Summer in Saratoga: Fostering relationships during tourism season

From late July through Labor Day, the City of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., experiences an influx of tourists for 40 days of premier thoroughbred racing at the Saratoga Race Course. If local businesses play their cards right, they can increase business and establish lasting relationships with customers beyond track season. This is the second of a three-part series. And while this article is targeted for marketing in a tourist destination market, specifically the Saratoga Springs market, many of the principles suggested are relevant to all businesses, regardless of market.

Last week we discussed the distractions of track season (i.e. busy streets, lack of parking, packed restaurants, gambling, family demands, summer sun) and the importance of establishing a business plan for the summer tourism season. This week, we’re going to talk about fostering relationships with tourists.

Unlike the Saratoga natives who are already familiar with your business, most tourists are completely unaware of your business, products and/or services. Therefore, you will have to work twice as hard to gain their trust…and you only have a small window of time to do it.

Fostering relationships during tourism season—in Saratoga or any destination spot for that matter—is about building a positive and authentic experience for tourists. In other words, be hospitable and true to who you are and what your business values. Hospitality refers to the relationship between a guest and host, or in this case tourists and your business. Just as you would welcome a new guest into your home, your business should be equally as welcoming.

This means developing a good first impression. A good first impression shows tourists that you are professional and well prepared. It also sets the tone for future business relationships—like converting seasonal tourists into loyal year-round customers.

One way to attract tourists is to have an alluring storefront. This could be as simple as using lighting techniques and creative displays to attract tourists. Or, if you want to get more inventive, you could display videos for product education and customer entertainment.

Also, don’t overlook what the customer will experience once they come through the door. Is your business clean and well organized? Or does it create sensory overload? Traffic patterns in your place of business aren’t accidental. They are the result of strategic thinking and skill. Do it well, and the customer will generate positive feelings about your brand without consciously thinking about it.

Mobile marketing is also a great way to foster relationships with tourists. As we mentioned last week, people on vacation refer to their smart phones and laptops to gather information, look up directions, and ultimately make decisions. Use location-based Internet and mobile marketing tactics to offer daily deals or discounts to tourists.

Take advantage of local associations. The Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau, for example, has created a “walking map” of their members that is available both online and at their strategically placed kiosk. The Saratoga Chamber of Commerce is also a well visited directory. So consider joining both groups. It will help you become more visible—to tourists and search engines such as Google and Bing—and it will also help boost your website’s page rank, which is important for search engine optimization. (For more on SEO, read “SEO: Checking Your Own Rank”.)

Above all, hospitality is about having good customer service. Recent studies have demonstrated that customer service is more important to consumers than price and functionality. It’s also more likely to give you repeat business.

How can you provide good customer service? By developing a relationship in which individuals feel happy and appreciated. So happy that they pass positive feedback about your business on to the next person, who may feel obliged to try your products and/or services. It is also about empowering your employees to resolve customer issues on their own…and providing them with the training to do so.

Fostering relationships with tourists is crucial during track season. Remember to be hospitable and make a good first impression because customer loyalty and repeat business is the livelihood of every business.

Tune in next week (July 25) to learn about how to turn seasonal customers into year-long clientele. And don’t forget to enjoy opening day of the Saratoga Race Course this Friday.

Have a great summer season!