By RACHEL HAWKINS
The Dominion Post
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After more than a year of work, the Greater Morgantown Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) is ready to roll out new endeavors to bring more tourism to the area.
Greater Morgantown CVB Executive Director Susan Riddle spent the last few months speaking at council meetings for local municipalities in Monongalia and Preston counties, sharing the CVB’s “comprehensive marketing strategy” aimed at bringing more visitors to the area. She also introduced two new programs designed to help local businesses and individuals get involved.
Riddle said the goal of the CVB is to “promote or sell tourism in the greater Morgantown area. We represent all of Monongalia and Preston counties and the municipalities within.” She said the local municipalities are part of the process, because they contribute a portion of the lodging tax from hotel stays to the CVB for marketing purposes.
“For every $100 in room revenue, they are to collect from the guests [a lodging tax] of six percent. That six percent, or $6, is paid to the local municipality. That municipality is required to, at minimum, commit $3 of those $6, or half of the lodging tax, to the local CVB,” Riddle said. “T hat allows us to do what we do.” Riddle said her goal at the meetings is to educate the municipalities about the positive tourism growth they are contributing, specifically in this last year. “We have two goals. One is to get people to spend one more night, and the other is to get them to spend a little bit more money. But new money, not from the existing population.”
Riddle said the comprehensive marketing plan included a large amount of work and statistical information. “We used our 2016 Google analytics, our visitor tracking software, our keyword research, social media profiles and a survey of visitors to the area, and that’s identified our four personas,” she said.
“Research also identified the preferred message and method of communication …as well as the best time to communicate with these audiences.
“Tracking mechanisms were used to report conversions, so opt-ins, downloads, room nights booked, social media engagement and website traffic.”
Riddle said the CVB used this information to identify target audiences for marketing strategies.
“We have four audiences that we draw to,” she said. “The personas are adventurers/explorers; attendees, including WVU alumni; planners, or people planning a vacation, a subset of those being Canadian travelers; and relaxers, or leisure travelers.”
Riddle said the numbers indicated large amounts of growth in multiple areas, especially in hotel bookings. “During the first eight months of 2017, we have had an additional 3,000 room nights booked,” she said.
“That has led to an additional $2.4 million in additional room revenue.”
Riddle said a new resource that allows visitors to book lodging directly from the site contributed to growth for the CVB website. “We booked an additional 118 room nights through our website.”
Riddle also shared that from July 2016-June 2017, website traffic “nearly doubled organic traffic from the previous year, a 96 percent increase. New visitors accounted for 71 percent of total visitors to the site.”
‘Make a connection’
Along with sharing growth efforts with municipalities, Riddle said she wanted to introduce two new programs designed to help local businesses and community members get involved.
Riddle recently introduced the Tourism Ambassador Program to Westover City Council. She handed out badges to council members and explained their purpose.
“We are handing out these badges and deputizing people. The more we can encourage people to get out and be hospitable and welcome people. Once we get them here, they have a positive experience, because we have fabulous people and fabulous things to offer. So we are rolling this out to our community, as well as groups. We are actively out there seeking out people.”
“When people have a positive experience, they often want to come back or stay longer,” she said. “It makes a huge difference to people and to ratings and to what they say about us after they leave.
“West Virginians, whether you are a transplant or a native, are fabulous, passionate, welcoming individuals. We live in such a wonderful place, and we have the ability to make it even more wonderful, collectively.”
Westover Mayor David Johnson said he and the city council are behind the CVB’s efforts to bring more tourism to the area.
“I think they are putting a lot of effort into tourism,” he said. “I think that what they are doing is a good thing because it’s bringing more people in.”
Another program Riddle introduced is the new Mountaineer Deals program, aimed at helping local small businesses advertise to a greater audience.
She said the CVB eliminated advertising in its visitors’ guide and chosen to offer businesses a tile ad featured on the CVB homepage.
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