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Merchandising Ideas in the Age of Pandemics

In the age of Pandemics: Some of the reasons that Tourism industries fail
Dr. Peter Tarlow shares his thoughts on merchandising after COVID

With COVID-19 vaccinations taking place around the world, the return of travel and tourism looms on the horizon. So what should be the approach to physically bringing tourists back after they’ve been doing everything for so long in a virtual world?

  1. COVID-19 caused not only the illness and death to human lives, but degeneration to travel and tourism and its products.
  2. How to appeal to travelers that have become accustomed to living in a cloistered environment to come back to actually visiting destinations.
  3. Merchandising strategies and ideas for travel entrepreneurs and tourism officials.

Even with the arrival of vaccines and the hopeful large-scale inoculations, tourism leaders know that these next few months will not be easy. In many places, there has been a second or third wave, and other nations are now dealing with alternative strains of the virus. Until the pandemic ends, it will be necessary to increase our merchandising skills both for tangible products and for those products that are intangible but very much a part of the travel and tourism experience. Due to the COVID-19 economic meltdown throughout much of the world, how we market and merchandise may determine the difference between an acceptable year of recovery and a year of business failures. More than ever for many businesses. this (northern hemisphere) winter merging into spring may face a make-or-break situation.

The economic uncertainties have manifested themselves in many ways – multiple stock markets are on a roller coaster, increased unemployment is a major problem, airlines have not recovered, and tax revenues are down across the world. The travel and tourism industries have an ever more important role to play in helping both local and national economies recover.

Toward this end, Tourism Tidbits offers some insights into merchandising. It is always a good idea to remember that merchandising is not marketing and after a period where shopping moved from stores to computers, store owners and tourism officials will have to work extraordinarily hard to regain clientele.

Marketing is all about getting the customer or client to come into a store or place of business, and merchandising is what happens once the person has decided to enter the premises. 

Because shopping plays such an important role in tourism, it is essential that all tourism professionals also know something about merchandising and work with local store owners and merchants. Tourism professionals dare not forget that if shopping is a major tourism sport and if shopping is reduced to buying online, then they have lost not only an important part of the tourism profits but also an important tourism activity. 

Too often tourism professionals spend a great amount of money on research, creativity, and money on marketing and very little on how they present their product or what happens after the visitor arrives on the scene. The same is true of tourism academics who might emphasize data that are not always helpful to the people working in the tourism industry. To help with merchandising strategies, Tourism Tidbits offers some basic principles and ideas:

-Remember that you can merchandise not only things, but also ideas, and concepts. Tourism is about ideas and the creation of memories. These products should also be merchandised with care. No matter what the tourism product, display it in a variety of places and circumstances so that the idea sinks into the subconscious and the visitor remains in your locale for a longer period of time.

-Design displays with the consumer’s needs in mind. Incorporate into your displays articles and information that is useful rather than simply pretty. For example, if you are merchandising a brochure the rule is: the simpler the better. Too many tourism brochures are so filled with information that in the end no one reads anything.

-Avoid clutter and develop themes. Too much is never good! If there is too much displayed or too many offerings the mind often gets confused. Pick a theme, make it clear, and allow people to see what you have without cluttering up their mind. Most people can focus on one thing without distractions but too many themes in one place create states of mental cacophony.

-Take the time to critique your place of business and your office from a merchandising perspective. Analyze how you have arranged your space, be that space a store, visitor bureau, attraction or even school. What is the first thing that your customer or visitor sees? What type of ambiance have you created, and does it enhance the product that you are selling? Is your entrance cluttered or too emotionally cold? How does your locale smell? Are there flowers in abundance or is the locale dirty? Do not forget the importance of restrooms. People are more likely to make a purchase in a place where the restrooms are clean.

-No matter what your product may be, seek ways to  be attractive to the eye. Often large and colorful items will attract customers allowing them to look at the surrounding merchandise. The key to good merchandising is creativity. If your merchandise or product is not presented in a positive light, the customer will ignore it. Detail and care are essential. Remember that this principle holds true not only for tangible products such as store goods but also intangible products, events and even education.

-Lighting should complement your goal/theme rather than working against it. There is a time for every form of lighting. Think through what it is that you are trying to accomplish. Is your goal to make your merchandise easily see-able or are you seeking a romantic mood? Will the lighting impact the way your customers see themselves or you? Do your customers want to see what they are buying, or would they prefer a softer approach? Think through how you can use lighting to guide people to different places within a store, hotel or attraction.

-Make your summer displays universal. We live in a multi-cultural world. Be wise enough to recognize different religions and holidays and nationalities. Tourism is all about the celebration of the “other,” and it seeks inclusively rather than exclusivity. Use seasonal displays to include as many groups of people as possible and as teaching and educational tools. Create displays with several holidays in mind. For example, you might use an ecology theme to promote holidays that often are not associated with that theme. Decorations that show the buyer a creative approach in displaying your product may also get the visitor not only to think about return trips, but also tell friends and family about your locale.

-Design your displays so as to incorporate something or your or community’s personality. Unique displays become attractions in and of themselves and often add to the customer’s overall experience and sense that you care about him or her. Try to show in your displays that your customers/visitors are important to you. Design your displays carefully. Large items with rich colors tend to attract attention.  Always work to inspire your customers. 

-When designing displays chose your colors wisely and then use colors and more colors! Vibrant colors can save a display or create a memory. Even brochure racks or bookshelves can be turned into creative experiences with the use of a vibrant color. Use colors to liven up any scene. Choose colors that re-enforce your message. Thus, school children learn best when the colors bring them to a sense of creativity, while hotel bedrooms may seek to use quieter colors that promote sleep. Adding colors does not need to be expensive. For example, wrapping paper used behind a shelf can change the entire look of a display case.

-Do not just sell something but also give something away. People love to receive something for nothing. Create open houses, have giveaways and turn being in your place of business not merely a shopping experience but an event. Souvenirs also act as free advertisements creating not only a word-of-mouth buzz but also act to encourage repeat business.

– Let the merchandise speak for itself. There is such a thing as good service and there is also such a thing as too much, or over-service. For example, no one likes a waiter who constantly interrupts a meal to ask about it. Allow the person to know that you are there but do not hover over your customers.