When a community looks at marketing itself as tourism destination, there is often a disconnect between what local folks think tourists want and what tourists really want.
That was the primary message from state tourism officials during the inaugural meeting of the Great Bend Visitors Experience Coordinating Council Wednesday afternoon at the Front Door facility. The council, a group born of the city’s long-range marketing plan, includes local representatives of the food and hospitality industries, arts, culture, tourism and media.
“People are looking for more of an experience. They want a unique experience,” said Kelli Hillard with the tourism office of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. “Remember how you travel and what you expect.”
Goods and services are not enough, she said. They want authentic, hands-on activities. They want dining and shopping that create a lasting impression.
“You have to be open when people are traveling,” Hillard said. This means weekend and evening hours, along with good signage and a strong online presence.
“You’ve had contractors come and help you develop your story,” and that is good, she said. But, this has to go beyond promoting the Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway and needs to include incorporating other attractions.
“Sometimes you have to dig a little bit,” said Becky Blake, state tourism director. There may be a character, person or event that might be of interest. Oscar Micheaux, a famed black filmmaker who is buried in Great Bend, and a popular area cemetery tour were given as examples.
“We are sophisticated as travelers today,” Blake said. Tourists will check websites, online reviews and virtual tours when planning a trip. “Information is at our finger tips.”
And, “money is important,” she said. “They want a perceived value, for both their pocketbook and their time.”
Technology is becoming increasingly crucial as well. From the use of smart phones to Facebook to making sure motel rooms have enough electrical outlets for all of today’s electric gadgets, those working to promote an area must be ready.
“We have to step back away from what we always thought our product was,” Blake said. “Sometimes you have to look in a back room. You have to find a hook.”
“We just want to make sure everyone is on the same page in what they deliver to visitors,” said Cris Collier, executive director of the Great Bend Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. “What we want to deliver may not be what the visitor wants.”
The state officials in town Wednesday explained who the visitors are and where they are coming from. They based their information, including tourist demographics and profiles, on their research.
In the future, the council will also coordinate activity calenders and other events, and work on branding the community.