Marketing Tips

The South African golfer Gary Player famously said that the ‘harder you work, the luckier you get’. He could have been talking about leisure marketing, where talking a good game, a winning smile and sharp suits are no substitute for knowing your stuff. The marketer who confesses to not knowing which ‘50% of the advertising is working’ is in the wrong job. Start making your own luck by checking out the marketing tips listed below. Choose from the specialist sector pages or browse the Marketing A-Z, which is regularly added to and updated.


Marketing Destinations

Marketing Attractions

Marketing Accommodation

Marketing Events and Festivals

Marketing Theatre and the Arts

Marketing Shopping Centres

Marketing A-Z


Affiliate marketing

Don’t view this as an internet fad or some kind of pyramid selling. Provide coding to incentivise third parties to push traffic to your site for online bookings, tickets, goods and services. Think of it as the modern equivalent of offering (now much lower) commissions to ticket agents and tourist information centres but on a far greater scale. This is the monetised side of word-of-mouth advertising.

Ambient media

Spending your money on giant posters, wraparound buses, trains, planes or even escalator steps only makes sense as part of a bigger campaign where the hoped for shock or novelty value complements more traditional advertising. Start by asking yourself whether it will deliver the required numbers (‘eyeballs’) within your target market. If you’ve got the budget then the right gimmick could generate great press and a sense of what your customer experience or brand is all about.


Tourism and leisure web-based apps for mobiles and tablets are pretty much established with many organisations opting for pointless ‘me-too’ cloning of rival offerings. Be sure there’s a rationale to yours otherwise you’re better off providing a dedicated mobile website that delivers up-to-date pricing, availability, printed and scannable barcode tickets and personalised offers. Apps that replace the need to buy a museum guide or jostle to read interpretation boards are a real benefit to visitors as are GPS enabled virtual tour guides. Don’t forget to enable for both iPhone, Android and other formats.


Bus advertising

Side and rear bus posters are popular with tourism and leisure companies as these are visible to residents and tourists, regardless of whether they are pedestrians or passengers. Go for high impact visuals and single short messages that can be read and understood instantly from 50 metres. Expect to pay almost as much for print as for the media space. Check the buses are posted on time and for the routes selected. Avoid out-of-date posters on buses, it’s not a bonus – they will look tatty at best and out-of-date advertising messages make your brand or business look unprofessional.



Unless you’re offering an unbelievable prize worthy of global PR you’ll find regular competitions play a more modest but valuable role in securing customer contact data and securing free name-checks in the media, most of whom will include details for free as long as the prize is of sufficient value. Add the competition to your own online site making sure you request email addresses. Add an opt-in checkbox to enable future communications. Add details to online competition and comparison sites but be wary of automated duplicate entries.

Coach parties

Be honest – does your venue or destination offer a compelling experience for coach parties? Do your homework first before targeting coach operators. Remember, they’ll usually want to see interest from their customers before investing in new itineraries and advertising so target group organisers in advance of any approach to travel operators. Ideally, approach the travel trade for coach business on the back of a major advertising campaign when awareness will be highest amongst all consumers. Always provide several months lead-in time for groups and travel trade. Whilst you’ll pick up some business at short notice most groups and operators will have set their programmes many months and sometimes years in advance. Read More


Direct mail

If you’re launching a new attraction, venue or shopping centre guide then an old-fashioned door drop could still be your best bet for establishing good awareness within your local catchment area. Timing is critical so your item should ideally hit doormats just after a burst of PR activity and/or paid advertising. Do not underestimate the value of a simple ‘we’re opening in your area’ announcement backed by a strong sales message and call-to-action, preferably some kind of redeemable offer to encourage retention and subsequent usage of a clipped coupon. Work at a postcode level targeting only those areas that represent your preferred demographic. Royal Mail offers fairly decent guidance on getting the most from direct mail but it also pays for you to understand a little about customer profiling systems such as ACORNMOSAIC or ArkLeisure.

