Looking for ways to lure visitors to your destination? Convention and visitors bureaus across Michigan are embracing and deploying the latest technology to make planning leisure travel and destination events easier and more successful. Here are the most exciting things our state's bureau leaders are doing in the technology space.
Cutting-edge websites load quickly and function smoothly whether the user is on a desktop, tablet or smartphone.
“[Our goal] is to inspire people to travel here,” says Janet Korn, CTA, head of marketing at Experience Grand Rapids. The bureau’s website was redesigned with the intention of having an easy-to-navigate, accessible site that supports that goal.
ExperienceGR.com was designed to connect visitors with authentic local experiences. Site visitors can search for and instantly book activities like brewery tours, 5K running tours and hands-on foodie and art-making experiences, Korn says. Such searches also generate diverse, relevant suggestions.
The feature, which won an Adrian Award from the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International and four other honors since launching in summer 2015, helps provide “a more engaging experience by discovering things you can do that you didn’t even know existed,” Korn says.
VisitAnnArbor.org now hones in on four categories: Eat, Play, Stay and Meet. An interactive map lets users search and navigate to restaurants and attractions throughout Washtenaw County, and rotating photo carousels showcase attractions so visitors quickly get a sense for what makes the region special. By replacing lists of venues and attractions with photo cards that flip to provide details when clicked, the site ensures planners don’t have to leave the page, navigate back, refilter and potentially get lost (and frustrated).
“Whether you are coming to the Ann Arbor area for business or pleasure, you have a very clear path to find the information you’re looking for,” says Laura Berarducci, CTA, the bureau’s marketing director.
Images That Tell the Story
The “Your Photos” section of VisitDetroit.com aggregates user-generated images of major attractions and lesser-known spots that are cool and hip, says Dan Fuoco, Detroit Metro CVB’s interactive marketing manager.
“We want people to show Detroit through their lens,” he says. Locals, visitors, meeting attendees and travel writers have posted more than 34,600 images on Instagram with the hashtag #DepictTheD since 2012, giving planners a real sense for what attendees will experience in the city.
Video reigns on the new Lansing.org, with clips, which play automatically, of people enjoying attractions and restaurants. Planners can even “meet” sales team members as they appear to walk onto the site and introduce themselves, says Tracy Padot, CTA, who leads marketing for the Greater Lansing CVB. And it’s not unusual for planners to receive custom videos of the region, thanks to the bureau’s in-house production team.
Meaningful, Relevant Content
Effective bureau blogs highlight industry trends and planning tips and tricks, as well as venues and attractions.
“The goal is to help support [planners’] meetings so they have the best experience here,” says Korn of the bureau’s Insider Experience blog.
The Greater Lansing CVB publishes its blog, Meetings, on its website and LinkedIn. It also offers a number of planning checklists and other tools on its site.
Some CVBs have combined their separate meeting and travel sites for a more cohesive experience. For instance, MeetDetroit.com merged with the new VisitDetroit.com this summer. Planners still can access the online tools and promotional materials that help make their jobs easier; they’re now just located on the site where planners also can learn about the city’s culture, which is key in choosing a meeting destination, Fuoco says.
Detroit also is kicking off a new podcast, “The Detroit Comeback Show,” with stories for both planners and leisure travelers. For the inaugural podcast, Fuoco plans to get insider meeting tips from an executive of the new Little Caesar’s arena and entertainment complex.
In Grand Rapids, content is streamed to a new four-screen digital display in the Skywalk, the indoor walkway that connects hotels, the VanAndel Arena and DeVos Place Convention Center. The display began welcoming guests this summer with personalized messages and fun video and upcoming event notices. The bureau is able to publish to the board a live feed from its website, Korn says.
In addition to engaging planners with photo sharing, the DMCVB hosts Twitter contests. After a sponsored lunch presentation at a conference, planners are asked to tweet why they’d host an event in Detroit using a specific hashtag. About 25 percent of attendees typically participate, with multiple winners awarded $100 VISA gift cards before the meeting ends, Fuoco says.
In order to make sure they’re getting the right information to the right audience, the bureaus track social media use and try new approaches. Experience Grand Rapids is building relationships with users of Snapchat for events favored by young audiences. The Ann Arbor Area CVB launched a new Facebook video ad campaign in April and the spots “are getting a ton of love and attention,” Berarducci says.
The Ann Arbor bureau also invites website visitors to take a fun quiz. Participants enter for the chance to win a get-away package while the bureau gains insights into people’s interests so it can send targeted monthly emails to those fitting history, foodie, creative and explorer personas. Sending generic information about the region “is so 20th century,” Berarducci says. People like the individual attention: Since mid-2015, 40,000 people have taken the quiz. The bureau also hosted a foodie-focused sweepstakes from April 1 to June 30, receiving more than 31,000 entries.
Mind Your Apps
Depending on your needs, CVBs may have an app for that. The Greater Lansing app improves the onthe-ground experience with maps, coupons, upcoming events and a “what’s nearby” feature that locates restaurants and attractions closest to a meeting site. It’s also used by meeting attendees as planners share it in materials promoting their event, Padot says.
The VisitDetroit app combines information from its blog so attendees know the popular attractions and places to go to after their conference, along with conference details, Fuoco says. Created for the American Society of Association Executives meeting in 2015, the DMCVB will adapt the app for large and special groups, he says.
For planners who already have meeting-specific apps, CVBs can provide direct API (application program interface) feeds, which populate the apps with local information from their websites.
“Apps absolutely are valuable to users,” says Berarducci, whose bureau supports the Ann Arbor Summer Festival and Ann Arbor Art Fair apps. But instead of using resources to promote its own leisure travel app this year, the bureau upgraded its web technology so users of all mobile devices gained a better experience, she says.
Smartphone Use by the Numbers
More people are using mobile devices—in market and out—to research where to eat, sleep, stay and meet. While smartphone use is most common among the young, people across all age groups and demographics at least occasionally use these devices:
68% follow breaking news events
67% share pictures, videos or commentary about events happening in the community
56% learn about community events or activities
67% get turn-by-turn navigation while driving
25% find information on public transit
11% reserve a taxi or car service
Source: Pew Research Center. “U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015”
What’s With All the New Websites?
(And Why You May Need a New One, Too)
Updating websites is a regular part of doing business, but this took on new urgency last year when Google announced it would no longer include sites in mobile search results unless they were mobilefriendly. A website is mobile-friendly, or responsive, when the design is optimized for use on all devices, including desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones and even mobile watches. Google says more searches occur now on mobile devices than on computers. So, if your company or event has a website, make sure it’s a mobile-friendly one.