Visit Rogers is now working with destination digital marketers Miles Partnership of Sarasota, Fla., the organization announced March 24 at a Tourism Talk event at Pinnacle Hills Promenade mall.
In the meeting, Visit Rogers Executive Director J.R. Shaw described the organization’s commitment to looking at the bigger picture in terms of tourism throughout Northwest Arkansas.
“We love what we do. We do it not in a bubble in Rogers, but we do it in partnership with our friends in Bentonville, we do it in partnership with our friends in Fayetteville,” Shaw said. “We know that travelers don’t know that when they cross underneath (Interstate) 49 on Walnut (Street) it magically becomes Walton (Boulevard), and they’re in Bentonville.
“So, it’s important that we represent a larger product, a larger ask and a larger selling proposition,” Shaw said. “The first thing we want to do is get that pie in Northwest Arkansas, and then we’ll all get a slice. We’ll all be able to benefit.”
Shaw highlighted results from the Arkansas Department of Tourism 2016-17 Annual Report, including data that show 4.7 million visitors from 50 miles away or more came to Northwest Arkansas in 2016. Those visitors to Benton, Carroll, Madison and Washington counties paid $1.18 billion in state and local taxes. In Benton County, 1.6 million visitors paid $32.4 million in state and local taxes.
“That’s $32 million that you and I don’t have to pay,” Shaw said. “That’s immediate tax relief for every man, woman and child.”
He also pointed to data that show the tourism industry supports 3,600 jobs in the county. Business travel is a big part of Rogers’ tourism, and Visit Rogers also works closely with the Northwest Arkansas Travel Association, which specializes in promoting regional leisure travel, Shaw said.
“With larger sporting events, larger conventions and meetings, we’re right there at the table with Bentonville and Fayetteville,” he added.
Outdoor recreation is another facet of regional tourism, as is retail.
“Shopping is big for Northwest Arkansas. It’s a big driver for visitation. If we can get people to combine that with some of these other elements and build a weekend out of it, then we win,” Shaw said. “That’s how that marketing messaging works.
“Our strategy is to be inspirational as well as informational. We want to have folks able to get that emotional connection and have them make those decisions,” he added.
Miles Partnership will help Visit Rogers develop a new website and digital strategy. Miles shared it’s State of the American Traveler report. Published in 2016, conducted quarterly by Destination Analysts, a tourism industry research company out of San Francisco.
Jay Salyers, senior vice president at Miles Partnership, said while there have been “doomsday scenarios” in the news for the travel industry, “when we look specifically at domestic travel sentiment, we are incredibly optimistic.”
According to the report, 37.4% of Americans said this past October they planned to travel for the leisure in the upcoming year. That’s up 5% from July 2016 and up 8% from July 2014.
“I think our industry is growing better than it ever has,” he said, adding that there are still challenges in the destination industry. “We can’t do things the same way.”
The No. 1 impediment to travel for Americans in fall 2016 was financial reasons, according to the report. It was cited by 37.4% of respondents. Salyers said financial reasons were usually at the top of the list, but the number of respondents pointing to that declined 18.5% since the height of the recession in 2010.
The second most popular answer was that people were too busy at work, followed by airfare being too expensive and not having enough vacation time. At the same time, travel budgets are going up and gas prices are going down. “People don’t see that as a challenge anymore,” Salyers said adding destinations can take advantage of the climate by raising awareness about themselves.
“The more exposure we get for our destination, the more likely we are to be added to someone’s consideration set,” he said. “There’s a real correlation between awareness of a destination and how likely you are to get people to come visit.”
Salyers said a first step in Miles Partnership’s work with Visit Rogers is to measure where Northwest Arkansas, and Rogers individually, stands from an awareness perspective. Once a destination knows where it stands, how does the region raise awareness about its tourism offerings? “We think it’s all about consumer experience,” Salyers said, and technology is key.
“There has now been a convergence of what we see happening with virtual reality, personalization and data,” he said.
CATERING TO THE CONSUMER
For example, marketers can use personalized triggers based on consumer data to deliver an experience tailored to that particular consumer. Also, another key for destination marketers to keep up with the tech climate is by knowing how search engines have changed, Salyers said.
Voice search and other advances mean 40% of searches on Google never leave Google, he said. “Now you ask Google something, and it tells you something back.”
There’s no need to follow a link. Before, marketers wanted their websites to populate within the first 10 results. Now, marketers need content to show up within the search result, and the new Visit Rogers website will do that, Salyers said. One solution is to make partnerships with organizations that work within different stages, of the travel process, Salyers said.
“In the traditional travel funnel. Everybody stayed in their lane. Search was Google, Yahoo!, Bing and AOL. During the planning phase you’d use Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor,” Salyers said. “When you wanted to book, you used Kayak and other travel providers. Now, everyone wants to own the entire funnel. .. They want to be where you can search, plan and then book all in one place. They want revenue from every stage of the purchase.”
Airbnb, for example, controls the entire funnel.
“We can’t just rely on search marketing and having a website,” Salyers said. “We need to have partnerships. We need to have a much deeper level of understanding as to how consumers are digesting content.”