Once you’ve built up a database of repeat customers personalised mailings will produce a much higher response rate but limit these to content that cannot be replicated electronically such as image heavy seasonal shopping guides.


Do you need to offer a discount? Seems an odd question as most leisure venues trot out the usual range of concessions. These rates for students, pensioners, the unwaged and groups tend to be anything but practical, relying on traditional pricing rather than any kind of cost benefit analysis as far as each visitor segment is concerned. Draw up a sales and pricing strategy that fits your target audience. Start by trying to place a value on your service for each type of customer it will be profitable for you to attract. Consider dynamic pricing and look to offer premium packages that up-sell membership, additional experiences, goods or services. Unnecessary discounting hits your bottom line and can lower the perceived value of your experience.


Email marketing

Although its low cost makes this marketing channel popular for most organisations, tourism and leisure businesses need to use email marketing with care. Great for communicating with regular customers and the travel trade they are, however, unlikely to generate much new business. Keep your e-newsletters short and sweet with minimal text and few images. Provide a maximum of 1-2 key messages with links to further online content. Limit the frequency of emails to no more than monthly. Make it easy for forwarding on to friends and family and include a straightforward unsubscribe facility. Test all messages first with the major browsers.


Fax marketing




It is estimated there are at any time approximately 7,000 organised groups of ten or more people active in the UK. Add to that the huge number of inbound overseas groups and the importance of this market cannot be overestimated for many venues. Read More



For most venues reliant on the holiday leisure visitor, rather than the business customer,  school and bank holidays are a critical time for generating footfall and revenue. Do your homework. Don’t just know when your local holiday dates are scheduled, check out those other areas from which your likely visitors will originate. School term dates differ from county to county. The same applies to overseas countries where there may also be differences from state to state. Knowing the holiday dates for your key audiences allows you to market and sell more effectively, manage stock levels and plan staffing rotas . You’ll find all the dates online but you’ll need to search by area and country.

Horizontal integration

Unless you’ve got plans to take over or merge with your competitors I suggest you ignore this and click on a different letter offering more practical marketing advice. For everyone else click here


Internal marketing

Don’t assume your colleagues know everything they should about your products, services or latest promotional campaigns. Whether they work in accounts, the cafe, shop, front desk  or on the phones make sure all staff are able to act as an extension of your sales effort. Test their knowledge on a regular basis at team meetings. Try to make it fun. Offer incentives for outstanding performance resulting in additional business and encourage ideas and suggestions on improving your marketing.

Internet advertising

The value of  internet advertising largely depends on your sector within tourism and leisure. It’s of negligible value for all but the larger hotel chains aggressively competing in the paid search arena. Be wary of allowing poor quality or inappropriate advertising on your own web site as the negative impression on your customers will outweigh any revenue received. Avoid paying for listings or banners on third parties sites and directories. Concentrate on a natural search strategy  to keep your site well ranked by including well written relevant content and great images, highlighting unique key words and phrases that best reflect the experience you offer. Use Google Analytics or other evaluative tools to work out the best referrers to your site.


Joint advertising with similar or local businesses

Despite regular attempts to cut costs by pooling resources few organisations feel comfortable sharing advertising campaigns or engaging in cross-selling with similar businesses. Unless of course they’re under common ownership, as in the case of the portfolio of attraction brands operated by Merlin Entertainments. Geographical clustering of attractions to deliver a critical mass and cross-selling opportunities is becoming the norm for the larger leisure organisations. But sometimes partnering with your rivals makes sense. It might give you access to advertising channels you couldn’t otherwise afford. You could draw benefit from association with a bigger better-known brand. Your combined offer might mean you now become a genuine all-day visit justifying a group visit, a regular slot in a tour operator’s itinerary or gain the attention of the travel media. But choose partners with common audiences that complement rather than compete with your offer, plan well and agree mutually rewarding objectives.


