Dumping from the dump truck, and leaving visitors to sort it out (courtesy xcode on Flickr CC)Many tourism organizations that are not member-based have told me they’re reluctant to mention specific businesses or events in their towns for fear of offending someone.

They say things like….

** “If I RT (retweet) something on Twitter from that particular restaurant, the other restaurants will fuss that I didn’t mention them, too.”

** “If I create suggested itineraries to help visitors, the ones who aren’t on the itineraries will complain.”

** “If I show a photo from that hotel on my Facebook Page, the other hotels will be mad.”

** “If I group restaurants on my website a certain way, rather than listing them alphabetically, some of them will be upset.”

** “If I plug that festival on our blog, the other festival organizers will get huffy.”

All of this may be true, but what it means is that you are not giving visitors the best possible information about how to enjoy their stay in your town. You’re giving them a laundry list – a data dump – and expecting them to figure it out on their own.

This is especially true of my pet peeve: tourism websites that list restaurants alphabetically under Where To Eat, from Applebee’s to Z Pizza.  Gee, then visitors have the joy of wading through that crapola and picking one….without even the courtesy of having them laid out on a mobile-friendly map, to ease the pain of confusion as they drive around an unfamiliar town (probably with hungry kids squawking in the back seat.)

No wonder they go for your safe, known chain places and leave uninspired by anything unique that you offer. Meh.

Rather than using a tweet or Facebook photo to show them, for example, only-in-our-town highlights like that amazing lemon meringue pie at a local bakery, you pump out no-impact, inoffensive, rah-rah vanilla content like “Eat, Stay, Play” without any interesting specifics on where and how to eat, stay and play.

On conversational social media sites, such brochure-speak is a yawner for everyone (you’re bored writing it and they’re bored reading it) so visitors may turn to random searches on Google or Yelp or “where do locals go?” Facebook shouts or tweets to their networks, all in an effort to get past unhelpful data dumps and onto useful information that works for them and their travel companions.

Why not try to figure out a workable, equitable system to spotlight worthy places when it makes sense to do so?

There’s no perfect solution, but at least sit down, think about it and consider offering some options….

**  A rotating tweet or retweet from each restaurant on your website listing. They aren’t on Twitter? Fine; support those who are.  The others can figure it out at their leisure.

**  A variety of Facebook photos, one per day or week, of a special dish from each restaurant in town. If the restaurant doesn’t provide a photo, then they aren’t mentioned. Tough cookies, you know?

**  Offer a short guest post on your blog to the manager of each hotel in town, talking about his or her favorite thing to suggest to visitors as a “must-see.”  Those who provide a good post get on your blog. Those who are “too busy” won’t get one. It’s not as though you aren’t offering the option to everyone.

**  Tell your local restaurants, shops and lodging that you’re setting up some suggested itineraries (family-friendly, history buff, foodie, craft enthusiast, etc.) on your website. Have some brainstorming sessions with them. Publish the first 3-4 that you create. Invite further input from those not yet included. Make them show you where they might best fit with a visitor’s interests.

**  Follow the lead of Visit Virginia and put a This Month tab on your Facebook Page for Events This Month (event calendars are consistently one of the most-trafficked pages on tourism websites, too) and be open to musical entertainment, festivals, dances, specials, etc. Those who don’t submit their data, don’t get on your calendar.

Think of yourself as both the best source of local information, and also as an online publisher who is capable of getting that quality information out on any channel you choose – text, photo, video, audio.

Either you act as the expert, reliable source, or a lone blogger like me or Kate Canterbury (who writes Columbia, Missouri’s Capturing CoMo) will do it….because we can and you didn’t.

We are not constrained by this pervasive avoidance of offending anyone, and with a little creativity and some teamwork around town, you really don’t have to be constrained that much, either.

Have you found any successful ways to deal with this issue? Please let us know down in the comments.

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