Tourism surges during the summer in the United States. Domestic and international travelers head from coast to coast in search of adventure, beautiful sites, and great food.
Whether your restaurant is in a tourist destination or off the beaten path, targeting travelers is a smart way to boost your sales. Select USA shows that in 2015, travelers spent about $255 billion on food services alone. And according to the National Restaurant Association, travelers account for one-third of fine dining sales and about a fourth of casual dining sales.
Making yourself known to travelers opens up a wealth of possibilities. After all, when it comes to tourists, word of mouth is everything. People give their friends recommendations and post updates on their personal social media accounts. Then there are sites, such as TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet, and Yelp, that inform travelers’ decisions on where to dine.
TripAdvisor arguably carries the most weight worldwide among travel enthusiasts. Below, we show you how to wield TripAdvisor as an effective marketing tool, to attract more tourists to your restaurant.
How to Attract Tourists to Your Restaurant or Bar
When you start devoting resources to attracting travelers, your marketing efforts will have an impressive domino effect on your profits. If you’re hesitant, rest assured that you’re not alone in this pursuit. Investments in tourism marketing for restaurants is expected to rise over 6% by 2030.
Take Control of Your TripAdvisor Profile
TripAdvisor is a highly useful online resource for your business. Not only can TripAdvisor rank higher than a business’s own website in search results, but many travelers rely on TripAdvisor reviews, searching within the website directly.
The chances are high that your restaurant is already on TripAdvisor, so your first step is to take control of your presence on the site. Review this helpful link for instructions on how to claim your business on TripAdvisor. If your business is not yet listed, you can add it to the directory here.
Once your restaurant is posted online, you can start making the magic happen. Encourage honest reviews from your regular customers to get the ball rolling, and then start replying.
Respond to every review on TripAdvisor. A simple “thank you” is sufficient for positive reviews. But if there are negative comments, you’re encouraged to be more thoughtful and considerate in your reply. TripAdvisor gives you the rare opportunity to fix a problem by connecting directly with the reviewer, so don’t waste it! Invite the reviewer to come back for another meal, and make a point of addressing his or her needs.
Unfortunately, bad ratings can live for a long time. When California restaurateur Andrew Gruel opened a new seafood restaurant, he received abysmal ratings for high prices and small portions. Instead of ignoring the reviews, he reached out to every commenter who had given a negative review and invited them back.
Additionally, Gruel took their advice and reworked the menu. Those one-star reviews soon switched to five stars, he got lifetime customers, and his restaurant Slapfish started reaping the benefits of positive aggregated online reviews.
“You can get buried by bad reviews,” Gruel told the New York Times. “So, it’s a race to stop the bleeding.”
By staying on top of comments and responding swiftly, your business will get boosted up the line. Plus, you’ll show readers that your restaurant or bar is committed to customer service.
Every Restaurant Has a Chance to Shine on TripAdvisor
On TripAdvisor, restaurants are listed geographically. They are then ranked by popularity out of the total number of restaurants in your neighborhood. The more reviews and stars your business receives, the higher it will start to rank on the TripAdvisor list.
Because of the site’s algorithm based on customer reviews and activity, the rankings listed on TripAdvisor can be unexpected. It’s not always the nicest restaurant, boasting a celebrity chef and a limitless marketing budget, that makes the top. In fact, TripAdvisor allows the humblest of restaurants to shine.
For instance, would you expect a small, casual Balkan restaurant to rank no. 1 in Washington, DC? For a few years now, Ambar has received the highest ranking in the US capital.
Its success is twofold: one part happy customers, and one part the digital savviness of owner Ivan Iricanin.
When his business was getting started, Iricanin wanted to make the most of the tourism in DC. Recognizing the magnitude of influence TripAdvisor had, Iricanin made a concerted effort to engage with online commentators, replying to every comment, both good and bad. His dedication to customer service and staying connected paid off for Ambar better than he ever expected.
A guest relations manager monitors the site, thanking guests for great reviews and reaching out to those with negative ones. Not only does the guest relations manager ask what went wrong, but he or she invites the diner back for another try. Thanks to these efforts, 20–30% of Ambar’s business is made up of foreign and domestic tourists.
“The more tourists you get, if they’re happy, they’re going to talk about it. And the more they talk, the more people are going to come,” Iricanin says. “It’s kind of a never-ending train.”
Make Your Restaurant Traveler-Friendly
Managing your online presence is a wonderful technique for drawing in new clientele, but the real work starts in your restaurant. Getting a good review takes more than pretty décor or an appealing cocktail menu. The entire experience must be a pleasure.
This is especially important for travelers. Being far from home can make someone more sensitive to the small details—and more appreciative of good care.
Make your restaurant tourist-friendly with these tips:
Train your staff to be extremely hospitable. You want your front of house restaurant staff to focus on creating a warm and inviting space for guests.
- Take a page out of Iricanin’s marketing book and speak to customers. “If we hear that they’re coming from Canada, we will maybe give them a free dessert and write something on it to connect with them,” he describes. “Then management coming to the table and literally becoming friends at the end of the dinner.”
- Hire employees who speak other languages.
- Invest in emotional intelligence and diversity training to offer tourists from different cultures the best customer experience. Start by hiring staff with a focus on customer experience, and hone their skills into great emotional intelligence.
- Make partnerships with major travel agencies. Travel agencies plan their guest itineraries in advance to avoid confusion. If you present your restaurant as a great location for large groups, you might start receiving busloads of hungry tourists on a regular basis.
- Connect with hotel concierges. An easy trick is to offer a special menu deal for hotel guests.
Want more advice on attracting new customers? Check out these seven tips on drawing new crowds.