Recommend Cody

By Mike Johnson

For nine years, we were unofficial ambassadors for Cody, Wyoming. We’d started a trolley tour business that provided 60-minute city tours.

Each summer, we presented 10,000 visitors the best showcase of local attractions and history. By taking our tour, tourists gained a quick overview so then knew how to spend the rest of their time in Cody. After our tour, the most popular visitor comment was, “I had no idea there was so much to see and do here!” The most popular resident comment was, “I learned more history in an hour than I’d learned during 20 years living here!”

The goal of every Cody business was to get customers to stay longer. The statistics at the time said that visitors spent $100 per day, per person in their group.

Thanks to Yellowstone National Park, there was a river of money flowing through Cody every summer. It was our job to first, get them to stop, then get them to stay longer.

So we brainstormed ways to do that.

We listed all the first points of contact with visitors. These included our Chamber of Commerce visitor center, hotels, retailers, restaurants, gas stations and local attractions. We knew that visitors ask the frontline people questions about Cody. The right answers would convince people to extend their stay in our town.

So we created a free, “Recommend Cody” tour just for frontline staff. We provided this free tour 4-6 times just before each summer season started. It lasted 3 hours and visited all of Cody’s main attractions. At each stop, the managers of the attractions gave a 10 minute talk and a tour of their attractions. By the end of the tours, up to 200 frontline staff had a good overview of the best that Cody offered. Now they could enthusiastically recommend these attractions to visitors all summer, talking from firsthand experience.

Of course this exposure benefitted our trolley tour business too, so it was a good investment of our time. We also offered local residents our standard 60-minute city tour for free, 12 times over three days, just before season started. We knew that visiting guests stay with locals, so locals would evangelize our tour to their guests all summer too.

We also had a relationship with the local radio station. We’d traded some advertising so had some commercial air time to run on their station. Instead of targeting travelers, who probably would not adjust their radio dial driving through Cody, we targeted locals who would host those visitors. We picked the times and programming when Cody’s biggest influencers listened. The commercials were targeted toward them, knowing they’d then recommend the trolley tour to their guests. Here’s our funniest 30-second radio commercial: House Guests Taxing Your Patience?

Years later, we realized our chamber of commerce visitor center signage was subpar. Too much of that “river of money” was driving through Cody without stopping. We knew if they stopped at the visitor center, odds were high they’d stay a day or two.

Margie went to work convincing the chamber board to massively upgrade all road and building signage. Then she went out and raised $40,000 to fund it. She worked with the designer and sign company to create two large road signs and four building signs. She also convinced the Wyoming DOT to add informational signs directing people to the visitor center from all five Cody entrances.

It worked spectacularly.

Visitor center traffic instantly increased from 20,000 per summer to 75,000, a 275% increase. These extra stops increased local business revenue by over $5 million per summer.

It was a kick representing our town. Our business helped everyone it touched. Immersing ourselves in Cody’s tourism industry provided so many creative opportunities. We just asked, “What’s missing?” and “How can we profitably provide that?” The answers led us on journeys that helped everyone.

Perhaps these ideas and concepts can help your business and community.



How we dreamed up the trolley tour idea: How Deep is Your Mine?


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