Techies and their interactive tools may be the way to lure tourists to local fairs and state parks.
Tourism marketing departments of America: Are you working with bloggers, vloggers and podcasters to help promote your state, county, city, park or campground? If not, why not? Florida, Hawaii, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia are just some of the governments dipping toes, and sometimes whole feet, into the online world. Not just the Web, but the interactive Web.
"Caroline" from the Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation commented online recently, "As I just tweeted, Philadelphia has a history of engaging bloggers." (A "tweet" is a short post on the social networking site Twitter.) Her comment was in response to a blog entry about tourism bureaus at chrisbrogan.com, written by the eponymous blogger, a 10-year aficionado of social media and technology.
Are you in a swoon yet? Feeling like it's all too much? Understood. But don't look away. Blogging, social networking, the videoing of events as soon as they happen -- these are incarnations of the "news" business that are not going away. They will only expand and morph more.
Philadelphia is running with the new media forms. The city invited bloggers on its regular press trips, held something called BlogPhiladelphia (an "unconference" on blogging), and has held blogger meetups. In addition, the city of bloggerly love says it will help craft individual itineraries for bloggers visiting Philly.
Many state and local governments need to take lessons on what we'll call "Online Community 101." These governments may have fine-looking Web sites, but having an online presence is not the same as building tourism visits by courting the people who write, talk and video about travel digitally. Most government tourism marketers still focus primarily on travel writers who get published in newspapers and magazines. Their stories may take up to a year or more to appear in print, and those markets are shrinking. Newspapers are reducing the size of travel sections, blending them into other sections or folding them altogether. Meanwhile, the bulk of the blogging, podcasting, YouTubing, Flickring and Vimeoing community is willing to write for pennies. Or for free. Many of the top online voices have a large and loyal following. A tourism bureau that woos and works with these people will likely get some ink. Or pixels, in this case.
Recently, marketing people in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, teamed up with a local group to host a "pod camp," a social media get-together for businesses and residents. They showed them around the city in the same way they would a writer from a traditional magazine or newspaper. That night, many bloggers went back to their hotel rooms to write about what they saw and did. Several tapped out their take on eating at Primanti Bros., a sandwich shop and local institution that throws the coleslaw and French fries right on the sandwich, a legacy from steelworker days when workers needed food on the go.
The Web, says Diana Besoiu, marketing assistant in Allegheny County, "is not conventional. But it will be soon." [Editor's note: Please see comment below article.]
The state of Pennsylvania is trying something a little different, using its own tourism Web site to turn visitors into bloggers. VisitPA.com has a section called "Trip Ideas," where anyone can tell tales of their recent trips. It's a far cry from the "isn't this great" stories you normally see on a state's tourism site -- stories that avoid "un-niceties," such as mosquitos, lousy motels or cruddy restaurants. Pennsylvania's stab at "realism" is a relatively novel concept for a state site.
But not for a commercial travel site. Pennsylvania's Trip Ideas section is like TripAdvisor.com. People often believe that traveler feedback site is more authentic because entries paint a picture that includes warts and all. Then, when people rave about something, it has more impact.
The result in Pennsylvania? Reader stories are a mixed bag of the good, the bad, the misspelled and the incoherent. One person complains that Philadelphia Flyer hockey fans were "rude, nasty and we were treated very bad." On the flip side, someone wrote about a trip to the Sullivan County Fair in North Central Pennsylvania, where she watched lumberjack and chainsaw carving competitions and loved the homemade food and the local arts and crafts.
Using new media "is just good business," commented Bonnie Cranmer on the chrisbrogan.com blog. "This is a massive market ready for an upgrade."