Collaborating on marketing efforts can pay dividends for both regional tourism and business development programs.
That's the thinking behind a notable new partnership initiative spearheaded by the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau (AAACCVB), which promotes leisure and business travel in Annapolis and the Chesapeake Bay region.
Over the past year, AAACCVB's marketing campaign and aggressive use of its slogan, "Find it Here!," has played a significant role in increasing hotel occupancy and enticing visitors to the region.
Now, the leaderships of AAACCVB, the Anne Arundel County Economic Development Corporation, the Annapolis Economic Development Corporation, and the City of Annapolis have agreed that all of the organizations will adopt and leverage the slogan in their respective marketing efforts, in order to magnify the campaign's reach and maximize the results of all of the groups' investments.
Both the county's and city's economic development organizations will incorporate the “Find it Here!” message into their advertising and promotions to attract business to the area. Likewise, the City of Annapolis will adopt the theme in their publicity and outreach efforts and incorporate the slogan into public service announcements that will be viewed across the state, including in area movie theaters.
Sounds imminently logical, yet the concept of sharing a marketing slogan across organizations in this way represents an innovative departure not only for this region, but from standard operating methods for visitors' bureaus around the country, according to Connie Del Signore, AAACCVB’s president and CEO.
“We anticipate dramatically increasing the impact of the campaign, as the message will be repeated across platforms beyond our usual reach,” Del Signore said in announcing the groups' collaboration. “This co-branding will be evident in each of the entities’ marketing efforts to include print, broadcast media and digital advertising.”
“The ‘Find it Here!’ campaign really speaks to what we do,” added Rosa Cruz, director of communications and marketing at Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation. “We were thrilled when AAACCVB was gracious enough to offer us a chance to partner with them and use the slogan for our initiatives to attract businesses and conferences to the county.”
Annapolis's mayor, Michael Pantelides, expressed confidence that the co-branding initiative will contribute to enhanced success for both tourism and economic development, in turn contributing to economic growth and employment in the region.
The region's tourism track record is already solid -- it continued to be Maryland's leading producer of travel-generated revenues despite operating on limited marketing budgets for nearly a decade. Until two fiscal years ago, AAACCVB had an average annual marketing budget of about $1.3 million, versus marketing budgets ranging from $3 million to $9 million for its most direct competitors, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., according to AAACCVB's marketing plan for its current fiscal, 2013-2014 (July 2013 through June 2014).
That began to change after AAACCVB was successful in getting the Maryland legislature to pass a bill providing for a portion of hotel room taxes to be appropriated to the visitor's bureau for marketing. As a result, the organization's total budgets rose to $2.6 million for fiscal 2012-2013 and $3.5 million for the current fiscal year (including a viable advertising budget of more than $1 million).
In fiscal 2012-2013, AAACCVB used the additional funds to redesign and enhance its Web site, VisitAnnapolis.org, and increase advertising and marketing throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, among other initiatives. Expanded investments included digital and print advertising, Facebook and Web site promotions, search engine optimization, and social marketing.
Visits to the VisitAnnapolis.org jumped 50% in the year, to nearly 420,000. Facebook fans jumped 145%, to more than 18,000, and the page was in the top 14% of all pages in the industry, according to the Travel/Leisure Industry benchmark (total impressions for the year exceeded 62 million). Currently, Facebook "likes" are up to nearly 30,000, and the bureau also has growing presences on Twitter (nearly 6,000 followers), YouTube and Flickr.
The current fiscal year's efforts have included expanding advertising and marketing to include Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, Northern Virginia/D.C., and New York/New Jersey, as well as launching international efforts in the United Kingdom/Ireland/Wales, France, Germany and Brazil through Capital Region USA (CRUSA).
The new cross-organizational marketing co-branding is just the latest example of Del Signore's stated philosophy that partnering with city, county and state officials, local businesses and other natural allies is the "surest way" to grow visits and other metrics that in turn grow revenues.
Indeed, AAACCVB's formal marketing goals include leveraging advertising, marketing and communications dollars by participating in cooperative projects with the Maryland Office of Tourism Development (OTD), CRUSA and the Maryland Office of Sports Marketing, as well as increasing cooperative marketing activities with CVB partners.
On the business front, fiscal 2013 marked the start (mid-year) of a new, flexible, multi-tiered membership program that aims to increase the number of business partners and revenues generated through Web advertising and a variety of other AAACCVB services options. (The Premier Partner option's benefits include prominent placement on the visitor bureau's site.) AAACCVB also holds quarterly educational sessions to assist business partners with social marketing trends and techniques.
Furthermore, AAACCVB is now expanding a first-of-a-kind relationship that it has developed with the Newport, Rhode Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, starting in 2010.
Newport shares a number of characteristics with Annapolis, including size, proximity to water and historical significance. The two have been pooling their resources to host events designed to help both destinations capture a larger share of the lucrative meetings and conventions market.
For example, the organizations jointly host invitation-only luncheons for Mid-Atlantic meeting planners to explain why it makes good sense for them to book their events in Annapolis and Newport. "Meeting planners are busy people,” noted Tim Walsh, Newport’s VP of sales. “By enabling them to learn about two great destinations at a single event, we are saving them time and money. At the same time, Newport and Annapolis are able to stretch our marketing dollars by jointly absorbing the cost."
Based on the successful, growing relationship with Newport, AAACCVB is also launching a similar joint effort with another capital city, Albany, N.Y.
The results of these and many more initiatives include growth in travel-generated revenues and visitors during recent years.
According to annual Economic Impact Studies conducted by the state's Office of Tourism Development/Maryland Destination Marketing Organizations, Annapolis and Anne Arundel County drew 5.6 million visitors and produced $2.9 billion in travel-generated revenues in 2010 (up 4.8% and 2.8%, respectively, versus prior year). In 2011, the revenues rose to $3.1 billion, and the latest annual estimate is $3.4 billion.
Although visitors have remained relatively flat, at about 5.6 million, with the new co-branding marketing initiative and numerous other initiatives in progress, the prospects for growth are strong.
According to a 2010 Visitor Profile study, loyalty and return visit rates for Anne Arundel County are high; 56% of non-visitors indicated that they intended to visit the county within two years; and there's a big opportunity to increase awareness of the region's diverse attractions (23% of non-visitors, at the time, said that they had no knowledge about the county).
Earlier this month, Del Signore reported that current-year statistics are encouraging. For example, hotel occupancy has increased; and conferences, corporate meetings and other CVB- booked events are up 10%, of which 60% were room nights booked for sporting events throughout the county, she said.
Importantly, the region's contributions to employment and new job growth are also increasing. The fiscal 2013 annual report stated that the Anne Arundel County travel/tourism industry employed 23,400 people, while a recent bureau release cited 27,500 (representing 14% of the state's total tourism employment).