Don’t want to offend? That means confused visitors and vanilla content

Dumping from the dump truck, and leaving visitors to sort it out (courtesy xcode on Flickr CC)Many tourism organizations that are not member-based have told me they’re reluctant to mention specific businesses or events in their towns for fear of offending someone.

They say things like….

** “If I RT (retweet) something on Twitter from that particular restaurant, the other restaurants will fuss that I didn’t mention them, too.”

** “If I create suggested itineraries to help visitors, the ones who aren’t on the itineraries will complain.”

** “If I show a photo from that hotel on my Facebook Page, the other hotels will be mad.”

** “If I group restaurants on my website a certain way, rather than listing them alphabetically, some of them will be upset.”

** “If I plug that festival on our blog, the other festival organizers will get huffy.”

All of this may be true, but what it means is that you are not giving visitors the best possible information about how to enjoy their stay in your town. You’re giving them a laundry list – a data dump – and expecting them to figure it out on their own.

This is especially true of my pet peeve: tourism websites that list restaurants alphabetically under Where To Eat, from Applebee’s to Z Pizza.  Gee, then visitors have the joy of wading through that crapola and picking one….without even the courtesy of having them laid out on a mobile-friendly map, to ease the pain of confusion as they drive around an unfamiliar town (probably with hungry kids squawking in the back seat.)

No wonder they go for your safe, known chain places and leave uninspired by anything unique that you offer. Meh.

Rather than using a tweet or Facebook photo to show them, for example, only-in-our-town highlights like that amazing lemon meringue pie at a local bakery, you pump out no-impact, inoffensive, rah-rah vanilla content like “Eat, Stay, Play” without any interesting specifics on where and how to eat, stay and play.

On conversational social media sites, such brochure-speak is a yawner for everyone (you’re bored writing it and they’re bored reading it) so visitors may turn to random searches on Google or Yelp or “where do locals go?” Facebook shouts or tweets to their networks, all in an effort to get past unhelpful data dumps and onto useful information that works for them and their travel companions.

Why not try to figure out a workable, equitable system to spotlight worthy places when it makes sense to do so?

There’s no perfect solution, but at least sit down, think about it and consider offering some options….

**  A rotating tweet or retweet from each restaurant on your website listing. They aren’t on Twitter? Fine; support those who are.  The others can figure it out at their leisure.

**  A variety of Facebook photos, one per day or week, of a special dish from each restaurant in town. If the restaurant doesn’t provide a photo, then they aren’t mentioned. Tough cookies, you know?

**  Offer a short guest post on your blog to the manager of each hotel in town, talking about his or her favorite thing to suggest to visitors as a “must-see.”  Those who provide a good post get on your blog. Those who are “too busy” won’t get one. It’s not as though you aren’t offering the option to everyone.

**  Tell your local restaurants, shops and lodging that you’re setting up some suggested itineraries (family-friendly, history buff, foodie, craft enthusiast, etc.) on your website. Have some brainstorming sessions with them. Publish the first 3-4 that you create. Invite further input from those not yet included. Make them show you where they might best fit with a visitor’s interests.

**  Follow the lead of Visit Virginia and put a This Month tab on your Facebook Page for Events This Month (event calendars are consistently one of the most-trafficked pages on tourism websites, too) and be open to musical entertainment, festivals, dances, specials, etc. Those who don’t submit their data, don’t get on your calendar.

Think of yourself as both the best source of local information, and also as an online publisher who is capable of getting that quality information out on any channel you choose – text, photo, video, audio.

Either you act as the expert, reliable source, or a lone blogger like me or Kate Canterbury (who writes Columbia, Missouri’s Capturing CoMo) will do it….because we can and you didn’t.

We are not constrained by this pervasive avoidance of offending anyone, and with a little creativity and some teamwork around town, you really don’t have to be constrained that much, either.

Have you found any successful ways to deal with this issue? Please let us know down in the comments.