Key Performance Indicators

Any business needs to know how it’s doing at any time. Not just numbers of visitors, but spends, customer satisfaction, return on marketing investment, costs per employee, market share, revenue per available room, occupancy and other sector specific criteria. The same is true of your promotional efforts. The old adage of ‘not knowing which 50% of your marketing is working’ is pretty much outdated given how much easier it is to measure performance in our digital age. You should never be in a position where you are running a specific marketing activity a second time without having fully measured its effectiveness after the first time. New venues or businesses can make educated guesses as to what sales and marketing tactics might work for them and there should be a degree of testing different channels. But set your KPIs and strip out all but the most cost-effective activity by year two.



The printed leaflet or brochure has continued to survive despite the onset of digital technologies. Familiarity and ease of use remain important to many leisure visitors so any operator abandons them at their peril. Good practice remains vital. The top quarter of a racked leaflet must clearly deliver the name and essence of the offer and a reason for the leaflet to be picked up. Easily read fonts and sizes, attractive good quality pictures, salient facts about the venue, experiences and benefits on offer, opening times, maps, perhaps QR codes and links and to online information and so on.

The weight of the paper stock used should ensure it doesn’t ‘flop’ in the racks or be so thick it needs re-stocking too often. A format of 1/3 A4 (DL) should guarantee inclusion in most racks, fancy die cut shapes or taller leaflets inevitably stand but risk exclusion from racks (unless given the highest slots) and will not fit inside standard envelopes when mailing them. Code leaflets to enable tracking so you can see which locations work best for you. Use a paid professional distribution service for the vast majority of your brochures but carefully monitor the statistical monitoring they provide. Always do spot checks of your own.


Marketing Plan

As is often said ‘if you fail to plan you plan to fail’. But you don’t need to over complicate your strategy and tactical planning. Where are we now? Where are we going? How are we going to get there? How will we know when we’ve got there? Answer these questions and you’ve started to put together an effective marketing plan. Remember, the plan is simply your way of efficiently organising the achievement of certain set targets.

Marketers, rather in the manner of US showman Busby Berkeley’s philosophy ‘why use ten dancers when a hundred would do’, love to pepper their strategies with buzzwords and acronyms. SMART objectives, ROI, metrics, matrices and a smidgeon of brand elasticity. All good but the basis of an effective one year plan is a short report detailing how, when and at what cost you’ll be attracting the necessary visitors spending the requisite amounts of money with your business. It should be both measurable and flexible enabling tactical changes as required. Leisure and tourism is more prone to variable shifts in trading than many other industries and you need to be appropriately fleet of foot.

Perhaps more important for the smaller business with little budget spare for expensive advertising is an ability to generate off-the-peg PR and exploit ad hoc promotional opportunities.  Once you’ve agreed your budget for the brochure, any necessary subscriptions or advertisements make sure you’ve set out what promotional activity you’ve lined up for today, tomorrow, next month and next year and commit to it. If you’d like help with producing your next plan see my services page for details.

Oh and everything you do to market your business should maintain and extend the good reputation of your venue, attraction or destination. Build consistency and quality into your plan. Reinforce your key messages, what’s truly great and unique about what you offer. Remember, the more you tell, the more you sell!



Mail newsletters only where the extra cost of printing and postage can be justified by the demands of the audience. Many older theatre-goers and group organisers prefer to receive hard copies of marketing materials. But limit frequency and include essential information only such as new seasonal programmes and details of future exhibitions. Seasonal guides previewing the latest fashions and shopping offers can take advantage of the added quality print can offer your key images. Newsletters, whether printed or digital, should only be distributed to existing customers and your customers lists should be kept scrupulously clean of duplicates, opt-outs and especially the deceased!


