Tourism marketing: getting the guests you want

teniqua treetops bath with a view

Every hotel or lodge is going use its tourism marketing to tell you all the reasons you will like them. Luxury Spa. Tick. Infinity pool. Tick. Restaurant serving local cuisine. Tick.

Very few will tell you the reasons you won’t enjoy a visit. It goes against the grain. Why on earth would you want to put anyone off coming?

If all you are interested in is volume, then maybe you don’t care who your guests are, so long as they pay. But shouldn’t a responsible hotelier care not just about how many come, but who they are? If your hotel is based in a region with a very sensitive ecosystem, or if you employ people with little understanding of mainstream tourism expectations to work in your lodge, are there not certain sorts of guests who will come with such demands and complaints that they simply are more trouble than they are worth? And if so, then how might you manage your hotel marketing – or that for your tour or experience – such that you attract those who would get the most out of what you do?

‘Negative’ Tourism Marketing

Screen Shot 2013-09-02 at 12.13.05A while ago, I came across one unusual yet effective approach during a trip along the South African Garden Route. Teniqua Treetops is a magical treehouse escape in the forested hills above Knysna. And on their website there is a page titled ‘Don’t come if…’

The page lists reasons why you shouldn’t come. For example: “you are someone who has phobias about flora or fauna; trees, plants, birds, wild animals, insects, snakes, butterflies, moths, tame animals …… don’t come”. Or “We won’t, don’t, can’t fumigate the forest…so, if you would rather be in a sterile environment ……don’t come”.

I reckon this is very clever tourism marketing, and for several reasons.

First, it makes the owners’ job easier, as they don’t spend their lives dealing with guests who are going to spend the whole time complaining about the way they have chosen to run their business.

Secondly, and more importantly, what they are doing is actually telling potential guests – and in a very original and subtle way – why they might love the place. See how the following sentence is presented as a warning, but reads (for me at least) as an enticement to stay: “Our luxurious baths and showers are open to the forest, no-one but animals or birds can see you. If that’s against your religious beliefs, you won’t be happy here.”

Thirdly, assuming you are anything like me, what would you do if you saw a page saying ‘Don’t come if’? I know I’d be more likely to press it first. It makes me curious. I want to know more.

I am not a number

Screen Shot 2013-09-02 at 12.20.42I said at the top of the article that if all you are interested in numbers, then maybe you would not want to put anyone off. In truth, there’s a very good reason why you might. Thanks to social media, a hotel’s guests have become some of its most powerful ambassadors when it comes to tourism marketing. They write reviews on Tripadvisor. They post their photos on Facebook, where according to a 2011 poll, 52% of users said that seeing friends’ holiday snaps inspired them to book a trip to the same place. They blog about their stay. And maybe they like your hotel’s Facebook page, and from time to time like your posts… and in so doing share your story with their hundreds of friends.

You’ll get none of this free marketing from a guest who doesn’t like their stay, or appreciate what you are trying to do. Not only are they unlikely to be sharing photos or liking your Facebook page, they will also quite possibly be giving you negative reviews on sites like Tripadvisor.

There may be no way of you controlling what a guest writes on social media sites, but getting the right guests in the first place can only help.

Jeremy Smith is a writer, speaker and sustainable tourism consultant. He is co-founder of Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, an initiative that supports tourism organisations in declaring a climate emergency and working together to reduce their carbon emissions in line with the Science Based Targets. He is the author of Transforming Travel - realising the potential of sustainable tourism (2018), and co-founder of, the travel industry sustainable tourism website news site. He consults widely on sustainable tourism strategy and communication, with recent clients including Bruges Ommeland, GSTC, English National Parks, Tripadvisor, the Travel Foundation, and the European Travel Commission. He is a member of Travalyst’s Independent Advisory Board and was a member of Rotterdam’s International Advisory Board in 2019, helping develop a new vision for the city’s tourism.

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