According to a report given to Cape Charles Town Council by Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission’s Kerry Allison, the Eastern Shore is the fastest growing region in the state for tourism for the second year in a row. Visitor spending came in around $254 million ($697k a day). For local governments, that translated into $6.6 million in lodging, meals and sales tax.
Statistics from the Virginia Tourism Corporation and the US Travel Association, which estimate travel-related employment, indicate that tourism jobs grew 9% from 2009 to 2013. Payroll is also up 21%, which indicates that salaries in the sector may also be rising. Another key indicator, the Lodging Tax, is up 43%; in 2012, Chincoteague town increased its lodging tax to 6% from 5%.
The intent to travel to the Eastern Shore is another indicator we are keeping a close eye on. Travel guide requests are up from just a few requests in 2009, to nearly 4000 last year. Website visits have risen by 696%, with almost 16,000 visits last year. The find a place to ‘Stay’ page, was one of the site’s top performers. Last year, 76% of the folks coming to the site were new visitors.
On the social media side, Facebook likes have also exploded, up 1836%, with over 15,000.
A big chunk of the funding for destination marketing programs like ours, comes from the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) paid by tourists. In Cape Charles, this is a Budget Line Item. Cape Charles gives 6.67% of the TOT to the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission (Northampton provides 54%). These funds provide for services such as the Welcome Center at CBBT, industry support like Welcome Center advertising, Tourism Summit, fall workshops and quarterly emails.
Obviously, modern marketing plays a big part, and our funding helps produce and distribute the print guide, as well as collateral marketing platforms such as the website, consumer email, social media (Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube).
Marketing the Eastern Shore is a collaborative process, and Ms. Allison noted the we are working closely with Oyster/Artisan Trails, Coastal VA Tourism Alliance, Stronger Economies Together, Partnership Grants, Market Development. Much of this is geared at what Allison called The New Consumer, which wants simplified trip planning itineraries, listicles, Social media, trails and maps.
What we are doing on the Shore now is a perfect for this customer, who is looking for authenticity, local flavor, and a sense of place. They are looking for an immersive experience, where they can truly get to know a place. They want handmade artisans work, as well as a ‘values alignment’ from a place that practices sustainable living, has rich local culture, and promotes an experience that is un-orchestrated.
When you look at Cape Charles, it appears that we have everything the ‘new consumer’ is looking for, but how do we get them here? Allison noted that approaches to do that involve geo-targeting areas close by such as North Carolina and other Mid-Atlantic states. Affinity Targeting using keyword marketing VIA Facebook (terms like “Oysters” “Coastal Living” “Chincoteague Ponies” “Food & Wine” “Artisan” “Kayaking”) is also proven method to help get the word out.