Destinations

Every Small Town’s Tourism Strategy Should Include Free Wi-Fi and Workspaces

Jul 26, 2013 3:30 am

Skift Take

The key phrase here is: Providing quality public wifi matters to tourism. For small towns that need to punch above their weight to get visitors and tourism dollars, free wi-fi+free workspaces is a great strategy.

— Rafat Ali

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Rick Shinozaki  / Flickr

Old Town Temecula in California, providing public wi-fi since 2008. Rick Shinozaki / Flickr


Now that most cell phones can access the internet, you might think that wifi access doesn’t matter for tourism. And no one would want to work while on vacation, right? Well, more than ever, wifi and work spaces are important to local tourism strategies, especially in small towns.

Let’s start with this key point: Your visitors want to access the web while traveling, and you want them to have it.

OK, they may want it, but why do you care?

1. Armies may travel on their stomachs, but visitors travel on their internet connection. They are checking their itinerary, researching attractions, looking up local events, loading maps, and checking out local restaurant reviews. If you posted any cool information for online/offline activities, you want visitors to scan your QR codes or view your mobile web sites. (Read more in this two-year-old-but-still-relevant post, Are QR codes just a fad?)

2. Visitors want to share everything online. They post photos and videos to Instagram, they Facebook their friends, they check in and brag about their adventures, maybe they even blog or tweet. That’s the new kind of word-of-mouth, it’s advertising, and you want it.

3. Visitors are also trying to stay connected to work. They are answering email, checking calendars, working on documents, and joining web meetings. For some rural areas, the number one reason people visit may be to visit family, meaning staying in touch with work is even more important. If people can’t stay in touch with work from your town, you’re frustrating your visitors, never a good thing in tourism. Here’s a conversation from visitors to Red River, New Mexico, about how much they need wifi to work, even while on vacation. The current wifi options mean visitors are working from their cars in parking lots and keeping trips shorter than they would like. This is not the recipe for happy visitors.

If it is true that your visitors want access to the web, and you want them to have it, then the key point that follows is: Providing quality public wifi matters to tourism.

Isn’t cell data service enough? Why should wifi still matter?

1. Your cell service isn’t good enough. You can’t control the quality of coverage you get for every type of cell service. Even if your visitors can make calls on your networks, they may not be able to load data. I have this exact problem in much of Kansas and Nebraska with my phone. And let’s be honest. Most small towns are last on the list for service upgrades. So your cell data probably isn’t enough for today’s web meeting apps to provide a stable, high-quality connection.

2. Your international visitors hate roaming charges. Many avoid using their phone at all. If they do use their phone or rent a phone, many skimp on data services while traveling. That does not mean they want to stay offline. They are probably looking everywhere for wifi.

3. More devices use wifi than ever before. Look around the next time you’re out. How many iPads do you see? Add in the smart phones, laptops, netbooks, other tablets, and all the other devices I don’t even know about. That’s lots of reasons to offer wifi.

OK, if you’re still with me, what can you do about it?

Action Steps:

Surround your visitors with wifi and give them a place to work.

1. Find out where free public wifi is available now. I mean, I live here and I don’t even know where all it’s available. So ask. Ask everyone. I’m sure you thought of the libraries and all the school buildings, but lots more places are out there. Lodging like hotels and motels are likely spots, but also check with apartment blocks, and independent living centers for seniors. Check with all restaurants and cafes. Look into the churches, banks and retail stores. (I provide guest wifi at my liquor store.) Ask local geeky-types if their business offers guest wifi. Oh, and don’t overlook yourself. Your chamber of commerce, city hall, convention center, fairgrounds, county equipment shed, etc.

2. Find out where people can get some work done. Start with the library. They have work areas, right? Then look around for co-working spaces. See if your local business incubator (mine is at the vo-tech center) allows visitors for the day. Maybe a local hotel, motel or bed and breakfast has workstation for guests. Could you set up a guest workstation in your office? What about the church fellowship hall or youth center? Would they accept visitors?

3. Let people know about the wifi you found. Make big, consistent, simple and easy to read signs. Get those signs posted everywhere that public wifi is available. You can use any standard wifi logo, or make your own. Here’s an example wifi logo from the State of Vermont. If there is a password or special procedure to log onto guest wifi, make sure it’s easily accessible, preferably posted right on the sign. Now, on your paper maps and business listings, add a “free wifi” logo and mark the locations. Add a “get some work done” section to your visitor brochures and website.

4. Pursue more wifi. Encourage businesses of all kinds to add guest wifi. Encourage your local government to get involved. Does your local telecom offer any free wifi spots? Give them a push to start.

5. Open more existing wifi to visitors. In places where you find wifi is locked down, ask if they can open it or provide a second network for guest access. Many routers make adding a guest network as easy as checking a box in settings. Make sure there are no other requirements like membership. Janice Person wanted to use wifi in public places in Japan, but found it was tied to phone networks. Being a visitor, she couldn’t use it.

If you see wifi for tourism differently, share your reasoning. If you agree and are doing something cool to provide wifi and workspaces, share it.

Originally published on Small Biz Survival, republished with permission.

Becky McCray says that small towns have a future, and tourism is often crucial to that future. She co-founded Tourism Currents to train people to use social media to put their town on the map. Her knowledge of small towns comes from her life as the owner of a small town liquor store and a cattle ranch. She and Chicago entrepreneur Barry Moltz are the authors of the award-winning book Small Town Rules. Her small town business blog, Small Biz Survival, ranks in the top 20 small business blogs worldwide, and she has been featured in The New York Times, BusinessWeek, and Entrepreneur Magazine. She makes her home base in Hopeton, Oklahoma, a community of 30 people.

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