Jerrilynn Cipar knows many of her potential customers make decisions while looking at their mobile devices.
Cipar, leasing and marketing manager for The Retreat at State College, a housing complex at 300 Waupelani Drive, said virtual tours are a great way to connect with apartment-hunting Penn State students — especially those who might be elsewhere for the summer.
The Retreat was among the local businesses to sign up for a virtual tour through a partnership between Google and the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“We think this is going to be tremendous for us for leasing,” Cipar said. “A lot of kids and their parents can’t really come here for a tour. This is the next-best thing.”
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Google’s “Street View” program has been available in the State College market for some time, but the CPCVB program was launched in April, pulling the tours together in one spot.
Visitors to the CPCVB’s website, www.visitpennstate.org, can click on the “Google Virtual Area Tour” link to see 360-views of more than 40 local restaurants, retailers and other businesses and attractions. About a dozen of those have been posted since the partnership began.
“When we were approached with this opportunity, we figured, ‘Why not make this available to our member businesses,’ ” CPCVB Executive Director Betsey Howell said. “It really seemed like a good project that would help fulfill our mission of promoting the area.”
Google’s Jim Hilker connects with local businesses from his home base in Ithaca, N.Y. He expects to be back in Centre County in early June to add more businesses to the tour list.
He and his team will visit a location, set up a camera on a tripod and shoot a 360-degree image. Many places choose multiple shoots from different spots and angles.
Once a “tour” is posted, visitors can see the space as if standing in the middle of a room.
“It’s a more interactive and more enjoyable way for people to connect with businesses,” Hilker said. “The more you can engage a potential customer in advance, the better the chance they’ll have your brand planted in their brains and then buy your products or service. That’s what this does.”
Annual contracts for the shoots and service run $96 a year and up, depending on the size of the operation and number of settings, Hilker said.
“A business owner just has to decide what they really want to show,” he said. “Each time we move and set up the tripod, there’s a cost associated with it. There’s a delicate balance between how much you are willing and able to spend and how much you want to show.”
Cipar said the digital experience fits well with her target market.
“Most kids are searching for a place to live using their mobile devices,” she said. “They’re not even using desktops anymore. We have to react to that.
“Everybody’s so busy now. But if you’ve got 10 minutes, and you’re with your parents, you can get your phone out and say, ‘This looks like a nice place to live.’ ”
Area sites already featured on the CPCVB’s website range from senior living spots such as Foxdale Village and Brookline to local industry and service organizations, from Videon Central to Centre Animal Hospital.
Numerous dining and hospitality options are there for virtual exploring.
“We think this can help grow the economic development of the area and help people decide to visit local businesses,” Hilker said. “If you can grab a couple hundred more people and convince them to come to State College rather than go to another area, that can really help drive economic growth.”
Follow Chip Minemyer on Twitter @MinemyerChip.