- Reframe existing experiences to appeal to smaller audiences yet be profitable
- Provide low-risk booking options
- Build-in sustainability
- Use COVID-19 funding to invest in trying new ways to attract small groups
- Prioritize retaining your highest value customers while cultivating new markets
- Accept change and embrace a mindset of continuous improvement and learning
Adaption and Product Development in Central Counties
Elliott Tree Farm, located in Headwaters region of Central Counties, is a family-run Christmas Tree Farm dating back to the 1890. This past winter, they leveraged the unique setting of their tree farm to attract small groups looking to enjoy the great outdoors, as well as each other’s company.
They invited people to make a day of it – to “relax and enjoy” cross-country skiing and hiking on the farm trails, with their own private picnic table and campfire. Groups of up to eight could bring a cooler and prepared lunch to grill over the fire, while experiencing something new and different. These small group Weekend Campfire experiences were so successful that the Farm has extended this new product to spring/summer once permitted.
Author: Nancy Arsenault, Managing Partner, Tourism Café Canada Ltd.