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Opinion: Missouri tourism is back! Are you ready?

  

The rush to plan summer vacations is in full swing. Families are charting out long-awaited getaways and friends can finally prepare for reunions. If you own or work at a business dependent on tourism, you’re probably just as eager for the return of tourists, but is your business ready to stand out from the crowd in a post-COVID world? 

Kelly Dolan

As the sole proprietor of H.S. Clay House Bed & Breakfast, a charming bed and breakfast in Augusta, I have learned valuable lessons about owning and running a business during a pandemic. I really haven’t had a “normal” year since taking over ownership of H.S. Clay House in 2019. Still, through creativity and resourcefulness, I’ve been able to not only survive but thrive through the toughest of times. As the country reopens and the tourism industry prepares for the summer rush, it’s critical that business owners are equipped with the best tools to succeed. I felt now would be a perfect time to share some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned as a business owner so that others can prepare for the summer ahead.    

My first piece of advice is to reflect on your business’s outreach. For the tourism industry, the days of travel agencies are just about over. To reach the masses, you need to meet them where they already are — online.

When I first started as a small business owner, I had no idea how important it would be to have a strong presence on social media. Travelers visit my Facebook profile to look at pictures, ask quick questions via Messenger, view services, contact me, and even book rooms. These features are easy to implement and can add a sense of credibility. That said, don’t let the idea of updating your digital presence intimidate you. Investing in online resources actually cut down on the time I spent talking to customers over the phone, ultimately saving me time and allowing me to focus on other areas besides just booking guests.  

As experts in the tourist industry, we should be making every effort to connect with our customers. It’s easy to get focused on the bottom line and making sales, especially during the past year, but the key is to remember why you opened your business in the first place. I always make an effort to connect with my guests while they stay at my B&B. I recently started posting pictures on Facebook of my guests, sharing their stories and the reason for their stay. By doing so, I’ve created a whole new following of customers online, and I’ve even formed a new appreciation for working in the hospitality industry.  

Finally, if you are considering a career change or thinking about opening a small business, I encourage you to take the leap. Leaving behind a stable job was challenging but so worth it. I was hardly open for six months when COVID hit and changed everything, but I was able to adjust and still find success. Don’t let the fear of what could happen prevent you from trying something new. Owning, restoring, and running H.S. Clay House Bed & Breakfast is a lot of work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Over the last year, small businesses and tourism industries have shouldered a heavy load. While it was challenging at times, I am thankful that I had the tools needed to find success and I encourage others to follow their dreams too.