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Addressing a Problem

Convention and Visitors Bureau Gives Its Web Site a Facelift
The Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Web site

The Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Web site has been overhauled to make it more user-friendly.

When administrators with the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau launched a strategic planning initiative last spring, it engaged the services of a consultant versed in both tourism and the intricacies of agencies charged with promoting it.

When the discussions turned to the subject of marketing, the consultant, Bill Geist of Madison, Wis., gave the GSCVB consistently high marks for its various programs, with one significant exception — the Web site.

“He said it needed complete revamping,” said GSCVB Director Mary Kay Wydra, adding quickly that the remarks didn’t constitute a news flash. “We weren’t surprised … we knew we had some work to do.”

Since the site had been created in 1996, making Springfield’s one of the first of the state’s tourism bureaus to have a Web presence, it had been consistently updated, said Wydra, adding that, over the years, it had become an effective marketing vehicle for the GSCVB’s diverse membership, comprised of tourist attractions, restaurants, hotels, and meeting facilities. But it was less effective in meeting the needs of a bigger, more important constituency — potential visitors.
So the bureau’s staff went about rectifying that situation.

The end product, unveiled late last month at a presentation at the Basketball Hall of Fame, is a higher-octane, one that is more informative and user-friendly, said Wydra. It features an improved search engine, better navigation, a streaming video highlighting the Pioneer Valley’s many attractions, a calendar of events in the region, and a large image of the region’s tourism brand: a logo and the words, ‘Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley — Arrive Curious, Leave Inspired.’

The net result is a site that makes it easier to discover the Valley and plan a trip to the region, said Wydra, or, to put it another way, “put heads in beds,” which is the stated mission of the bureau.

“The Web is a very important marketing tool when promoting a region,” she explained. “It will never replace a guide, because people want something in their hands. But it’s an entry point, and we need to make it friendly and informative.”

Site for Sore Eyes

As she demonstrated the new and improved Web site at last month’s kickoff, Wydra went to the search function on the home page and typed in Basketball.
More than two dozen listings came up, ranging from the Hall of Fame to the NCAA Elite Eight Men’s Division II Basketball Championship (coming up in March) to an item called ‘Pioneer Valley Fun Facts, Firsts, & Claims to Fame.’

“If you had put in Basketball 10 years ago, when we first created our site, there would have been two listings,” Wydra told BusinessWest, “the Hall of Fame and the old Tavern restaurant on the riverfront, which, smartly, used that word to help market itself.”

This bit of comparing and contrasting was designed to show how the Web site has been retooled to better serve the three recognized target groups for the PVCVB — leisure travelers, group tours, and meeting planners. In the case of basketball, all three constituencies can now use the Web site to do much more than learn about the Hall of Fame, its exhibits, and its hours of operation, although they can still do all that. Visitors can now plan a trip around that theme, or more easily discover what else there is to do in the region.

This is the broad goal of the bureau, said Wydra, noting that while the region certainly wants to encourage day-trippers, its real mission is to make the Valley a destination, one with enough attractions to keep a family, tour group, or professional organization having its annual meeting busy and entertained for several days.

Extended stays have been the thrust of recent marketing efforts, Wydra continued, and it was clear to Geist and GSCVB officials that the Web site needed an overhaul to play a key role in that strategy.

The bureau issued a request for proposals, and ultimately hired the New Hampshire-based firm The Glen Group to revamp the site, with the goal of making it a more effective tool for the region.

Key changes and additions include the two-minute video, which spotlights attractions, shopping centers, restaurants, hotels, and meeting facilities. There are also news items, such as Six Flags’ newest addition, Wiggles World, an area devoted to families with young children; the latest exhibits at the Springfield Museums, including the Dinosaurs and Ice Age Mammals program at the Science Museum this spring; and the upcoming men’s and women’s (Division III) collegiate basketball championships.

Another enhanced feature, funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, will highlight GSCVB member cultural and heritage attractions through text and photos, and enable the Web site visitor to send an electronic postcard from one of many area attractions.

Overall, the site was retooled to make it easier for visitors to learn about the region, become intrigued with its many offerings, and then plan a trip or meeting, said Wydra, adding that the site provides benefits for both members — who can post calendar items and news — and visitors.

“We lost sight of our customer with our old site,” she explained. “It was a great site if you were a member of the GSCVB, but that’s not really the audience we want to reach; we want to reach our three target groups. We were failing in that area, so we knew we needed to make changes.”

To ultimately succeed, however, the GSCVB knows it’s not enough to merely improve the site, she continued. It must also take steps to bring people to that page.
“We’re not taking an ‘if we build it, they will come’ attitude with this site,” she explained. “We’re allocating dollars to this project and stressing search engine optimization. We want to move up on those search engines; that’s how people are going to find this region.”

The work to update and improve the Web site will be ongoing, said Wydra, adding that sometime soon she would like to include floor plans for area meeting facilities and other bits of information designed to help people make informed decisions about the Valley and its facilities.

“I’m really big on making it easy for people,” she explained. “That was our real goal — to make this more user-friendly.”

The Valley’s Greatest Hits

The Web site revamping efforts represented a significant investment for the bureau, said Wydra, noting that the agency, an affiliate of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass., spent more than $70,000 on the initiative.

But it will ultimately prove to be money well-spent, she continued, adding that the Web site plays many roles, from revenue generation through ads and calendar listings to branding — generating greater awareness of the region’s logo and tag line.

Still, its most important function is attracting visitors to the Valley, and Wydra believes the new features and improved navigation will give the region’s tourism sector what it really needs: staying power.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]