They come out during the hottest of the dog days of summer, demanding to eat, drink, shop and take up space. They are the tourists. Every community with anything of interest gets them. When we leave town, to visit Winthrop, LaConner, Leavenworth, Seattle or Vancouver, we become them. And all of us have good and bad stories to tell about our experiences.
Eight years ago, we were stuck waiting for the ferry for hours in Friday Harbor on a sweltering day with our Chow puppy. The Chow, being extremely hairy, wasn’t particularly happy, and neither was I, especially as I walked from store to store reading the “no dogs” signs on the doors. We finally wandered into a clothing store where a woman greeted us, gave the dog a bowl of water and petted him while I shopped. I bought an $80 shirt and the dog was happy too.
Now, not all stores or restaurants can welcome dogs inside, but the point of the story is that the treatment we received at that store in Friday Harbor remains with me today. Impatient staff, inconvenient policies and bad experiences stay with us a long time. We remember the rude clerk, the store that wouldn’t accept an American Express Card, the waiter too busy to answer questions, and the drivers who honked when we were slow. We also remember the person who took the time to say hello and helped us with whatever we needed.
It’s vital that businesses know how to treat these people right, so they will return again and tell their friends about us. Here are some tips in that regard.
Know the Area. Train your staff to know what’s around the neighborhood, where the pay phone is, and where the main attractions are. Keep a map around. Be generous when giving information on good places to stay, to eat and to visit. It seems elementary, but many businesses that do not consider themselves tourist oriented don’t take the time to do it. Drop into the Whatcom County Convention & Visitors Bureau off the Lakeway Drive freeway exit and pick up some local brochures. You may find out about things you had no idea were here.
Have patience. Tourists do get lost. They are sometimes confused, tired, or don’t speak English. Teach your staff to take the time with them. Acts of kindness are always rewarded. Be an example to your staff, too, by showing them how to deal with unfamiliar customers.
Use the Friendliness Factor Anyone who’s traveled at all knows how uncomfortable it is to be in a busy place where no one smiles or takes the time to make you feel special.
Being shuttled through like cattle is not a pleasant experience. It’s important to welcome them as guests. Somehow in the midst of thousands of people in Disneyland, you can always find someone to answer your questions. And it’s usually the guy sweeping the sidewalk.
Be Enthusiastic. Find and market the uniqueness of your business or district. People travel to see things they’ve never seen before.
This is why giant dinosaur statues, and historical buildings, and museums, and big trees you can drive through are so popular. What’s so special about being here?
It’s all those reasons that we live here. People are not going to go away. They are discovering us. Just look around you and pass your enthusiasm on. It’s a business that leaves a small footprint and a lot of money.
Taimi Dunn Gorman is the founder of the Colophon Café and Doggie Diner. She previously served as chair of the Governor’s Small Business Improvement Council and is president of the Cascade Marketing Association in Bellingham. She teaches seminars at WCC and for the Small Business Development Center, and does marketing consulting and publicity. She may be reached through gormanpublicity.com