The Vacation Channel has filled the screens in hotel rooms across Coastal Virginia for nearly four decades but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the tourism industry has changed.
The Vacation Channel was started in 1989 on Duke of Gloucester Street by Scott Wheeler and Beth Rutgers as a platform for local businesses and attractions to advertise directly to tourists who were staying in hotels in the area.
Since then, the company has been sold to a trio of co-owners, Graham and Martin Walsh and Tyler Adams, who also own a video production and photography company, Frequency Creative. All three owners grew up in Williamsburg, with Adams working as an interpreter in Colonial Williamsburg.
“I think there’s been a rally cry to help each other through this and stay informed,” Adams said. “Being ambassadors for not only our hometown but the area we consider home is really special to us and we’re proud of it.”
Before the pandemic, the channel was in 10,000 hotel rooms and featured 140 different brands but just as the business was about to take on even more opportunities, tourism came to a halt.
“It’s been heartbreaking to watch what this has done to the tourism industry here in Williamsburg,” Adams said. “The stories our clients tell us about frozen budgets and concerns about their jobs, people don’t know what their destination will look like in six months.”
The Vacation Channel has had to adapt to the changing market as many people aren’t staying in hotels.
The channel launched a new streaming service in April that can be accessed by Roku and Amazon Fire users. It now has the capability not just to reach people in hotel rooms, but to engage with potential tourists all over the country.
The new streaming service has had a slow but steady interest from viewers. Adams said the company is launching a new marketing campaign in the near future to let people know the service is available and some of its benefits.
Adams said one benefit of a streaming service is that while people might watch one to two minutes of content on social media, they’re more likely to watch 10 to 30 minutes on a streaming service. This allows the Vacation Channel to give their clients as much visibility as possible.
While the streaming service is still getting its footing, Adams said it’s already more advanced than the original channel because people can watch content at any time, multiple times and select which content they’re interested in.
In the meantime, the channel is still running in thousands of hotel rooms and Adams said the company plans to keep the dual-modes of viewing in the future.
The struggle currently is creating content that matches the present tourism environment. Typically the Vacation Channel updates its content four times a year but in the midst of an economic crisis, many clients can’t afford to create new marketing campaigns that angle toward social distancing activities.
“So for a lot of our clients, it’s a really tough situation,” Adams said. “But we are framing it in a way for viewers to see what’s available here in Coastal Virginia and telling folks to check websites and social media pages for updated hours for businesses.”
The company is careful with how they share information and want to make sure people have what they need. Adams said a lot of businesses are hesitant on exactly how to market themselves because they want to inform people about their services but don’t want to encourage people to put themselves at risk.
“So what we’re doing is not necessarily encouraging people to immediately act on visitation, but just to start thinking about it,” Adams said. “So when people do travel, Coastal Virginia is the first thing on their mind.”
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