Being big to get ahead is just one of the myths about what success looks like in tourism.
But what does success really mean to you?
I recently wrote how small business can do very well in regional tourism. But success does not mean the same thing to everyone. It helps to decide early what success looks like for you. Is it about earnings? Is your success being booked out? Perhaps your version of success is that you run a large, business with multiple buses and tours. Whatever success is, you may have some expectations or hear some things about starting a small business and wonder is that really true?
Being big to be ‘successful’ is just one of the myths about what it takes to be successful in tourism – so let’s start there and explore a few others while we are at it.
I won’t make money unless I’m a big business.
It’s easy to feel intimidated by established operators, but Tourism Research Australia (TRA) research shows 95% of tourism businesses are micro and small to medium (SME) businesses run by individuals or partnerships. Most are earning under $200,000 a year (more like $50,000 a year in 2021).
It is true that at a certain size, a business starts to attract business through profile and also can win bigger contracts. If you have scale you are considered to have more capacity, and pose less of a risk for customers booking tourism services with you. Big means more risk. Corporate travel is in a different league to SMEs, but this is just the thinking around size and scale.
Small business is a valid and excellent training ground and can evolve into medium (over 19 employees) or large businesses (over 50 employees) by scaling, later if you set it up to do so early on.
It seems like all the attention, support and focus is on marketing large tourism businesses.
There’s no doubt big or established business is heavily invested, employs people and pays a lot of tax so have more sway. Small operators often report feeling shut out of opportunities or hear an implied message that as a small business, they are not as worthy of help, attention or support; 'not a fit' for state marketing campaigns, not eligible for grants, or told they are ‘not ready’.
Government is not great at working with lots of small diverse businesses or tailoring policy for different communities, sadly. You may encounter this on your journey so just be ready for it. You need to find your own way of succeeding independently of the government. You might also find you can get help from other quarters such as Tourism Industry Councils and Regional Tourism Organisations, business chambers and networking groups.
I’ll never make the Top 10 Travel experiences lists.
‘Top 10 Best of…’ lists are marketing tools developed to simplify things and used to get profile and attention to a region. You can be very successful in a small business and tap into a niche market in your local area and provide a lot of value to visitors, as well as the region you operate in without being in the must-do lists in your state or region.
Don’t they know who I am? I should be getting more exposure.
Easy, tiger! Objectivity is important when you start out, so you are not expecting to be featured and supported in ways that may not be appropriate for your business size, age or stage. I’ve seen some tourism operators become very agitated when they don’t get the attention they feel they deserve, from the media, government campaigns or regional tourism marketing bodies. As the saying goes, you get more bees with honey than vinegar.
Also, if you are making money without being featured on the front of the Visitor Guide, does it really matter? You’ve got all that to look forward to! Being under the radar is not a bad place if you already have bookings and a market. I know a camel safari operator who rarely did any marketing as she had full occupancy and a repeat market who paid $3,000 per head per trip. She found her own markets and didn’t rely on government campaigns to bring bookings.
I'm overwhelmed trying to keep up with all the marketing demands.
There is an inexhaustible obsession with new, Instagrammable tourism experiences and interiors. It is not you, it is the relentless cycle of the marketing industry. Take a deep breath before you react to the call to be the best, the biggest, the most, the Superhost, the Tourism Award winner… these programs and status bring exposure benefits but are not essential for your success.
Tourism marketing bodies typically need new and impressive things to market, and the reality is your small venture might not be it. It may be. You can only launch a new business or product once and ride the wave for a short time before the next thing comes along. You can be under the radar, and very successful in a niche if you are consistent and build your market over time. Ride your own wave.
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