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Using Ecotourism to Engage Customers

Using Ecotourism to Engage Customers

By Mark A. Diaz

In the age of convenience, customer satisfaction may no longer be enough to ensure return business. Companies are seeing a growing need to engage their clientele in order to produce a deeper emotional connection that, in turn, results in the invaluable commodity of customer loyalty. Highway 1 Discovery Route and the unincorporated San Luis Obispo County Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) have created and maintained the award winning Stewardship Travel Program (STP) in an attempt to merge sustainability, environmentalism and customer engagement.

Established in 2013, STP involves businesses from Ragged Point to as far South as Nipomo and offers 70 activities to engage tourists and locals alike. Activities range from aiding in the restoration of trails in Montaña de Oro, volunteer to work at the Nipomo Native Garden, or pick up debris at the Cayucos or Avila beaches. Not all the activities involve labor, for instance, there are hikes, tours and museums on the list and even a wine tasting event. However, each activity is designed to highlight the beauty and uniqueness of the Central Coast with hopes that visitors will establish that elusive deeper connection.

Katie Sturtevant, co-director of STP, has seen an increase of return customers since the conception of the program. “It’s been working really well for us. It gets them to them to connect, care and gives them a way to give back to the area, which we have found, makes them want to come back,” said Sturtevant. “They are just more deeply connected to the area that they are traveling to.”

Not only does customer engagement show an increase in future spending, trends indicate Millennials are more inclined to actively search out destinations that are environmental responsible and offer opportunities in land preservation and rehabilitation.

“We’re finding that more and more travelers want to spend more money on an area that they know is being preserved and that they can be a hand in preserving,” Sturtevant said.

The Avila Beach Tourism Alliance (ABTA) has recently revamped one of its contributions to ecotourism. The Avila Beach Cleanup Kit and Appreciation Tote Bag has received a new look with signage that will be posted around the beach town to promote the activity. Award winning graphic artist Reilly Newman was employed to create the new look.

The ABTA invites “active visitors” to use a kit to pick up 10 pieces of trash and post a picture of their accomplishment on a social website (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) with #VistiAvilaBeach in order to receive an exclusive T-shirt and to be entered into a monthly drawing.

“You would not believe how many people jump at the opportunity to pick up trash,” said Chris King, general manager of the Avila Beach Inn. “It’s pretty amazing.” The Avila program is unique in that it not has the potential to build engagement, but with the requirement of digital posting, it gives the activity an extra boost to grow organically.

ABTA kits contain gloves, a collection bag and a marine debris checklist. The kits are currently available at Central Coast Aquarium, Avila Village Inn, Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort, and San Luis Bay Inn upon request.

The Discovery Route recently received the Visit California Poppy Award under the award’s “Commitment to Community” category.

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By Mark A. Diaz