How do we get them to pull off the highway to stop in our town?

In the past month, Laura Bowden (Eden, Texas) and Lila Burgess (Goldendale, Washington) both asked about how to get travelers to stop in their small town. Lila put it this way:

“Here in Goldendale, WA we are suffering from what I call ‘Radiator Springs Syndrome.’ Like the town in the Cars movie, a main hwy used to go through our town, but now that a new hwy has been built people drive on by and don’t know that there is more to Goldendale than just the gas station/mini mart that sit along the hwy. What suggestions do you have to let people know that ‘We Are Here!’ ? The new hwy is declared scenic so signage on the hwy has limitations.”

Let’s talk about that. I think by the time people are driving by on the highway, it’s too late. They already know where they are going. People still at home are fair game!

Before you worry about “getting people to stop”, recognize that “family and friends” visits are your primary source of visitors right now. Teach your locals how to be good “family and friends” tour guides and hosts. Give them things to do together. Start with small town things that you already do well:

  • ball games
  • star gazing
  • church suppers
  • picnics
  • drives
  • local eateries
  • farm visits
  • artist visits
  • cookouts
  • cool local experiences.

These are all memorable experiences. They don’t have to be big to be memorable. In a world of so many choices, the memorable experiences are the most valuable commodity we can offer.

Use your 8 Rural Cultural Elements. This exercise will help you realize the amazing things you already have. Read about how to do it in Developing small town tourism.

Adapt to people’s changing travel motivations. Visitors today want different things than they did in the past. Find out more in Changing travel motivations.

Ask recent residents what surprised and delighted them. Anyone who is new in town will have some idea of what is amazing that you take for granted. Ask them about it.

Tie in with other regional towns. You may not have enough cool things on your own to warrant a stop, but if you partner up with neighboring towns, you just might have it.

Be known for one thing. Pick your one best asset and go with it. The committee will probably argue to include lots more things. Resist. Show them Roger Brooks’ advice in How to market a small town.

When I shared these ideas on Small Biz Survival, Graham for Charleville, in Queensland, Australia, had some advice that actually might get travelers to stop, and maybe look around:
“From an Aussie perspective touring around our great country is a series of toilet stops. I know some of your readers might think I’m silly but you get a town to build the “flashiest” set of toilets and see what happens. Travelers will talk about that town for ever, not just because of the toilets but other things will creep into the conversation, travelers won’t be able to help themselves they will have to stop and have a look, then it’s up to the people to value add. So to speak.”

So that’s just a starting point to the conversation. What do you think? How do you get visitors to town?

Keep making your small town better,

PS – An audience member at one of my presentations came up with this idea: what if your “shop local” coupon book was actually a secret tool to make your town a better place? Read their trick in Turn a simple coupon book into an engagement tool