Empowering local communities to promote their area has been a rewarding part of my job at Whereverly. As a company who specialise in creating websites and apps to showcase some of the top tourism destinations, you’d be forgiven for thinking our focus lies amongst lines of code, analytics and SEO. In reality, however, our work embraces the power of people as much as it does the wonders of technology and as such, I often find myself (very happily) travelling to our destinations to meet those who know it best, its residents.
I normally turn up at local museums or village halls armed with stacks of post it notes, a box of sharpies, and packets of biscuits, ready to capture a wealth of hidden gems. But including local communities in discussions surrounding tourism reaps far more benefits than simply discovering the top places to direct visitors. Destinations can create exciting and unique visitor experiences with the help of community members, with just a few simple actions.
1. Recognise the value of your community’s knowledge and involvement
Local people have so much passion and want to show visitors why their town or village is so important. Communities are the keepers of local tales, folklore, and those perhaps lesser known but significant landmarks that make a location so special to visit.
Rich histories of buildings that people walk past on their way to work every day but never give a second thought or common dog-walks that takes you through beautiful landscapes that a visitor would never have known about, are unlocked only when community members are actively incorporated into the promotion of a destination. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it is that being inclusive creates a more unique tourism offering that will make you stand out from the crowd.
2. Organise workshops with community members
Local knowledge can be collected through a variety of tools including online forms, video calls and questionnaires. In my experience, however, in-person workshops are a fantastic way to bring communities together and create meaningful relationships.
With all workshops, one of the best parts is meeting new people. In addition to giving DMOs the opportunity to gain local insights, workshops also give likeminded communities an opportunity to meet each other and share their experiences. Sometimes they only live less than 10 miles away but have never met. Facilitating community connections and even fostering future partnerships can do wonders in developing your destination.
3. Capture community-lead content
Marketing your destination means content, content, content. And where better to turn than to expert residents in the area? Community lead content is not only authentic and trustworthy, but it enables local people to contribute to the success of your destination and allows visitors to have the best experience possible.
Considering how you can most easily support communities in providing this content is essential. Content arrives in the form of pieces of paper or binders full of information but converting this into a format that visitors will find most valuable is where you will find real success. Content management systems such as My Whereverly are brilliant tools to use to achieve this. My Whereverly allows DMOs to manage their content and invite local business owners, heritage managers and more to do the same. Here, members of the local communities can create and keep updated their own listings, upload unique images and inspire visitors on a user-friendly platform which feeds directly into your digital tourism product, such as a website or app. By allowing content creation by those who know your destination best, you let your undoubtably fabulous community become your biggest advocates for growth, and who wouldn’t welcome that?