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A local group of tourism leaders who have control over money raised by a $2-per-night room tax assessed on hotel rooms has decided to spend its $2.075 million in 2015 advertising money on television and digital ads split among four Mid-Atlantic and Northeast cities.
The Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee is a state-mandated group composed of local leaders and tasked with promoting the Historic Triangle to tourists.
The bulk of its budget — most of which comes from the revenue from the $2-per-night tax — is spent on advertising, with this year’s campaign drawing heavily from research by Luckie & Company into what people are thinking about when planning vacations.
Luckie & Company, hired by WADMC to research how people perceive the Triangle and how they plan vacations, crafted a campaign focused on three freedoms: to have fun, to relax and to satisfy curiosity.
It recommended advertisements for the Triangle focus on how those three freedoms can be achieved by tourists. It also suggested that the ads focus more on telling a story about how the three freedoms can be achieved.
The 2015 WADMC ad campaign — focused exclusively on New York City; Washington, D.C.; Raleigh, N.C.; and Philadelphia — is rooted in television and digital ads. A printed ad was also included in the latest edition of the Virginia Travel Guide.
The target: women between the ages of 25 and 54, as they tend to be the family members who plan vacations, according to Corrina Ferguson, WADMC’s executive director.
To reach these women, WADMC will spend $1 million on television ads this year. Ads began running in March and will remain on the air for about three weeks per month through June. They will be featured on both local TV networks and cable channels, such as The Food Network and Lifetime.
The $1,075,000 of digital ads will be used on websites through September at all four cities. Behavioral, contextual and geographic targeting will be used, meaning the ads will only be shown to people who fit certain profiles, like women between the ages of 25 and 54 who have conducted Internet searches about possible vacations.
WADMC will turn to YouTube, Hulu, TripAdvisor and a few companies that display ads across numerous websites, hitting places like the official websites for National Geographic and Parenting magazines.
The ads prominently feature video. At the heart of the campaign is footage of two families who came to the area last year and were filmed as they visited local attractions including Colonial Williamsburg, Busch Gardens, Jamestown Settlement and Eco Discovery Park. They were also interviewed on camera, answering questions about how much fun they had at an attraction and how it led to bonding experiences.
That footage was edited into several videos that will be shown on television and in the digital ads. Check out the videos featuring the families by visiting WADMC’s official site, visitwilliamsburg.com.
The digital ads send people to WADMC’s official site. More videos of the two families are featured there, as well as in depth information about attractions around the Triangle and a booking engine that allows visitors to buy stays at local hotels.
Last year represented a 12.26 percent drop in visitors to the site, with 1,035,632 people going to the page. A new website is currently being designed to replace the current one. It will feature video more prominently and work better with smart phones and tablets, which visitors to the site are increasingly using as evidenced by the nearly 50 percent of users who have connected from the devices so far this year.
This year’s campaign represents a change of pace for WADMC, with the new three freedoms research from Luckie & Company replacing the ads used for the past two years. Baltimore has been dropped as a targeted market for both digital and television ads. The ads will be played earlier this year, starting in March instead of the last week of April.
Ferguson said the earlier start date can be attributed to the fact that when people plan vacations, they don’t tend to do it all at once. So by starting the ads earlier, WADMC hopes to get people thinking about the Williamsburg area so that when they do book the vacation, they book it here.
“You want to get in people’s minds before they book hotels,” she said. “So if people are going to start booking in May for July or June for August, we want to be in their heads as a possibility of a place to come visit.”
The $2.075 million in ads is about $125,000 less than last year, with $100,000 of the difference going toward promoting the Historic Triangle on social media. WADMC’s budget for public relations has also climbed by about $20,000 to $174,000. That money is used for costs incurred by getting stories printed in publications.
For example, Ferguson has taken annual trips to New York City and Washington, D.C., in the past few years to meet with travel writers and try to convince them to write feature articles about what the Williamsburg area has to offer. That work has resulted in placement in many national and regional publications, with recent articles appearing in USAToday, the Tampa Tribune and TravelChannel.com.