12 MARKETING AND PROMOTION

THE WISDOM OF MARKETING

“DO NOT EXPECT THE CUSTOMER TO COME TO YOU; IT IS YOU WHO HAS TO GO TO THE CUSTOMER”

The authors of this manual were once asked by a Lao friend to come and look at the ecolodge he was building. After spending about an hour talking about the construction details, the garden, interior decoration and plans for the restaurant, we asked the investor what his marketing and promotion plan was. The investor quickly became irritated and told us he would finish the construction first and then worry about marketing and promotion later. He told us that tourists would come to his ecolodge with or without advertising. What happened? They never came and he had to sell the property less than two years after he opened. Marketing and promotion is important. If no one knows about your ecolodge, how can you expect anyone to stay there?
There are many ways that you can promote your ecolodge and get customers right away, but be prepared to spend at least the first 4-5 years of business operations recuperating your investment costs. A good marketing and promotion plan may shorten that amount of time.

First, post signs. You should post signs on the road leading to your ecolodge, beginning about 10 -20 km away depending on the distance you are located from a main road.
Once you get within 5 km of the ecolodge, post signs every 1 km in order to guide your customers directly to the entrance.
The sign closest to the entrance should be large, visible and well maintained.

Use modern technology like the internet to promote your ecolodge. Websites can reach people all over the world, 24 hours a day.

A good web designer in Laos is Mark Nissen       email: marknissen@gmail.com

How is your guest going to find you?

It costs about US$ 800 – 2,000 to design a good-quality website. Once the website is built and posted, it is not expensive to maintain. Printing brochures is another promotional tool, but will only work if the brochure gets to a potential customer so you should work hard to distribute them. You should actively communicate and develop good relations with national and international tour companies that will help promote your ecolodge, and establish good contractual rates with them. What really helps is being mentioned in guidebooks like the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide, however, these are updated only once every 2-3 years so it may take awhile for them to discover you.

When you are about to open your ecolodge, post small printed advertisements in restau- rants, guesthouses and information centers in Laos and Thailand. This is a cost-effective way to promote your ecolodge. If you design and post flyers yourself, you should make sure that you have an English language version that is accurate and attractive. A badly designed advertisement will discourage guests from coming.

Finally, remember that the best form of advertising is the mouth-to-mouth recommend- ations of your customers. Remember this. Every guest has the potential to help or hurt your business depending on what they say about your ecolodge to others. One satisfied customer will tell 10 people about your ecolodge. One unhappy customer will tell 20.

21 DESIGNING AND BUILDING AN ECOLODGE IN THE LAO PDR SUGGESTIONS FOR LOCAL INVESTORS

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