Building a Strong Merchant Network for Your Passport

Madison Strunk  |  October 23rd, 2023

Building an enticing pass begins with the onboarding of quality merchants and offers that serve as the foundation of a vibrant and dynamic experience for your visitors. However, it's not always smooth sailing, as some merchants may initially hesitate to join in on the fun. In this article, we'll explore the strategies to attract and retain merchants for your digital experience passports, ensuring a successful and enriching journey for all involved.

1. Be Creative and Build Relationships with Merchants

One of the most effective ways to encourage merchants to participate in your digital experience passport is to build strong relationships with them. Reach out, get to know their businesses, and show genuine interest in what they offer. Creating a sense of community and collaboration can go a long way in persuading them to come on board.

2. Give Incentives

Incentives can be a powerful motivator. Offer attractive incentives to merchants who join your passport program. This could include reduced participation fees, exclusive advertising opportunities, or even free promotional services. These perks can be a compelling reason for merchants to say "yes."

3. Explain the Long-term Benefits

Help merchants understand how participating in your digital experience passport will benefit them in the long run. Highlight the potential for increased foot traffic through their doors, leading to more sales and exposure. Merchants are more likely to commit when they can see a clear return on investment.

4. Showcase What Customers Enjoy

Showcase the experiences and benefits that customers can enjoy through the passport program. Share success stories, customer reviews, and the positive impact a passport has had on other participating merchants. This can create a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) for merchants who are on the fence.

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5. Creative Marketing Techniques

To onboard merchants effectively, consider using creative marketing techniques:

a. Feature Them on Consumer-Facing Platforms

Assure merchants that anyone who joins your program will be featured on your DMO's consumer-facing website, e-newsletter, or included in a roundup of "trail locations" in the next year's visitor guide. This exposure can be a valuable marketing opportunity.

b. Social Media Spotlight

Offer to feature each participating location in a series of social media posts, either leading up to the launch of the campaign or after the campaign begins. This can significantly boost their visibility and brand awareness, while simultaneously marketing your digital passport program.

c. Inclusion in Convention Materials

Collaborate with your sales team to include participating merchants in materials distributed to guests of conventions, meetings, or other large bookings. This exposure to a wider audience can be an attractive proposition for merchants.

d. Friendly Merchant Competition

Create friendly competition among merchants by showcasing a leaderboard with the businesses that have the most redemptions. The promise of being featured in a newsletter or blog post can drive merchants to strive for more redemptions, and drive even more foot traffic from your passholders into a variety of locations.

e. Social Media Challenge

Challenge merchants to a social media competition. Offer ad placements in top-performing publications for the merchant with the best social media marketing strategy or the most campaign-related posts.

f. Promo Codes and Financial Incentives

For paid passes, provide merchants with promo codes to distribute to their customers. The merchant with the highest promo code usage could receive financial incentives, further incentivizing their active participation.

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In the end, much of your success in onboarding merchants for your digital experience passport comes down to the relationships you build year-round. By nurturing strong connections with potential local business tourism partners, you can make participation in your pass program feel organic and natural. When you approach them, it won't be the first time you're having a conversation, but rather a continuation of a mutually beneficial partnership. So, take your time, foster relationships, and watch your digital experience passport thrive with enthusiastic and engaged merchants.