"We're proud to be a part of this and think it will be a huge success." That’s the message I tweeted last night as I shared a link to one of the many media outlets reporting on the launch of the new tourism website promoting the Alleghany Highlands of Virginia. I'm thrilled to see the initiative generating some good publicity for the Highlands, but measurable results will not be known for a while. This is the first year that the region has had a true tourism promotion program and a lodging tax. So we will not be able to compare year-over-year stats until this time in 2012. We can, however, track website activity, requests for information, newsletter opt-ins and the performance of some local businesses.
I've never been afraid to go out on a limb with predictions, so I don't mind telling you that I've thought for a long time that the Alleghany Highlands tourism campaign is going to be highly successful. At each stage of development I’ve watched our creative team come up with one idea after another to make this a very strategic and smart campaign. Here are five reasons why I think it rocks:
1. Differentiation. The Alleghany Highlands has some things that every destination has, like shopping, dining and golf. But it also has some things that no other place in Virginia can claim and we did a great job of putting those things in the spotlight. We believe that travelers are intrigued by unique experiences and we want them to know about the ones available in the Highlands.
2. Honesty. The brand strategy perfectly portrays the personality of the region and accurately touts its strengths. We don't hesitate to boast about what's great in the Alleghany Highlands — like that it has some of the best mountain biking in Virginia and the rivers and lakes offer world-class fishing opportunities — but we don't attempt to position the Highlands as all things to all people. No destination can have the very best of everything under the sun and savvy travelers see right through such claims.
3. Focus on the experience. The ad campaign and the website use lots of active verbs and descriptive language to help readers project themselves into the action. In tourism advertising it’s not enough to list amenities like rivers and parks. You have to describe a “heart pounding mountain bike ride and running white water rapids” and back it up with compelling photography.
4. Anticipate challenges. The Alleghany Highlands did not have a lot of name recognition (until now) and even among those who had heard of it there were probably some misconceptions. We tackled these challenges head on. For example, ask 10 people from Virginia or neighboring states where the Alleghany Highlands is and nine of them will say, "huh" or worse yet say it’s in Pennsylvania. The location and easy access question is addressed right on the home page. Given its rural nature, many people may think there is not quite enough in the Alleghany Highlands to warrant weekend stay. We included a section on the website that will include suggested itineraries and eventually all-inclusive packages. We can show people how to fill a day or several days with activities and connect them to the resources to make it happen.
5. Long-term vision. The Alleghany Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, who manages tourism promotion for the region, knew that in order to be successful they had to build a reputation and a memorable image for their community – in other words, a brand. A cohesive brand strategy provides a rudder while the advertising and promotion provide the propulsion. Together they move the ship in the right direction. Every aspect of the campaign, including social media and email marketing, is consistent in message and visual style thanks to an underlying brand platform.