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Don’t discount promotions

Most tourism industry professionals would not expect to pay full price for entry to a UK visitor attraction. Not because they want or expect special treatment, rather because they know that if they search hard enough they’re likely to find a special offer or discount. Promotions are everywhere – in newspapers, on food packaging, at petrol stations, with utilities’ bills, from travel operators and online. There are magazines and websites dedicated to publicising these offers. Sadly for the attractions involved most promotions are not properly planned, are usually invisible to all but a few of the intended customers and rarely evaluated in terms of costs and benefits.

Promoting disaster

Done well promotions can significantly improve both reputation and footfall, done badly they can trigger a PR disaster and a financial meltdown; ‘free flights from Hoover’ remains the most infamous example of the latter. However, the right offer, marketed and distributed in tandem with a credible high-profile partner can generate significant additional footfall, revenue, data capture and profile.

For consumers there has been an erosion of trust in online voucher codes and money-off schemes with too many hidden costs, restrictions, small print, and vouchers or coupons that are more often expired than valid when people want to use them.

Don’t simply sign up to promotions because they seem like a kind of free advertising. Make sure you’ve set some kind of target that you’d like the promotion to hit such as ticket sales, additional spend or rate-card-equivalent publicity value. Bear in mind offers distributed through sites like Groupon and LivingSocial may well generate sales but only at a huge discount and those customers are unlikely to return paying a higher rate. Social media has also ensured that any offer you put out there is likely to be flagged up all across flagged up on the web, on comparison sites like Moneysupermarket.com or consumer sites like Mumsnet.com.

Find the right partner

Consider fewer but well planned promotions that connect you with a valued high street brand partner, offering high visibility for your offer, an easy to redeem discount, and sufficient opportunity to promote yourself. Top of the list tend to be on-pack offers with cereal companies, table toppers with major fast food chains, tabloid and mid-range national newspapers cut-out coupons and travel tie-ins with national rail or coach companies. However, what you target should fit with the demographic you’re aiming to attract. And when you approach your intended promotional partner be sure to make clear the benefits you’re offering to their brand. This might be an attraction providing hotels with incentives to help them sell Saturday night leisure stays, a destination helping a rail operator to fill off-peak seats or a theatre adding kudos to a local business’s brand.

A common form of discounting is through inclusion in a city pass. These are available for most cities around the world and can represent great value for the canny tourist. For many operators however they are a minefield as the cut to their lead rates can be significant and the cost of inclusion prohibitive. Having said that, the more established passes act by default as a trusted guide for visitors. Check who’s in the scheme for your area, check the discounted rates required, cost of inclusion and the estimated number of pass sales.

Top major errors made when running promotions

  1. Failing to set objectives and return-on-investment targets
  2. Badly worded offers with too many or too few restrictions
  3. Inadequate marketing
  4. Poor communication to the front-of-house team
  5. Complicated terms and conditions causing confusion and delay at ticket desks
  6. Distributing vouchers close to points-of-sale to customers happy to pay the full entry price
  7. No data capture mechanism
  8. Failing to remove out-of-date promotions from own website or third-party sites
  9. Poor record-keeping causing an inability to measure and evaluate
  10. Inadequate financial controls allowing possible staff fraud

Top ten tips for running promotions

  1. Set realistic targets for costs, redemptions, revenue, data capture and publicity value
  2. Add value rather than money off (free souvenir guide, drink with meal, return entry etc)
  3. Make it as simple as possible for the customer to redeem the offer
  4. Always negotiate editorial (minimum 30 words of copy, logo, killer image) to accompany your offer
  5. Target leading FMCG brands at least two years in advance to secure an on-pack promotion
  6. Don’t pay a promotional partner, voucher site or the media for carrying your promotion
  7. Make it appear your partner is giving away value not you
  8. Check details with your ticket desk BEFORE going live with potentially damaging promotions
  9. Make the inclusion of customer contact details on vouchers mandatory and offer an email opt-in facility
  10. Evaluate all promotions and discontinue poor performing offers