Marketing a tourism destination in a technology-driven world

Betsey Howell is the executive director for the Central Pa. Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. The bureau is celebrating it's 50th anniversary this year and Howell has been working there for the for the last 32 years.
Betsey Howell is the executive director for the Central Pa. Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. The bureau is celebrating it's 50th anniversary this year and Howell has been working there for the for the last 32 years. Centre Daily Times, file

Editor’s note: The following is part of the Business Matters special section.

Tourism isn’t immune to all of the new technology that continues to evolve. In fact, with the increased use of smartphones, tablets, etc., it is more important than ever for any business that wants to connect with prospective visitors/customers to make sure its information is not only easily accessible, but easily read on any device. Two years ago about 25 percent of our visitors came to our website via their smartphone. Today that number is 45 percent and rising.

The Visitors Bureau recently updated its website to make it easier to navigate as well as make it responsive, which means it automatically adapts to whatever device someone is using. This is a key asset with the rise in mobile users.

The peer-reviewed websites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp are important when it comes to travel planning because people naturally trust a “friend’s” review/recommendation over that of the business.

When was the last time you reviewed what your guests are saying about you? Do you respond to negative comments? You should. Reviewing what people are saying about your business is critical because it’s your opportunity to address any concerns voiced by a customer, thereby negating the perception that you don’t care if someone had a bad experience. And don’t forget to thank people for their praise. In addition to TripAdvisor, we also added Google 360 Photo Tour to our website, which provides the viewer an opportunity to virtually tour participating businesses before they arrive.

Social media is a two-way street, so we monitor and stay active on our accounts. This interactive approach is key, as is often seen in the ever-increasing world of social media, as new channels and outlets arise every day. A successful business is one that incorporates social media into its marketing strategy.

Some things to remember:

▪ Understand which social media platforms make the most sense for your brand.

▪ With social media advertising, you can pick demographics, mileage radius, regions, interests and much more to target a message.

▪ Social media provides a two-way street to your customers so you know what they are and aren’t excited about.

▪ Social media didn’t replace email, as some pundits believed years ago.

For example, we noticed a spike in business from the New York City area. Utilizing social media, we were able to specifically target those people.

Our Facebook page has become a huge driver of referrals to our website. Some business owners believe that if they have a Facebook page they don’t need a website. Based on our mission, we would disagree with this thinking. While Facebook allows interaction with customers, a website allows you to showcase so much more of what you have to offer. With Facebook you don’t own the space to lay out your message like you do with a website. Facebook’s design or way of sharing information could change at the drop of a hat and is out of your hands.

It is imperative to utilize the available technology to help define and target our market. Using several data sources — Google Analytics, AirSage, Facebook Insights — we are able to target those who have done a search for or visited our website. You should be utilizing these sources as well. Defining your target market is important because you want to maximize your marketing dollars by going after people who are interested in what you have to offer.

In the past, we worked with travel writers who were employed by various media outlets. Now, most are rarely employed by any one media outlet and are turning to writing blogs, building their own websites or working as a freelancer. In many cases, they were being cut from periodical staffs, so they have adapted to the market. In fact, thanks to technology, they sometimes write articles without ever having visited an area.

Even our meeting/convention/sports trade shows are utilizing technology. Instead of vendors receiving a list of attendees after a show, the vendors are given a device or download an app to their smartphone that provides all the details about the attendees, allowing for quick and easy exchange of information.

The world is becoming a smaller place and these connections, via social media, websites or in person, are crucial to building lasting relationships with consumers.

Betsey Howell is the executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau. Visit the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau website at