Social media helps business to bloom in British tourism

Social media helps business to bloom in British tourism

A COUPLE of years ago, my wife and I made the big move out of London to Dorset to set up a cut flower business.

The business plan was that Lizzie would grow magnificent blooms and I would cover maintenance and marketing.

We would then sell them at market, online and locally, emphasizing the handpicked British flowers angle (did you know that only 5% of flowers sold in Britain are actually grown in Britain?)

The website is nearly there, the social media in place (Facebook and Twitter to date) and the blog is up and running. We’ve been selling at two London markets and had our first wedding, in the next village, last week.

Now to start a complementary tourism business. We’ve plans to offer fixed tents and camping pitches in the flower field, are considering a yurt (or similar) and have registered to be an AirBnB host.

The National Cycle Network runs through our village and we’ll be targeting cyclists and horticulturalists to stay a night or three. The blog will feature the flower field and tourism in north Dorset, and drive readers to the website.

The marketing is all built on social media, and this week I was mightily heartened – and relieved – to hear that we are heading in the right direction.

Tourism visits to Dorset are in decline, with overnight visits to the county having fallen by 3.6% in the past six years (across England the figure has risen by 1.6%).

So the government is making funds available to support investment in small scale tourism infrastructure in rural Dorset. “Rural tourism offers a significant opportunity for growth in developing the all year round destination offer,” says the call for applications.

Boosting rural tourism and farm diversification, and thereby creating jobs, is very much in vogue at present. And with a rollout of superfast broadband also ongoing in north Dorset, working with social media in a rural tourism setting is becoming very attractive.

It was against this background that yesterday I read an interview with James McClure, AirBnB’s general manager for the UK and Ireland, in Marketing Week.

The company has doubled the number of people listing their property (like us) in the past year, to 67,000. UK bookings are also up by 132% year on year.

It’s marketing strategy is community-led, says McClure. “Chasing numbers isn’t our mindset, it is about making people not feel like they are strangers when they travel and giving them a holiday through a local’s eyes. If we can become a community-led super brand I’ll be happy.”

A lot of boxes are being ticked here: AirBnB backs community tourism and the government is financially encouraging it (whilst also allowing you to earn £4,250 per year tax-free in its Rent a Room scheme, which includes B&B).

Meanwhile, broadband speeds are improving which allows online marketing through social media, blogs and website. This in turn allows communities to promote themselves as tourism hotspots, working with the rapidly increasing number of local food and accommodation suppliers.

I’ve long been an advocate of communities promoting themselves in the way that they want to be seen – in addition to county, regional and national tourist marketing. Social and digital media now allows that to happen for domestic tourism, in a way that has never been possible before.

* The author, with his rather splendid dahlias.

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Steve Keenan has been a travel journalist for 25 years. He started at a Reed paper, news editing at Travel News in London - now Travel Weekly - having spent a decade reporting general news in the UK and abroad. He also taught English in Peru, delivered cars in the USA, ran the Sydney desk at AAP and took the train home from Hong Kong. He left Travel News in 1990 to freelance for several publications, including The Times of London, which he later joined as deputy travel editor. In December 2004, he became the first national digital travel editor in the UK, running the combined travel website of The Times and Sunday Times. The introduction of a paywall at the papers in 2010 persuaded him that the connected world might continue outside of Wapping and he left to co-found Travel Perspective. The company runs the social media seminars at World Travel Market London, and works with Reed Expos and others in helping the travel and tourism industry best communicate stories in all forms of publishing.

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