The Virtual Visit
The Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce has a new home, virtually speaking.
Earlier this month, the chamber launched its new Web site, explorenorthampton.com. Suzanne Beck, executive director of the Northampton chamber, said the new site has been in the planning stages for some time, and brings several benefits to the chamber, its members, and the community.
“We’ve been talking about redeveloping the site for two or three years,” said Beck, “because we have been aware for some time how important a tool the Internet is in terms of travel and tourism.”
But because the site is self-funded by the Chamber, Beck said it took some time to raise the necessary capital.
“Last year was when we started getting specific with our plans,” Beck added. “We knew from the beginning that we wanted a major emphasis to be placed on promoting our members and their services, but we needed to start thinking about how we were going to highlight those businesses.”
Some of the features incorporated into the site to do just that include an itinerary function, which, similar to the ‘shopping cart’ aspect many retail sites use to assist shoppers with making purchases, will allow visitors to add exhibits, restaurants, shops, or other points of interest to a list, then view or print out the list in preparation for a trip.
In addition, a revamped online directory has been created, which allows businesses and organizations to update their listing online as needed, ensuring the most current information is viewed by visitors.
Beck explained that the Chamber’s online directory was already averaging about 7,500 hits a month, and the new format will make the service even more relevant for those seeking information about Northampton. Chamber members (membership stands at about 750 members) can also take advantage of on-line registration for events, display company press releases, and utilize exclusive ad space on the site – two ad spaces on every page of the site reserved for use by Chamber members only
“Thousands of referrals stem from the Web,” she said, “and the primary purpose of the site will be to maximize that for our businesses.”
The site will also include a calendar that any community organization can contribute to, by filling out a simple form and posting upcoming events and fundraisers.
Beck said the calendar will also be updated daily.
“This feature is as valuable to people who live here as it is for tourists,” she said. “Plus, any area business can publicize its events on this calendar for free, by submitting the information from any page on the site by clicking on ‘Submit to Calendar.’
As that gets used more, it will have more value,” said Beck, “and the overall site will have more value. It will make events and exhibits more available to people, both visitors and those living in the area.”
Beck explained that the site was developed through the efforts of several local firms and individuals. Three chamber committees spearheaded the process — the membership and tourism committees and an ad hoc Web site committee — and Dot Inc. Solutions of Hadley served as the site developer, while Novak Advertising of Northampton created the site’s page design.
Several area photographers were also tapped to provide art for the site, including members of the Pioneer Valley Photographers Assoc.
“The photographers were very generous with their work,” said Beck, noting that the site features original photographs taken by local photographers on nearly every page, rather than stock photos.
The site has been added to the chamber’s repertoire of services aimed at chamber membership development, tourism in Northampton, and economic development of the region. Some primary objectives of the overall chamber campaigns include promotion of the area as a destination; the development of new travel and tourism markets, and of new infrastructures to support tourism; expansion of the commercial base in Northampton; and the development of the town’s economic development priorities in terms of regional initiatives.