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Stimulating Traffic with Events Help Drive Customers and Community Involvement

Recreational boating is alive, and as for the and well part, how well depends on what aspect of boating one is talking about and the location. But one thing is for sure—things can almost always be better. Boating industry associations, like those for many other disposable income industries, are working hard with various promotional advertising messages. And to some extent, they have been helpful.

But there is no question that the industry still needs to do better in stimulating interest in both non boaters and boaters alike. The age old question is … how?
A strategy that typically tops the list for marinas is events. Events stimulate traffic and interest. But I often wonder who the event planners are targeting. I have talked to many such planners—who tend to be the owners or managers of marinas or associations. What strikes me most are two issues—one is—have they really thought about who their target is, and the other is the lack of meaningful publicity that reaches the target market.

More often than not the answer to the question of who are you trying to reach ranges from a broad generality, such as ‘boaters,’ to a blank stare. In terms of event publicity, the answer usually is their mailing lists of mostly present and past boat owners, as well as a short list of prospects, general media, social media and, in rare cases, TV. And when do they publicize it? Generally, a week or so before the event, even though it has been on their calendar for months.

Target a Market
Defining the target market and designing an event to attract that targeted market go hand in hand. A series of events staggered to promote continued interest is also a good recipe for keeping current customers and attracting new ones – both on a short- and long-term basis. But equally important is reaching out to neighbors and others in the community, as well as local businesses and officials. This helps them feel like they are an important part of the facility network. Reaching out to neighbors and the community when you are not asking for anything helps forge valuable relationships and even friendships beyond the business relationship. And when you need to ask for something, the community will be more likely to listen.

The types of events are only constrained by one’s imagination. They can run the gamut from the simplistic to the most elaborate.

Having a Customer/Community Appreciation Day is a great way to say thank you for being a customer, and to bring in potential new customers as well as neighbors. You might be surprised to learn just how far some people will drive to get a free hamburger or hot dog. It helps build a facility’s social network within the customer group and with the community.

You never can underestimate what better community involvement can lead to. For example, Marina Dock Age magazine places a significant emphasis on community involvement at various levels when choosing its two Marina of the Year winners each year.

In planning and holding an event, part of the approach has to be keeping it fresh, interesting and stimulating.

But more often than not, the events seem to be more of the same – with little change from prior years or variations from what others are doing.

Part of the problem or the challenge is to think outside the box. Partnering with local businesses or organizations – such as the various civic and social clubs, fitness organizations, or school and religious organizations can bring in new faces and event activities.

Innovative Boat Shows
For years the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show looked for ways to make the show more meaningful, and finally have added many new components to the show such as – speakers and demonstrations for fly and deep sea fishing, as well as other adventure approaches. The show also reaches out to schools and other youth oriented programs to partner with them for exposing the younger generations to the joys of watersports and boating.

At one boat show one company put a tank in their booth where visitors could test ride a paddle board and another where they could try their skill on a new surfboard. But the advertising of these attractions was sparse and a universal comment from many at the show was “I had no idea that this would be here – my teenagers would have loved it! … Heck I would have even brought a bathing suit to try it.” Those are interesting comments, as the youth of today are the customers of tomorrow.

The Europen boat show Boot Düsseldorf touts itself as Boot Düsseldorf – 360° Watersports Experience.

At Boot Düsseldorf most visitors now know to have that bathing suit ready. This show amped things up when it included a wave tank, which was promoted for months in advance and that went viral on social media with millions of views. There was a never-ending line of people wanting to try out riding the board in the tank. In fact, these participation activities have been so successful that the show now touts itself as Boot Düsseldorf – 360° Watersports Experience, and it has evolved into a virtual watersports theme park, with a river for kayaking, ponds for sailing and fishing, a dive tank, and wake boarding run complete with jumps to try out some new tricks – just to hit some of the highlights. And after you’ve tried out a new rod and reel, you can head to a cooking station where you can get tips for filleting and cooking a whole fish – and then eat it!

Community Partners
While marinas do not have to go to that extreme, they can partner with others such as with sailing and power boating for regattas as well as destination trips. Science clubs and programs can add an interesting variety to what’s in the water.

Working with the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Sea Scouts, Boat US and insurance companies can add new dimension. Many states now require licenses, and providing the opportunity for obtaining them at the marina is great publicity and creates more positive exposure. Boat insurance is always a big mystery to most boat owners, and they welcome down to earth information as to the ins and outs. It also helps enforce why marinas require boat owners to name the facility as an additional named insured.

Some have created an international food tasting show, with local business bringing some of their specialties for tasting and purchasing.
Paddle boarding is the fastest growing segment of the recreational boating market worldwide. Seeking to introduce visitors to paddle boarding, kayaking and/or canoeing is an easy way to get new people into boating and bring back others. Partnering with those who rent or sell them can be a win-win approach. The same is true for snorkeling and even diving.

These events, when widely publicized well in advance to a wide community or regional audience, generate meaningful traffic and stimulate interest in water recreation, boating, and your facility. The more interest, the more traffic, the more exposure one has, the higher the occupancy, the greater the use and the higher the pricing and profitability for the facility.

Dan Natchez is president of DANIEL S. NATCHEZ and ASSOCIATES Inc., a leading international environmental waterfront design consulting company specializing in the design of marinas and marina resorts throughout the world. He invites your comments and inquiries by phone at 914/698-5678, by fax at 914/698-7321, by email at dan.n@dsnainc.com.

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