In my previous post, What Kangaroo Island and Frederick, OK Have In Common, I discussed the similarity in culture, size, population and economic base between Kangaroo Island and Frederick, Oklahoma. Though the two are oceans apart, they are actually quite similar. The one difference is that Kangaroo Island has learned the secret of sustaining itself via tourism. In efforts to solidify my ideas, I have decided to dive into the successful tourism strategies of Kangaroo Island.
One of the most foundational blocks of KI's tourism strategy is the authenticity of the island and it's brand. Yes, the island has a “brand.” That brand is what unifies the other faucets of tourism such as businesses, advertising and community mindset. Everything about KI is authentic. There are no skyscrapers, no factories, no shopping malls. It's all homegrown, homemade and down to earth over here. The thing that makes this beautiful is that they embrace their authenticity rather than hide it. KI is not ashamed to promote itself for what it is. Every part of the KI brand stands true to this ideal. Their mission statement says it best:
“It is a place that allows you to reconnect with the things that really matter in life – personal relationships, wild nature, real hand-made food and wine, agricultural products grown in balance with nature, and authentic people and experiences.”
The honesty is what's important here. Before I ever step foot on Kangaroo Island, I know exactly what to expect. People come to the island knowing it has something they can't get back home. Tillman County could easily implement the value of authenticity in its own tourism strategies. It's the promise of something you can't manufacture.
Just as authenticity is part of the KI brand, packaging is putting the brand together and unifying the wider area. Packaging isn't the job of the local business, it is meant for an outside authority such as a tourism organization, chamber or visitor's bureau. By having an outside entity package the island there is a more unified presence. Never once have I felt that one region of KI is more advertised or funded than another. If each business were to try to attract people on their own it would never work. The larger outside authority is what makes it work. When you research Kangaroo Island for a visit, you will see promotions for the island as a whole, not just specific areas or businesses.
I think this is something Tillman County can improve on. At the present, it seems as though each city fends for itself. We are all fighting so hard to survive and naturally we have turned survival into a competition against our neighbors. This isn't going to help our corner of the state. People want multiple reasons to visit an area, not just one. If we work together—Tipton, Frederick and Grandfield—we will have a greater chance of drawing attention. Together we have more power.
3. Guides & Maps
Upon arrival, every visitor on the island picks up one booklet. Inside that booklet contains all the information needed for exploring every destination on the island: maps, regions, business hours, directions, events and even guidelines for how to respect the land. This is the visitor's guide to seeing it all—as one unit—not a business here, a town there and a restaurant in between. The visitor's guide makes it easy for visitors to plan their trip around the entire island within the perimeters of their timeline.
Southwest Oklahoma has a guide for the greater area, it is printed annually by the Great Plains Country Association. Many cities in SWOK find annual GPCA membership fees a nuisance, but this is the exact attitude that divides a tourism area and detracts visitors. On a smaller scale, the local chamber is a way to unify commerce within a city and promote it as a whole as well.
However we chose to make it happen, regional maps and guides are a must.
4. Open Businesses
This is the most simple point I can make. As a tourist, you expect the freedom to go and do different things at your leisure. There is nothing worse than driving to a destination only to find out that it is closed for the day. One way to avoid this problem is by making sure business hours are posted clearly in city guides and maps. The second part of this equation is to make sure businesses stick to their posted hours and are open during tourism prime time. The tourism organization can't bring people in if the businesses don't do their part to stay open when needed.
Every business I've visited on the island has been open according to their published hours. Several businesses shut down for the winter season due to a slow in tourism but summertime everything is alive and well. Both winter and summer hours are well posted around the island and in island publications. This is a simple strategy to implement in any sized town.
Last but not least is transportation. Kangaroo Island has mastered this strategy thanks to one corporation: SeaLink. Sealink is a company that owns not only the ferry that brings visitors to the island, but also busses that help people get around the island. I understand it is impossible to demand a tour bus company to set up in Tillman County, but the principle here is attainable. Tourists don't mind paying a little extra for convenience in transportation. Let them know beforehand what they need to get here. Do they need to book a bus ticket, rent a car, hop in with a local taxi? It is also important to ask yourself, how easy to find are our attractions? Would it be easier to provide city transportation to and fro? These are all things to consider as we move into the mindset of tourism.
Kangaroo Island shows us that people are willing to drive an hour and a half to two hours to get to a place of leisure and activity. Often times we make driving time an excuse for turning away visitors but this just isn't the truth. We need to assume people will make the drive and then guide them to our corner of the state.
There are many strategies that rural America can pull from Kangaroo Island's tourism success. These are just a few points on the topic. Overall, I think the main idea here is, “if they can do it, so can we.” If nothing else, Kangaroo Island serves as a beacon of hope to small town america and the economic power of tourism.