Ways to get visitors to stop in your small town

Billboard jungle. Photo by Becky McCray.

Small towns watch the endless parade of cars going by on the highway. How can we get them to stop?

That question from a reader got me thinking. I’d love your ideas on this question.

My ideas:

Before you worry about “getting people to stop”, recognize that “family and friends” visits are your primary source of visitors right now. Teach your locals how to be good “family and friends” tour guides and hosts. Give them things to do together. Start with small town things that you already do well:

  • ball games
  • star gazing
  • church suppers
  • picnics
  • drives
  • local eateries
  • farm visits
  • artist visits
  • cookouts
  • cool local experiences.

Use your 8 Rural Cultural Elements. This exercise will help you realize the amazing things you already have. Read about how to do it in Developing small town tourism.

Adapt to people’s changing travel motivations. Visitors today want different things than they did in the past. Find out more in Changing travel motivations.

Ask recent residents what surprised and delighted them. Anyone who is new in town will have some idea of what is amazing that you take for granted. Ask them about it.

Tie in with other regional towns. You may not have enough cool things on your own to warrant a stop, but if you partner up with neighboring towns, you just might have it.

Be known for one thing. Pick your one best asset and go with it. The committee will probably argue to include lots more things. Resist. Show them Roger Brooks’ advice in How to market a small town.

What would you add? How can small towns get some of the people from that never-ending parade of passers-by to stop?

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About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband own a retail liquor store in Alva, Oklahoma, and a small cattle ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.

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  1. Lila says

    I wonder if just having some fun local events would get the attention of visitors. Not big events, but smaller things that just make your community more fun for the locals. For example … periodic barn dances, music or movies in the park, community ball games and picnics. When visitors come through they may remember what a fun little town it was and mention it to a friend or stop back by next time.

    • says

      Great point, Lila. It doesn’t have to be a big event to be a memorable experience. In a world of so many choices, the memorable experiences are the most valuable commodity we can offer.

  2. Graham in Charleville QLD Australia says

    Hi Becky,
    From an Aussie perspective touring around our great country is a series of toilet stops. I know some of your readers might think I’m silly but you get a town to build the “flashiest” set of toilets and see what happens. Travellers will talk about that town for ever, not just because of the toilets but other things will creep into the conversation, travellers won’t be able to help themselves they will have to stop and have a look, then it’s up to the people to value add. So to speak.
    Hope this little idea from a crazy Aussie helps.
    Cheers from Charleville

    • says

      Graham, I’ve heard about some of the outlandishly amazing toilets in rural Australia. And if I’ve heard about them from Oklahoma, you know they are well known! I think it makes good sense.

  3. Harold says

    If you have a old abandoned venue or even a outdoor space, hopefully with some parking… Host a “Farmers Market” and or Crafts Fair. Whatever your town’s claim to fame is: Feature it! and give people a reason to stop. Make it the best you can, bright colors and enthusiasm are hard to resist.