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10 Responses to Don’t want to offend? That means confused visitors and vanilla content

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Don't want to offend? That means confused visitors and vanilla content | Sheila's Guide To The Good Stuff -- Topsy.com

  2. So very true!

    I don’t expect totally subjective info from a tourism site, after all, the expectation is that they’ll promote their area businesses, but I do expect honesty. Don’t tell me that the best pie in town is at the XYZ cafe when they buy it from the ABC supermarket. There’s got to be something to say about nearly every business in your town, just be honest.

    And I think member only tourism sites should be required to disclose that. That is certainly something that I’d want to know when taking into account the information listed on the site.
    Mary Jo Manzanares´s last [post] ..Shopping in Tonalá- Mexico

    • Hi Mary Jo,

      That’s right; EVERY business has something interesting to say, and that’s what visitors want. A little coordination and there are plenty of ways to get the word out fairly, for everyone. Agree with the comment about membership tourism sites; no problem with having them, of course, but visitors should know the deal.

  3. Ashley White says:

    I agree completely Sheila! We aren’t a member-based CVB and with us being a small town, we have to be careful about how much we promote one business over another. However, as a CVB who is funded through hotel occupancy taxes, it’s our job to put (& keep) heads in beds. That means doing the best job selling our city. And, if that turns out to be giving one business a little more exposure than the other because it’s the best sell for our city than so be it. Of course, there is a happy medium; but, we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot for the sake of offending no one.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Ashley – this line of yours really sums it up – “….we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot for the sake of offending no one.”

      Could NOT have said it better myself, but it rings truer when it comes from the CVB trenches!

      If you want to talk about cool Beaumont locals like Rao’s Bakery or Jason’s Deli, for example, I’m all ears. 🙂

  4. Bob Foley says:

    It’s fun and creates good interaction to post questions on Twitter & FB such “What is your favorite place for lemon meringue pie in ___________”. On twitter, retweet the responses. If the restaurants are listening (not so often), then they have an opportunity to respond as well.

  5. Hi Bob,

    How’s cold Pittsburgh? Thanks for stopping by! Yes, I like your idea of chatting up the highlights with visitor and local input – it’s even better that way.

    And sigh….doesn’t it make you nuts when people are saying all those nice things and the restaurant in question doesn’t come engage with them? Oh, well, part of the ongoing learning process with this stuff.

  6. In response to your mention of mobile friendly restaurant listings, I remember the lightbulb going off in my head when I saw a simply done brochure insert of Abilene, TX that broke down hotels and restaurants into quadrant listings on a map so you could figure out their proximity to one another. That made me very happy when I overnighted there my first time. I remember a paper version in Grapevine too that just put a “color code sybol next to the hotel/restaurant listing to designate its location. When I go to the websites though, they aren’t there to be found 🙁

    Rochester goes as far as to put a lengthy description about how there town is divided into 4 quadrants, but when you go to hotels they are listed alphabetically and the restaurants are by food type! I think it is fairly safe to say, as travelers we “shop” for accommoations by type and then “shop” for our restuarnts based on proximity. We “shop” for food by type when at home because we are tired of the food available in close proximity to our homes.

    That being said, I was very happy to find Calgary, Canada gave me restaurant choices by location:
    http://www.visitcalgary.com/things-to-do/restaurants-dining
    Do you have some other good examples to suggest that I can take a look at?

    Thanks for your always wonderful insights!

    • Hi Leslie,

      Thanks very much, those are great suggestions! Ping Shanna at @AbileneCVB and let her know your thoughts. 🙂 I don’t have any other examples off the top of my head, but I’ll poke around and try to come up with a few.

  7. jake says:

    Hello Sheila:
    We produce http://www.thetouroperator.com, a closed b2b site where tour operators and travel planners can go to find destination stuff not accessible on Google. (Sample itineraries by day, restaurants for groups, events to sell around, high-res royalty free images,etc) and our clients are tourism organizations who pay us a fee to have their trade content aggregated on one site. The users, tour operators, travel planners tell me that they find destination organizations largely useless because they are besotted by the need to be politically correct and not offend stakeholders. It’s a question of maintaining credibility vs omitting the hands that are feeding you.
    The smart ones are using social media in a tactical way to direct people to recommendations by locals be including these posts in their newsletters and e-mail communications with the trade.

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