Enticing the Large and Lucrative Tourist Market
By Mary Gordon
Every year, tens of millions of people travel to Canada, or within Canada. They may be traveling for business, pleasure or adventure, but they have one thing in common: they all have to eat somewhere.
Whether tourists are visiting your area for the Olympic Games or the local fishing derby, about 14% of their total spending will be on food and beverages. Bringing some of those revenues into your restaurant means ensuring that travelers know you're there, and what you have to offer.
"There's no question that it's a market that people covet," says Cate Simpson of Cate Simpson PR, a Vancouver-based public relations and marketing consultancy specializing in restaurants. Depending on your operation, it may be worth getting some expert guidance in order to make the most of this lucrative market.
Many cities and regions have destination marketing organizations that are already promoting their locale to tourists. Joining or getting involved with such an organization
in your area can provide opportunities that might otherwise be missed, such as press tours and website or directory listings.
Simpson says not all operators need to be pursuing tourist business. For small neighbourhood bistros with local clientele, it's probably not their target market, she says. But for centrally located restaurants, and restaurants that have something special that appeals to tourists, Simpson often recommends working with the local destination marketing organization.
"Any restaurant that's downtown would benefit from tourism business, along with any restaurant that has any kind of destination location"
That includes a location in a historic district of the city, a restaurant with a view, or one that's on a waterfront or a mountaintop.
Some of the most crucial sources of tourism business are hotel concierges, Simpson says.
"Of all the things that restaurants do to work with the tourism market, working with the hotel concierges is by far the very top priority," Simpson says, adding that in the summer months some restaurants get as much as 90% of their business from tourists.
"You have to work with the concierges in order to get some of that business," she says.
It's usually the major hotels that have concierge staff. In those that don't have a concierge, other employees-such as front desk staff-may make dining recommendations, but it is more difficult to identify and work with these individuals. Another approach to accessing hotel guests is to take advantage of local tourism publications. Advertising through in-room publications can be another efficient way to reach travelers looking for a place to dine.
For some travelers, restaurants may play a big role in planning a vacation. Some areas in Canada are gaining momentum as culinary destinations. These include wine regions such as Niagara and the Okanagan Valley, as well as Taste Trails in Quebec and Ontario, and the Quebec Fromage Route.
Even locations that aren't seen as specific culinary tourism hotspots still benefit from offering travelers fine food, especially if they have other attractions. Dining out can be an opportunity for travelers to experience regional culinary styles and distinctive ingredients, and many tourists are looking for local flavour. Organizations such as Taste of Nova Scotia help promote regional culinary heritage and traditions. The food and wine experiences available in urban centres such as Toronto, Quebec City and Vancouver can be a major selling point for tourists.
"It certainly plays a big part in the choice if you're choosing between cities," Simpson says.
Vancouver's long-standing interest in regional cuisine and regional wines may reap rewards when a massive influx of visitors arrives for the 2010 Olympics. Bookings are already underway.
"When some people are making reservations for 2010 for small restaurants, they are looking specifically for restaurants that serve local regional cuisine," Simpson said. "It is quite important to them. They don't want to go to just a French restaurant or an Italian restaurant, they want to go somewhere that is doing B.C. cuisine."
Your region may not be making plans for an Olympic-sized crowd of tourists, but bringing in more of the visitors that do head your way can pay off for your restaurant.