Overseas marketing

Marketing managers often set targets for overseas markets without having any actual ability to influence this side of their business. Unless you are a large organisation with a substantial budget don’t attempt to market overseas on your own. Even for those businesses that are flush a trade mission to Beijing is a waste of money unless you represent an already iconic example of Britain’s heritage product or can deliver a high quality retail experience offering access to the luxury branded goods they’re after. If you’re serious about breaking into new overseas markets make sure your offer is up to it with technically good quality (expensive) interpretation and audio guides in the target language.

For most businesses it is more cost effective to work both with your local tourist board and at the same time keep in regular contact with the national tourism agency. A modest subscription to the former allows your business to lobby for inclusion in marketing and PR stories distributed worldwide. It is pointless to try and compete with major initiatives such as VisitBritain’s GREAT Britain – You’re Invited campaign. Your main efforts should be directed at grabbing a share of the overseas visitors already in your area. So know who they are and which countries they come from, what languages they speak and what kind of benefits and experiences they’re looking for. Lobby tour operators for inclusion in itineraries offering commission and plenty of incentives to drivers and group leaders with discretionary choice as to where their clients visit.


Press Releases

It’s obvious for most small to medium sized businesses that PR is the most effective to raise their profile and generate visitors. Get to know target media and give them what they’re looking for. A good story, tightly written in a Who? What? When? Why? format should act as the basis of press releases sent to expectant editors who will quickly value your contributions. A catchy headline and a quirky angle are vital and a couple of great images should be made available. As well as having a reputation for supplying good copy editors will also appreciate the availability of charismatic and media-friendly spokespersons for related news items whatever their source. You can create your own free media list of contacts by ringing round the various media outlets or consulting the latest annual directories available in your local library.

Poster advertising

Every owner of media advertising channels, including television, radio and outdoor posters will provide data that appears to show you their medium is the most effective. For businesses with relatively small budgets however, the renting of carefully selected poster sites can work well. Choose key roadside sites that will be seen by your target audience within your visitor catchment area. Even as few as half a dozen strategically placed 48sheet posters can deliver an impact relatively quickly. The key to such advertising is to ensure that the posters are part of a mix of marketing activity that can create a critical mass of awareness for a given message, such as a new attraction, exhibition or event.

I recommend fewer but larger format posters for the smaller business complemented by perhaps local radio advertising and PR activity. Make sure your posters can be read and understood within 1-2 seconds from a distance of 50m. That means a single short message acting as your call-to-action, ideally linked to a memorable URL. You’ll find plenty of tips on good practise for bus, rail, underground, airport and other roadside media on the websites of the principal outdoor media owners. Read More


Leisure businesses are notoriously lax in applying the rigour adopted by the main FMCG brands when running promotions. Set criteria such as the return on investment expected for footfall, revenue and/or awareness building. Avoid staff fraud (you shouldn’t need to ask how), don’t break any consumer laws, honour promises to the customer and tell your own staff what’s happening. Read More



Observe at least one famous London attraction good for star-spotting and you’ll see an example of clever queue management that many businesses would do well to learn from. Lengthy queues generating a constant reminder of the venue’s popularity. There is excellent use of queue attendants to both entertain and start the process of up-selling to customers as well as advising on the correct change, coupons, discount cards, gift aid contribution and so on to be produced in readiness for their transaction.

Then there’s fast track entry to enable premium pricing and to process groups. Observe the actual ticket desks and you’ll see well-trained staff pushing souvenir guides and cross-selling sister attractions, all of which maintains the ever-lengthening but well-managed queue outside. Smaller businesses may never see the same kind of volume or pressure on their ticket desks but I suggest they revisit how they manage more effectively and profitably their means of getting customers in to their venues.

QR codes

Creating an easily scannable barcode link for smartphones to further online content has become a popular tactic for tourism and leisure businesses. My advice is to focus on the experience enhancement it offers rather than as a quicker way for customers to access your website than typing in the URL. Providing background information about the gourmet meal you’re eating or additional video, images and audio of the museum tour you’re on shows its real worth. Retailers are quickly perfecting shop front usage enticing passers-by with special offers, downloadable apps and links to social media activity.



