May 14, 2019

How to Get More Visitors in the Shoulder Season

If you're an outdoor destination, you've got plenty of unique experiences you can leverage to do the job.

Most hospitality business have well-defined seasons. During the peak months, things are going gangbusters, and if you’re not running at max capacity, you’re really damn close. Sometimes it seems like the last thing you need is more business. On the other side, you’ve got the off-season. Things slow down considerably – so much so that you might even shut down for a while, depending on your location. You’d like to see more guests coming in, but any number of environmental factors – weather, consumer behavior patterns, staffing problems – makes that a steep uphill climb.

I used to own a bed-and-breakfast in South Dakota’s Black Hills that works exactly like this. In July and August, we’re running at almost 100% occupancy. But come January, we’re lucky to hit 30%. With some additional marketing, we could probably boost that north of 50% – if we could find staff that time of the year, that is. It’s easier to simply shut down for several weeks (and take a well-earned vacation in Mexico).

But nestled in between the high and low seasons are your shoulders. For most destinations, hotels, and attractions, the shoulder periods are prime targets for growth. This is where you’ll get the most return from investing your marketing resources. With the right combination of messaging and price strategy, you’ll start converting potential guests into bookings.

In the video above, I talk about one way you can tweak your messaging to cultivate shoulder period growth: by telling stories about the unique experiences guests can get only during those quieter months. If you’re in an outdoor destination, you’ve got a lot of material to work with. For this clip, I hiked up the hill behind tdg’s offices and found pasque blooms. These little crocuses don’t look like much, but they’re pretty special. Aside from being the state flower, these yellow-and-purple blossoms are some of the first plants to pop up from the forest’s melting snow, and in certain places they’ll practically carpet the hillsides. Very few visitors to the region ever get to experience the pasque bloom, because the only way to see them is to visit during a two- or three-week period in April and May, smack dab in the middle of this area’s longest shoulder season.

The pasque seems like a pretty silly little flower, but most visitors to the Black Hills will never get to see it – unless they come during the shoulder season, that is.

And that’s just one flower. Your local area will have loads of similar experiences you can share with your guests. Another example I mention is the town of Gardiner, Montana, a gateway community to Yellowstone National Park. To boost traffic during their shoulder seasons, their CVB highlights baby season in the spring (who can resist bear cubs and teeny tiny bison?) and the elk rut (when the males let loose with their distinctive bugle) in the autumn. They key: identify short-lived experiences that guests can only see during your shoulder months, and then tell those stories.

If you’re wondering what stories you can tell about your destination – and how to tell it – don’t hesitate to reach out to us here at tdg. We love the hospitality industry and DMOs in outdoor destinations, and we’d be happy to talk about how we can help.

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