New technology appears in new spaces nearly every day: For example, advertisement companies track users’ likes and searches, cars can drive themselves and groceries can be ordered online and delivered.
So, in a tourism-dependent area like Greater Williamsburg, how do technology and data intersect with tourism and the strategy to gain more visitors?
As the newly-formed Williamsburg Tourism Council begins to chip away at developing a strategy for increasing visitation, some city staff are pitching ideas to help.
Some of those include Buxton and Kerb, two technology-forward companies that could help the region get a clearer picture on who is coming to Williamsburg — and why.
The ideas were mentioned by Michele Mixner DeWitt, the city’s Economic Development director, during the Economic Development Authority meeting May 8. The ideas were not on an action item, but simply up for discussion.
“It’s in a concept phase right now,” DeWitt said.
Buxton is a data-gathering company that compiles customer analytics for many industries, including retail, restaurant, health care and more. The company is partnered with an unidentified credit card company and takes GPS data to see where customers are spending and where they are from.
It’s similar to advertisers tracking search and spending habits to target ads to specific people, DeWitt said.
“I think we all know as consumers that’s happening,” DeWitt said. “But that’s a tangible explanation” of how the data is being used.
Kerb is another company tracking tourism in a new way. A promotional video for Kerb shows how car-mounted cameras track pedestrians, their gender, the amount of bikes or scooters and parked cars.
The ideas for Buxton and Kerb came from city staff in response to a new goal set during the biennial Goals, Initiatives and Outcomes process for 2019 and 2020.
The goal directs city staff and the Economic Development Authority to “evaluate and procure visitation data to assist with business and tourism product recruitment.”
“We have two years to complete our goals and initiatives,” DeWitt added.
The city also hopes to loop the regional Tourism Council into the discussions revolving around boosting tourism.
“We want to link our efforts to the regional Tourism Council’s work,” DeWitt said. “As that council moves forward, we are excited to keep discussing this.”
DeWitt said the conversations about marketing and tourism tools are still in their early stages, and a plan for how these tools or services will be approved or paid for is not yet set in stone.
The regional council is still developing processes and methods for spending money generated by Senate Bill 942.
Those discussions are upcoming, although there is no set schedule for them at this time, DeWitt said.
DeWitt said the Tourism Review Committee and staff “came out the gate strong” to start brainstorming ideas to improve tourism in the area, but since a permanent CEO is now in place, they have taken a break to allow her to take the lead on these initiatives.
The CEO of the Tourism Council was not immediately available for comment or a phone call to discuss tools to gather tourism data.
If the city or Tourism Council ever decide to pursue a tourism-tracking tool such as Buxton or Kerb, they could piggyback on a contract between those companies and other localities.
DeWitt said Virginia procurement laws allow localities to use another locality’s procurement process on contracts.
Orange County just hired Buxton to do a visitor profile and business recruitment effort, which is a contract Williamsburg could get involved with.
That contract with Orange County cost that locality $65,000.
News reports show other localities outside of Virginia are hopping on the bandwagon and using big data to boost their tourism marketing, including Asheville, North Carolina.
Asheville is using Arrivalist to track when a person visits a place and what destination-related ads they viewed on their mobile device, the Citizen Times reported.