Don’t say you didn’t know.
Every reader has experienced dirty toilets broken appliances, and unsanitary restroom conditions in public places – gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants, visitor centers – everywhere. Not only are they dirty, they are often defiled with obscenities too. Most of the time you just keep your mouth shut and privately vow not to go there again even when it’s in your own backyard.
So, how do you think tourists feel when they visit your community and experience the same thing?
The truth is that they might not even consider looking at the rest of what you have to offer after stopping for gas at your local filling station, a beverage at your local convenience store, or lunch at your local diner and experiencing a dirty restroom. Restroom facilities at these public places are typically appalling, and most communities – no, ALL communities – ignore the problem.
First impressions are everything, and restrooms are at the top of the list. Whether your visitors arrive by bike, train, car, or motor coach, the first thing they look for is a restroom, and it had better be clean. Most of the time, it isn’t.
A dirty restroom reflects on your entire community.
From this first impression, travelers make a conscious decision about whether or not to venture further into your town to eat at your finer restaurants, shop at your retail stores, or stay overnight at your local hotels or bed & breakfast facilities. These places are all expected to be clean, of course (sometimes they are just as bad though), but travelers will see this first restroom stop as a reflection on the rest of the community. After all, why should they believe that the restrooms and places requiring sanitary conditions in the rest of your community would be any different from the one they have already experienced?
If a community doesn’t have control over these areas why would they be any different when it really counts?
Unsanitary restroom conditions in big cities usually reflect negatively only on the offending business and rarely on the image of the entire community. Why? It’s simply a matter of scale. Big cities can (unfairly) hide behind their numbers because the offending business is just one among hundreds or even thousands of businesses in area. Consequently, visitors usually don’t hold the city responsible for such conditions because they know that one dirty restroom is just a small factor in the larger scheme of things, so forgiveness is easy.
Big cities can hide it. Small communities can’t!
Small communities can’t get away this because travelers think local residents know about everybody else’s business - and they usually DO - so everyone is held responsible for everything that goes on. At the same time, a small town is usually THE destination in itself rather than one of several destinations within a big city, and doesn’t usually get a second chance to make a good impression.
What to do about it?
Most communities have a local health department that can – and should – regulate minimum health and sanitation standards for restroom facilities at every retail business. In the absence of a health department, communities can pass regulations for maintaining sanitary restroom conditions in the same way that they require banks to maintain the physical appearance of foreclosed properties under their control. If the banks don’t maintain their foreclosed properties, the community performs the necessary maintenance and bills the banks accordingly. It can work for restrooms too.
Check out the public restrooms in your town. You might be surprised – or maybe not – but can your community afford to lose even a single tourist because of something so preventable? Make this a priority.
NOTE: Rules and regulations in maintaining sanitary conditions are steps to a better community and greater revenue but they will only be as good as the enforcement of such regulations. Since these could be new unfamiliar guidelines to follow for many facilities, the subject should be brought to a public forum (not for a vote, but) so all businesses will realize the value of such regulations and what it means to the revenue generated by visitors if followed or not. Act now!
UPCOMING SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS:
North Dakota Travel Industry Conference April 15 - 17, 2013:
· Workshop: Growing Tourism through Business Development - What you don’t know you don’t know (but your guests do.)
· Keynote: Heritage Tourism Development – The Story, The Assets & The Logistics
Called "The Patron Saint of Small Towns" by Iowa Commerce Magazine
John Poimiroo, Deputy Secretary of (CA) Tourism said:
"I was so impressed by your emphasis on sustaining heritage tourism as an economic development tool."