Across the tourism industry, there’s been a shift in what visitors are looking for and where they’re looking for it. Years ago, travelers aimed for big cities with big ticket items. Now, visitors are looking for the unique and different, and are finding those new experiences with attractions as destinations.
The definition of experience is “an event or occurrence that leaves an impression on someone.” We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: visitors are looking for experiences when they travel. With limited resources and time off, travelers want to be sure the destination will leave an impression on them.
The definition of destination is “a place worthy of travel or an extended visit.” To echo the shift in what visitors are looking for, there’s been a shift in tourism marketing. The term “destination” is no longer limited to a city, county or country. Now, attractions are being thought of as destinations by stepping up their own experiences and creating impressionable moments.
Museums as Destinations
To meet the evolving demand of visitors, attractions are focusing on guest experiences. They are finding ways to keep visitors on-site longer, spending more money and making more memories. For example, museums are offering on-site dining options, multiple exhibits, special events and a variety of activities to encourage extended visits.
The Strong National Museum of Play is currently going through an expansion project to further its recognition as the ultimate destination for all things play. The 90,000-square-foot museum expansion will be home to new exhibits and galleries, interactive play areas and an overhead ropes course. Taking it one step further, the Museum will be part of the Neighborhood of Play. The new, walkable neighborhood will have a family-friendly hotel, housing, retail businesses and playfully themed parking garage.
Craft Beverage Destinations
The craft beer industry is also seeing this shift. No longer can breweries get by solely on serving good beer. To stay competitive, they need to provide an overall experience, starting from the moment you step in the door. Many breweries create a themed environment – from their logo to the layout and design of their taproom to the names of beers on tap. Some have unique mug clubs (such as Prison City Pub and Brewery) or merchandise that create fun atmospheres. Others create community spaces through beer-hall tables and special events. Craft breweries find ways to encourage longer stays through beer flights, live music, trivia or board games.
Taking this idea a step further, some breweries have created craft beer campuses. Visitors can enjoy multiple tasting bars, beer gardens, fire pits, restaurants and even accommodations. 42 North recently opened four guestrooms available for rent called Lofts at 42. Each rental room has a different theme and comes with a growler to fill with your favorite brew.
As owner of 42 North, John Cimperman, explained, “I tell people we’re not in the business of selling beer, we’re really in the business of selling an experience.”
In a similar fashion, Three Brothers Wineries & Estates is home to three unique wineries, a microbrewery and cafe. Their website describes the experience as a way to “maximize your escape from the grind with one stop.” Visitors purchase a $20 passport that provide tastings at each stop across the estate. This not only makes it easier for guests to stay longer, it encourages it.
Hotels as Destinations
By now, you should understand that visitors are looking for something different. And that includes unique places to stay. I attended a conference last year at the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge near Lake George. While the main draw for families is its proximity to the theme park, the hotel itself was just as thrilling. The hotel portrays the “lodge” look in the lobby, hallways and guestrooms. I was there around Halloween time and the seasonal decorations were just as impressive. Visitors of all ages “oohed” when they walked in the door and looked around.
The hotel has its own indoor water park, Kids Klub Clubhouse and an arcade. But the fun doesn’t end there. During my walk from the elevator to my guestroom, I passed multiple play areas right in the hallway. From fun digital boards to large video games, this hotel was meant for hours of fun. Playing into the family fun theme, the on-site restaurant was a Johnny Rockets, the retro hamburger and malt shop. With so much to do and see, families can expect to be entertained without ever leaving the hotel.
Getting Started as a Destination
It’s time to flip the script and make yourself known as a destination. Think through what guests are looking for when they visit. List out reasons why visitors aren’t staying longer. Consider ways to work these into your experience. For example, if visitors typically leave to go out to eat, think about how you can offer on-site dining options. If families are running out of things to do, think of ways to keep kids entertained. Add more hands-on exhibits, or games and photos booths in hallways. Create scavenger hunts throughout the building to spot silly design details.
The more your destination leaves an impression, the longer people will stay and the more they will talk about it to others.