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Downtown Walla Walla Farmer's Market

Tourism Drives Economic Growth - How Your Business Can Take Advantage (Part One)

Walla Walla Wine Spring Release Weekend is behind us, which often signals the start of the busy summer tourism season in our valley. Hotel rooms were booked solid for the May 5-7 dates this year, winery tasting rooms (and guest glasses) were full… did your small business see an uptick in business?

It’s no question that tourism can drive economic growth, and wine tourism specifically fuels visitation to the Walla Walla Valley that translates to lodging tax dollars, increases in restaurant revenue, purchases from small retailers, long lines at the Farmer’s Market and more.

Wineries aren’t the only businesses fueling tourism in our region. From outdoor recreation to visual arts, live entertainment and national press, a diverse new audience of visitors can, and should, help your small business grow. How can your small business take advantage of increased foot traffic that comes during the summer?

Be Discoverable

If your business serves customers in person in any way, shape, or form, it’s vitally important that you be easy to find, not only physically but digitally as well.

How to be discoverable physically.

Balloons always work! But all jokes aside, to be physically discoverable it is incredibly important that people know when you are open. Make sure your business hours are up to date in your Google My Business account (the most prominent way your business will likely be discovered online), as well as on Yelp, your Facebook Business profile, Instagram bio, your Visit Walla Walla website listing, really anywhere that somebody might discover your business online. If you aren’t sure what those might be, take a moment and do a web search for your business. You’d be surprised how many places your business does (or doesn’t) show up, and having your hours of operation clear and up-to-date is table stakes for taking advantage of visitation from out of town. You can’t rely on “locals knowledge” if you want to attract new customers.

Do you have any print collateral, like posters, rack cards, or business cards? Make sure you make them available (and regularly restocked and updated) at your visitor center kiosk and local Chamber front desk. While you’re there, make sure you check in with the lovely people who are on the front lines with visitors to the region. Ask them how you can support their efforts, and if there’s anything exciting coming down the pipe that your business can loop into.

Word of mouth is a powerful thing. Referral traffic is some of the most valuable, because any visitor that comes to you off of a referral had a great experience already and is already primed to have a great experience with you. If your business could possibly come up as the answer to a tourist’s question, “Where should I go for (insert the blanks)?” then you definitely want to be sure you design a referral program! Talk to your neighboring businesses to create a mutually beneficial relationship that keeps visitors in your vicinity longer, or talk to adjacent businesses like hotels to make sure you are listed in their hot sheets and visitor directories as appropriate.

How to be discoverable virtually

Think about where YOU search online when planning a visit to a new destination. Do you want to know the best restaurants, local shopping, or how to get around? What kinds of content is most helpful for you when making a visit decision? And where do you go to find it?

Maybe you request a printed visitor’s guide, or a digital version.

And you are most definitely checking the destination out online via their website, social media handles, and a good old fashioned Google search.

Make sure your business listing is not only up to date “hours of operation” wise but also attractive to potential visitors. Think about how your business solves a tourist’s problem or meets their desires, and writes your short description to speak specifically to those elements. Utilize up to date and high resolution images wherever you can.

On social media, take a peek at the hashtags that align with the kinds of searches and content your business could show up in. Start using frequently leveraged search hashtags, like #thingstodoinwashingtonstate, or lean into handle specific hashtags like #visitwallawalla or #wallawallawine when appropriate, to increase your business visibility via those channels.

Speaking of social media, another fantastic way to be discoverable virtually to visitors is by creating content just for them on your feed. Make an engaging video that shows off your team, your hospitality experience, or your venue. You can use this as a Reel on Instagram (coupled with strategic hashtags recommended above) to hook locals and visitors alike.

That’s just the start

This blog gave you some great starter’s ideas to help your business capitalize on tourism as it continues to grow in our valley. These ideas will get you on a visitor’s itinerary, but how do you capitalize on the traffic while they’re in your business? Tune in to part two of this series where we’ll show you how.