Tourism development is often advocated as an economic driver, and a possible industry for consideration by aspiring entrepreneurs. As long-time “backyard” tourists in St. Thomas and Elgin County, we have given some thought to the question, “What qualities seem to make a business, not just a ‘stop’ for tourists, but a ‘signature attraction’?” (We have defined such attractions, quite arbitrarily, as places which by themselves offer a compelling reason to visit (maybe frequently) and spend some time, which offer leisure experiences, tend to elicit consistently enthusiastic reviews and draw visitors from both nearby and from a distance.) Here are the top ten qualities which we think help make a tourist “stop” into a “star”: 1. Niche offerings. The business offers unique products or experiences not found anywhere else or not nearby. They have often expanded or refined these offerings over time by research and by listening to customer feedback and suggestions. 2. Passion & expertise. The business owners and employees have a passion for what they do, a positive attitude and something to offer other than just products to sell—help when needed or information to share.
3. Wow factor. People walk in the door, or through the gate and are excited by what they see— impressed enough to maybe exclaim out loud, smile widely, share photos, or leave bursting with intentions to let others know what they have discovered.
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4. Experiences. There are engaging things to do and fun to be had.
5. Learning opportunities. There are inducements to be curious and chances to learn something new. 6. Beauty. It may be in the form of a unique building, a garden, a special vista or view, product presentation or packaging, unique sounds or music. People just naturally take pleasure in beauty. 7. Authenticity. The business seems to be in the right setting, in harmony with the products, services or experiences. 8. Take-home options. If customers come mainly for an experience, many would also like to take something home to share with others or to remember their visit—offerings at a range of price points are usually welcome. 9. Multiple opportunities over time. There are compelling reasons to come to the business—not necessarily large-scale events, but variations on the experience or seasonally themed happenings. 10. Complementary stops nearby. The business may be the main attraction, but visitors are often looking for complementary options—places to stroll, shop or eat. A couple of businesses which demonstrate these characteristics admirably come to mind—Clovermead Bees & Honey Adventure Farm and Little Red Mitten in St. Thomas.