Now that the summer months are over (or in the southern hemisphere about to begin) we are in the shoulder season. This is the time to contemplate our local tourism industry and its role in the wider community. Just as tourism links people and places around the world, so tourism officials also need to link up with other tourism business and government agencies and business to be successful. Tourism networking comes in a variety of “shapes and styles.” We can divide tourism networking in many ways, but three simple ways are: tourism networking within the industry and profession, tourism networking with allied industries, tourism networking with industries that would appear to have nothing to do with tourism but can have a major impact on the industry and its bottom-line.
Tourism networking is especially important in explaining to an often-skeptical public the reasons that tourism is an important industry. Despite travel and tourism’s major positive economic impact, too many people do not understand the interrelationship between tourism and a locale’s quality of life. All too often tourism leaders who are experts in marketing their community to others spend little or no time marketing their industry to the local population. It is essential never to forget that if the community does not support the tourism industry, if the community gains a reputation for being unsafe or unfriendly, that in the end it will not only destroy its tourism industry but also severely damage its economic development and viability. Below are a number or reminders that all of us know but many of us either forget or fail to implement.
– Make yourself known. Tourism is a people-industry. The better you are known the more frequently your name is mentioned, the better it is for your business. Attend as many functions as possible. These functions do not have to be tourism related, but they should be functions where the attendees may impact your visibility or name recognition. During the function pass out and collect business cards. Make a note on the back of each collected card that tells you something memorable about the person’s card you have just collected. After the function follow-up by writing and calling the individuals you met.
– Never be shy! Make yourself accessible. When meeting new people ask them to tell you something about their life. Almost everyone likes to talk about him or herself and most people have a unique story to tell. By getting people to open up to you, you get a better idea as to what they need and how you can interact with them. Once you have this information, you not only can judge their needs but you can begin to measure your community’s needs (and you professional needs) by the other person’s interests and talents.
– Don’t be short sighted. Someone who may not be in a position to help you now, but that does not mean that s/he may not be a very valuable person at a later date. Good manners make good networking. Do not close doors by inconsiderate behavior or assume that you only need to speak to people who appear to have immediate “value.”
– Ask others what you can do for them. Networking is based on the sociological premise of “social capital.” This is a fancy term meaning that you have to give to others in order to receive back from them. The best way to gain something is to give something. Social capital has a limited life expectancy. In order for it to stay fresh, the person has to remember your name and who you are. To accomplish this do not limit your relationships with a one-time event. Instead stay in front of the public’s eye and let it be known that you are involved in the community. By becoming a community resource you establish yourself as a go-to person, and those are people who network best.
– Be a volunteer. Volunteering not only gets your name out and into the community but also is a great way to meet other people. Pick the organization to which you want to become a volunteer carefully and make it clear just how much time and energy your can provide this organization.
– Business cards are not a work of art but something that serves a useful purpose. Too many people forget that a business card has to be readable and its data need to be simple to find and accurate. Be sure to distinguish between the small letter L and the capital I, be clear what is a “1” (the number 1) and what is the letter “I”. Use colors that are easy to read. Avoid putting information on a black card and do not clutter the card with logos, photos etc. The basic rule is KISS/Keep It Simple Stupid!
– Use active versus passive networking tools. Webpages are great to provide information for someone who is seeking you. Nevertheless, they only act as networking tools if the person wants to network with you. Using newsletters, teas, get-togethers, and open houses are a way to start your relationship. Once the relationship is established then you can steer people to your webpage.
– Networking requires organizational skills. It does only a minimal amount of good if you do not have (1) a strategy to find the people with whom you are networking at a later time and (2) you lack a follow-up strategy. That means that after you meet the person follow-up on the meeting with a thank you note, and then with whatever methods are comfortable for you to keep your name fresh. It is easy to fall off someone’s “radar scene.”
Remember people with whom you may want to network are also meeting lots of other people.