Legislative Advocacy 101: Hosting Site Visits with Elected Officials
Give Them Firsthand Experience with the Business of Travel
There’s perhaps no better way to understand the vitality of Ohio’s $43 billion travel economy than to witness it firsthand. Hosting a site tour at your attraction, museum, hotel, restaurant, ferryboat, etc. for your local, state and federal lawmakers is the best way to build relationships with these policymakers, and these visits provide excellent opportunities for them to meet and hear from constituents.
Step #1: Extending the Invitation
Decide Whom to Invite
Although it takes more time, it is always best to host private tours for lawmakers versus doing one tour for multiple ones. This allows plenty of time for individualized attention to his or her questions. If it’s a major event, such as a grand opening, then it makes sense to invite more than one; however, always make sure each lawmaker knows who else is attending. Our advice is to stick with one elected official at a time for best results.
Research your elected officials to know what policies are important to them. On what committees do they serve? Which bills have they supported or not supported, particularly on those related to travel?
Work with Lawmaker’s Staff to Set a Date
Begin by calling the lawmaker’s staff to ask for the name of his or her district scheduler. Contact the scheduler and let them know you’ll be sending details and a formal invitation, but that you wanted to touch base with him or her first. Ask for several possible dates when the elected official is available to visit. It makes sense to do this at least a few months before lawmakers are back in their district after recess is called in Columbus or Washington DC.
Before you place the call, make sure you have the following information handy:
- Let the scheduler know your business is in the district
- Identify the number of Ohioans you employ
- Let the scheduler know why you believe the visit will be beneficial to the elected official (to see economics of travel in his or her district, to see fruits of workforce development initiatives you’ve implemented, to meet other constituents to better understand the challenges facing small/large businesses, etc)
- Let them know whether media will be present, or better yet, ask them if there is anyone from media they would like invited
- Have a general idea of the activities for the visit
Be flexible with the event date. They will likely want you to follow-up the request in writing; be prepared to do so right away.
Send Formal Invitation
The letter should include the following:
- Proposed date and time
- Name and location of the business
- Some details about the business that may interest your policy maker (based on the research you did earlier in Step 1)
- Highlight the importance of the travel economy in your community
- Provide a brief overview of what he or she will experience on the tour
- Copy the scheduler or staff person you’ve been working with on the tour
Followup with Lawmaker’s Scheduler
Within a week, call the scheduler to check the status of your pending invitation. Do not get discouraged if setting up this meeting takes awhile. Be patient, yet persistent.
Notify the Ohio Travel Association
If we have enough notice, we’d love to join you on the tour. If we’re not able, we’ll be sure to send you talking points of some of the industry’s top policy priorities. When we are aware of this visit, we can also be sure to follow-up as well. Contact Melinda Huntley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Step #2: Prepping for the Tour
Keep the Tour Concise and Targeted.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and to want to show the lawmaker everything about your business that deserves attention; however, his or her time and attention is limited. Identify three or four primary points you want to make and design the experience around that.
Most Important Rule – Remember Why You are Hosting
Remember why you are hosting them – to show them the economics behind what we do. So please don’t give them the same type of tour you would give a travel writer or group tour operator on a FAM. One of the most successful tours I ever gave was when we took a federal official to the basement of a well-known indoor waterpark and hotel, introducing him to executive and line staff, showing him operations and back-of-house before ever stepping foot in the waterpark. These officials aren’t visiting to play or have a great time (even though we know they will); they are there to learn about the importance of what you do to the community and the state, so show them as only you can do. Don’t gloss over the business details because you think you need to streamline a guest experience for them.
Create an agenda
Make sure it gives the elected official time to speak, a tour, photo opportunities and encounters with employees and guests. Make sure your staff is well briefed on the agenda well. You may want to let key employees help lead the tour.
Invite guests and media
Work with the elected official’s staff to identify and coordinate these invitations.
Clear Food and Arrangements with Scheduler
It’s always best to work hand-in-hand with the scheduler to make sure food and/or tour arrangements are within legal limitations and comply with any special meal needs.
Step #3: Conducting the Tour
Verify the Timeline
Schedules change quickly, so it’s best to verify how much time is allotted to your place of business before getting started. That way if something unexpected has popped up on the official’s calendar, you can re-visit your tour plans to make sure priority information is covered.
Make the Ask
Briefly identify a couple legislative issues that are important to your business and why they are important. Also identify what outcomes you’d like to see. Contact the Ohio Travel Association if you need help with crafting these messages.
Take Lots of Photos
Take both group shots and candids.
Take Lots of Notes
Assign someone to be the note taker to document needed follow-up to information requests or questions
It’s Not about Tchotchkes
In fact, most elected officials aren’t able or don’t want to accept gifts. Keep your handouts business related and informative.
Make It Experiential
Think about the photo opportunity and offer your visitor a chance to be an active participant if appropriate.
Step #4: Following Up After the Visit
Send a Thank You Note
Send a formal thank you to the legislator and any staff members who attended or assisted with the visit.
Follow Up Beyond Expectations
In addition to following up on specific requests, send along images taken during the event. Legislators are always looking for photos for their newsletters and websites.
Offer to Remain Available as a Resource
The opportunity to build relationships with your elected officials doesn’t happen every day. Let them know that you are available if ever they should have questions or need resources from the travel industry in your area.
Follow-up with Your Employees
Thank them for their efforts during the tour. More important, encourage their active participation in public policy process as activists and as registered, educated and active voters.
For more from our Legislative Advocacy 101 series, visit the following:
Legislative Advocacy 101