Promoting Visitation and Commerce in the Shoulder Season

Sponsor: Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce
Sponsor Liaison: Kristie Ferrantella, David Martin
Student Team: Sam Gehly, Jordan Gold, Neal Keklik, Greggory Raymond
Abstract: As a resort community, Nantucket experiences enormous seasonal fluctuations in population and business activity. The goal of this project was to aid the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce (NICC) in encouraging businesses to remain open and determine ways to increase visitation during the shoulder season. Through an iterative process with stakeholders, we developed an app and website that provides a business calendar, shows events and promotions, a business directory, and an interactive map among other features. Interviews and a survey indicated that there is strong support for such an app within the business community, but the Chamber will need to market the app effectively and encourage businesses to update their information regularly to ensure the app’s success.

NICC Final Report


Application Demo

Business Detail Training Video

Promotions Training Video

Calendar Training Video

Executive Summary

Following the demise of the whaling industry, Nantucket has refashioned itself as a premier summer resort by promoting its beaches, golf courses, historic sites, and scenery. Visitation to Nantucket is characterized by a peak season in late spring through late summer (mid-June through mid-September), two shoulder seasons (one April-June and one October-December), and an off season the rest of the year (January-March). To some extent the island has been a victim of its own success and the population typically swells from about 17,000 in February to more than 50,000 at the height of summer in July. In consort with the town and the business community, the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce has introduced special events like the Daffodil Festival and Christmas Stroll to encourage more economic activity in the shoulder and off seasons. These events have been very successful, but the Chamber believes much more remains to be done.

Project Goals
The overall goal of this project was to aid the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce in encouraging businesses to remain open longer and determine ways to increase visitation to Nantucket during the shoulder seasons. To achieve this goal, we:
1. Surveyed the business community to determine what factors influence businesses to open and close for the season, and what the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce might do to extend the shoulder season.
2. Created a website and mobile application to display business information.
3. Developed and delivered a set of training videos and materials for key constituents using the app.

Interviews with Local Businesses
We conducted interviews with 19 business owners to gauge the level of support for an events/calendar app and to clarify what features should be included. The consensus among interviewees was an application that could connect businesses with tourists and residents who frequent the island during the summer and who live on the island would help increase traffic to the island during the shoulder season. Features that business thought would be most useful included an integrated events calendar from the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce (NICC) website, a page that shows current business promotions and a way that consumers and tourists alike can purchase products through the application.

Survey of Local Businesses
We received 134 completed surveys, including 87 (64.9%) from businesses that are open year-round, and 45 (33.5%) from businesses that are open seasonally. We recognize that our respondent sample may not accurately reflect the entire business community on Nantucket because we conducted this survey during the off season. Nevertheless, we were delighted that one third of our sample comprised respondents that operate seasonally. The survey revealed key points including when businesses are open and closed, what features to include, and ideas to promote the shoulder season among other insights.

Iterative Application Design and Development Process
To create an application that is effective for all of the involved parties, we employed an iterative design process that solicited feedback from businesses, the Chamber, and other stakeholders. We also consulted with the NICC regarding the target audiences, updating and maintenance of the applications, their preferred platforms or software, as well as the final deliverables.
Based on our initial conversations with the Chamber and our background research, we proposed two separate applications, a business-facing and tourist-facing web application which would allow businesses to enter info and tourists to view it, and a tourist-facing mobile application that would allow tourists to view the information.
Our initial conception of the mobile application included an events tab (scraped from the NICC website), a business directory with search capability for users to easily access information about the Chamber’s members, a virtual map of the island with overlays for upcoming events and businesses. It also includes a promotions tab where residents can find deals on the island. Once the first iteration of our website and application were completed, we contacted business owners to participate in beta tests and made changes to the application and website based on their feedback.

Conducting business interviews and beta tests as well as a survey with business owners revealed items the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce should focus on in the future. It is clear after interviewing business on the island that the summer months exhaust business owners’ time and resources due to the large influx of people. By contrast some businesses view the shoulder season as an another opportunity to increase sales. We took both of these positions into consideration and have designed the applications to not only attract more consumers to the island for businesses that want more activity, but also added features that residents can utilize on a daily basis.
A recurring issue that our team observed throughout our project was keeping the data on the application and website current. If business hours or promotions are not up to date, it would drive away users from the applications.
When we discussed the development of a mobile application and website with business owners, almost all interviewees said that the product would have to be marketed agrressively in order to be successful. Regardless of the features of the application, the product will not simply fall into the hands of the consumers without proper marketing. Therefore, efforts must be applied towards marketing the application by the NICC and other stakeholders.
Our business interviews also highlighted that marketing should target two target audiences, businesses and consumers. Marketing efforts directed at business owners, however, will be different than the marketing efforts for consumers and tourists who use the mobile application.
Our last conclusion is that business owners may be intimidated by the maintenance they have to perform, namely updating hours, promotions, and business information. Therefore, it was clear that we had to design the application so that it is intuitive to use. The project would also benefit from the design of training videos that the NICC could use to instruct business owners on how to use the business-facing portion of the website.

Our first recommendation is that the NICC takes into consideration how many events they schedule throughout the shoulder seasons as well as the off season. They should also gauge the popularity of each event before advertising the events to the public. We also recommend that the Chamber encourage businesses to work together and network more. We have also observed that businesses close for a variety of reasons and often without much notice.

Keeping the Application Relevant
The Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce should encourage businesses to update their hours months in advance on the application in order to ensure tourists can plan trips effectively. Our fear is that if a consumer or tourist opens the application on their phone to check hours for a business only to find out that the information is inaccurate then they will not use the application in the future. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that the Chamber remind businesses as much as they can to update their information regularly. They can do this with email reminders, at business after hours events, board meetings or a combination of all these.

Marketing to Businesses
Through business interviews our team learned that the success of the mobile application and website depends largely on how it is marketed. We recommend that the NICC first market to business owners so that they can load relevant and accurate data before consumers download the application on their phones. One way that the Chamber can market to business owners is through sponsored events such as business after hours. During this event the NICC can introduce the application and website to business owners as well as show them how to load information into the applications. It is also important to consider when the website and mobile application should be released to the public. The website will be first released by the Chamber to business owners. Then, the mobile application will be released to consumers and tourists.

Marketing to Consumers
After marketing to businesses and ensuring that sufficient current information about business hours, events, and promotions is loaded on the application the Chamber should then begin marketing to consumers. The NICC can market the application to consumers and tourists through digital advertisement on the ferries and airlines, on commercials at Dreamland movie theater, through the Chamber’s website, and through advertisements in newspapers such as, Yesterday’s Island. The Chamber should also consider marketing through the network of tourist information centers throughout the state. Developing a rack card about the app and distributing it widely on and off the island, might be an effective option also.

Training Materials
It is clear from beta test and interviews that business owners may be hesitant about using the applications to advertise their business on if they do not fully understand how it works. Therefore, we recommend that the Chamber inform business owners on how to navigate the website and update their business information. We opted to make training materials for the Chamber that consists of three training videos that outline specific features that businesses would have to use on the website. The topics for these videos are how to edit business details, edit promotions, and how to add business hours.

Future Iterations of the Smartphone Application
Despite having produced a finished smartphone application and website for the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce there is always more that can be done to make it better. In order to improve and maintain the applications and website the Chamber should hire a design and development agency for fixing bugs, adding new features, and optimizing the app.