How many times have you heard operators complain business is bad and then publicly blame the weather, the World Cup, Olympics, recession or some similar general factor? Worse still, internally the knives could be out for whoever does the marketing. Conversely reputations are often built on pure luck as footfall goes through the roof without any real understanding of the factors driving it. As crazy as it seems this is the norm for many leisure and tourism businesses who fail to invest in basic research to justify their marketing strategies.

A piece of commissioned customer research is likely to set you back thousands of pounds putting it out of the reach of many smaller businesses. However, knowledge is power and establishing the characteristics, attitudes, needs and wants of your potential customers is critical for your survival and future growth. Try to share costs with relevant local businesses or local tourism agency. A well designed exit survey or questionnaire is an essential tool for understanding your customers and informing your marketing decisions. However, existing customers only tells you so much and with the odd exception tend to validate their decision to visit you in the first place. You need to find out why potential customers who fit your target audience are not visiting. As well as doing your daily exit surveys my suggestion is you use a mix of street and telephone interviews targeting representative samples of your target audiences, repeating the exercise every couple of years to track changes.


Search engine optimisation (SEO)

Unless you’re running a major branded hotel chain avoid paying for costly advice from the newly established industry of SEO experts. Instead focus on populating your desk top and mobile web sites with good quality relevant content rich in your most relevant key words. By definition most attractions and events are pretty unique and likely to achieve top ranking with search engines like Google as long as they are properly named, well structured and their basic offer set out. Try to include content your customers will highly value, with advice, tips and offers.

Competing for a ranking under ‘great days out’ or ‘UK events’ is a waste of time and money whilst any search for your location and theme/activity should guarantee a first page ‘above-the-fold’ position, as long as you have decent regularly changing content and page titles. Encourage links from partners’ sites and your own social media activity.


A hobby horse of mine. Few people in tourism and leisure know how to sell. Despite the large number of academic and professional courses dedicated to leisure and tourism few give much attention to specialist sales training. Part of the reason recruits from leading FMCG marketing companies are popular in larger leisure companies is due to the discipline they bring regarding the art of selling, setting targets and earning a decent return on marketing investment. You should prioritise sales skills when hiring marketing staff. A good working knowledge of sustainable tourism in the Pacific is not much use when you’re trying to convince a hard-bitten coach operator to include your venue in its next year’s tour programme.

I strongly recommend the setting of incentive driven targets for marketing staff. You should, for example, set a target for weekly appointments with tour and coach operators, for actual group visits, school parties, conferences, booked meeting rooms, weddings and so on. The average number of times a conservatory salesman will attempt to close the sale is nine. How many leisure marketers even attempt to get an appointment?

Social Media

Remember when we used to gather round the water cooler, chat on the phone, even send postcards and letters, telling all our friends, colleagues and families about the highs and lows of our last holiday? Well, many of those conversations and communications are carried out online, much more publicly, with much greater immediacy, reaching many more people, on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest and review sites such as Tripadvisor.

Over 50% of the UK population now use Facebook and over 10million have Twitter accounts, double those in 2011. Skewed toward a younger demographic, users are also slightly more likely to be women, representing many of the key decision makers for holidays and days out. In short, these are sites you can’t afford to ignore, particularly as much of your competition will increasingly be active on them. Even searches on Google are slowing down in face of these social media sites, meaning many more decisions on travel and leisure are being driven by recommendations made on Twitter, Facebook and others.

But a word of caution. This is primarily a means of social communication, not an effective vehicle for advertising your business in the traditional sense. So resist agency claims promising significant ‘customer engagement’ or the like. Conversion rates for brands are minimal. Just like you wouldn’t expect a salesman to join in your private conversation by the water cooler.  Read More


Tourism signage

A vital lifeline to operators but visual clutter for many town planners tourism signage can be a minefield for the inexperienced operator. Read More


User reviews

Don’t try to hide from reviews whether from the press, specialist guides or the public. Have confidence in your product, service and experience and use feedback as useful free advice. Tripadvisor-style sites are here to stay and customers expect to quickly find customer reviews and use them as an essential part of their planning process. By all means highlight great testimonials in your marketing materials but also make it easy for potential customers to read about you using un biased sources as well.


Visiting friends and relatives

Much of the most effective marketing done on behalf of your business will be carried out by people living in your local area. These are your local ambassadors whose likes and dislikes will influence the choices made by their visiting friends and relatives. You should include them as a key audience in your marketing activity even if you are predominantly catering for non-local customers. Even hotels benefit from a relatively high proportion of the VFR market that does not stay in private homes but used locally recommended paid accommodation. Make sure your local media are regularly updated with news stories, work with local charities, organise familiarise visits, run competitions, donate raffle prizes to schools and hospitals and play your part in generating pride in the local community.



Go to any reasonably popular US or Mediterranean tourist destination and you’ll see a vast difference in how tourism businesses compete for visitors compared to the UK. While you shouldn’t pester people unnecessarily it’s never too late to attract a few more visitors into your venue. Changing weather conditions can trigger sudden footfall. Ideal for indoor attractions is good early morning weather followed by a downpour. If it’s rotten from the off a day out becomes a day in and people will not travel in the first place.

Make sure you exploit extreme weather conditions by being as flexible as you can with your opening hours. It’s always easier to attract visitors when they want to visit so if it means opening for longer on a busy day then do so. Place those ‘A’ boards in the most prominent position you can outside your venue. Make sure any online search quickly reveals your up-to-the-minute opening times, prices and an encouragement to visit that day. Target areas where visitors congregate and hand out leaflets. Use costumed characters or very personable staff. Back on site, keep brollies on hand to loan to customers queuing in the rain.

You can’t do much to fight hot weather if you’re an indoor venue but you could, for example, highlight the availability of  relevant facilities such as air-conditioning, delicious ice-cream, ice cold drinks and ample seating. Use any down-time to have spare staff leaflet busy locations. Look to offer free food or drink vouchers with paid entry as an incentive, making best use of otherwise perishable stock to increase footfall.


Fast-loading, core information is more important than entertainment. Mobile is overtaking desk top. Design for a mobile site that can be adapted for desk and tablets not the other way round. Provide a blend of quick downloading easy-to-read up-to-date essential information on opening times, prices, location, special offers and links to social media sites. Do not get carried away by the number of ‘hits’, ‘unique visitors’ or ‘dwell times’. It is the impact on enquiries, bookings and visits that is critical. Cashless payments using smartphones is already being trialled so your ability to measure online effectiveness should increase. Unless your organisation has funding linked to website usage and demographics focus instead on your site’s usefulness as source for information and bookings for your target customers. And lose the Flash-based landing page!


X-rated attractions

Put a sign up that says ‘adults only’ or ‘not for the faint-hearted’ and you’ll see a counter-intuitive response from customers. Offering a few thrills and shocks preceded by a dramatic ‘enter at your own risk’ warning is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Just make sure you deliver on any promises. A great sales technique is to provide a screen at the entrance showing the emotional response of customers as they exit the attraction.



Rather than host videos that take up costly bandwidth on your own website post short videos on sites like Youtube, Vimeo or Vine. Encourage visitor to post their own videos about your venue and run links (with screenshots) for those you like. Unless you’re Danny Boyle with a royal gimmick up your sleeve don’t invest your budget in viral marketing as the odds on your video masterpiece paying a return is minimal.


Zero budgeting

No, it doesn’t mean cost-free marketing. Don’t set a budget figure and try to work within it. Instead identify the marketing activities you need carry out in order to achieve your desired footfall and revenue. Your marketing budget should be built up by totting up the costs of what you need to do in order to achieve your objectives.