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It’s not bragging if it’s true!

It’s hard to miss the Mobile Visitor Information Center (MVIC) at local events in Oregon’s Mount Hood region. The van is brightly painted with images of blue skies, green trees and the snow-covered, iconic Oregon peak.

Oregon’s Mount Hood Territory’s visitor van sets up at a tulip festival. Courtesy Oregon’s Mount Hood Territory

“When it’s parked, it also has a good-size inflatable brown suitcase on top,” said Jae Heidenreich, public relations and communications officer for Clackamus County Tourism, which markets itself as Oregon’s Mount Hood Territory. “You can’t miss it.”

Volunteer ambassadors for the Round Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau in Texas are also highly visible with their matching red shirts.

“We have three high school students and seven adults, from a retired Dell employee to a high school P.E. teacher,” said Nancy Yawn, director of the CVB. “They will be out at different events.”

The mobile van, which promotes local events, festivals and attractions, and the red-shirted ambassadors are two of the more visible ways that convention and visitors bureaus connect with local residents.

Although much of their marketing is aimed at attracting visitors from outside their local areas, convention and visitors bureaus also consider it important to promote to local residents.

Such efforts generally have two goals: first, solidifying local support for CVBs by making people aware of what they do and how tourism contributes to the local economy, and second, encouraging people to visit local attractions and restaurants and to use local accommodations for visiting family and friends.

CVBs use a variety of methods to reach out to the local community. They sponsor events or have booths at local festivals, write columns for local publications, appear on local television and radio shows, speak to local organizations, send out print and e-mail newsletters, conduct hospitality training, serve on local committees and boards, and sponsor contests.

Here’s a look at what some CVBs are doing to promote themselves locally.

Movin’ on

“The van serves as an opportunity to connect with locals, [to] educate residents who may not know the wealth of attractions and activities located in our own region and to build a closer working relationship with our regional partners,” said Heidenreich.

“Local communities can act as wonderful ambassadors to the traveling public. We realized that a very effective way to reach this group was through our attendance at local festivals.

“Volunteers from various festivals and events can work with the MVIC at the events preceding their own event, up to one month ahead of time,” she said. “Volunteers are encouraged to promote their event, [to] provide demonstrations or entertainment, and to distribute information and promotional items.”

People at the festivals can have their pictures taken in front of a green screen and choose from a number of backdrops showing various scenic points in the county; the scene will be superimposed on the final photo. They can access the images free online.

Round Rock, Texas

Round Rock bills itself as the Sports Capital of Texas, and the bulk of the CVB’s efforts are aimed at attracting sports events and spectators.

This year, the Round Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau in Texas created an ambassadors program to involve local citizens in a grassroots effort to educate people about what the CVB does, above and below. Courtesy Round Rock CVB

“A lot of people don’t even know about the Sports Capital of Texas initiative,” said Yawn.

Last year, to educate local residents about the CVB’s mission, Yawn ran a series of humorous commercials encouraging people to “be a fan.” That was followed with 30-second public service announcements with information about what the bureau does, built around the theme “Did You Know?”

“The local awareness PSA was fun, taking off on ‘Did You Know?’ For example, ‘IKEA makes you build your own furniture, but did you know the Round Rock CVB is helping build our community at no cost to you?’” said Yawn.

“We created the ambassadors this year. We are involving citizens in the campaign as a grassroots effort. We have businesspeople and citizens spreading the message for us instead of us just saying it.

“If we can get people involved in our brand, we will start to educate them about what we are doing and why it is important,” said Yawn.

Kent County, Del.

The Kent County, Del., CVB had not done much self-promotion until this year, but two events the CVB has sponsored have paid off with increased name recognition.

The CVB sponsored a free “Tourism Gives Back” community concert during the annual Dover Days in May and the “Tourism Gives Back — Give a Child a Bike Campaign” in conjunction with the 23rd Amish Country Bike Tour in September.

During the bike campaign, the CVB asked members of the local community to donate used

In its intial effort at self-promotion, the Kent County, Del., Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsored a free concert for the community at this spring’s Dover Days. Courtesy Kent County CVB

or new bikes to needy children, located through the Boys and Girls Club of Delaware. A local mission for homeless men helped fix bikes in need of repair.

“One of the nation’s best children’s hospitals, A.I. Dupont, heard about our program and agreed to donate a bike helmet to go with every bike,” said Cindy Small, director of the bureau.

“This one event has brought us so much free publicity and put Kent County Tourism out there,” said Robin Coventry, director of public relations. “People are seeing the good we do.”

Vallejo, Calif.

“The Vallejo Convention and Visitors Bureau, located in the San Francisco Bay area, promotes itself in a number of ways to the local community,” said executive director Mike Browne. “The single most consistent vehicle is the monthly feature section that appears in the local newspaper, Times-Herald, on the last Friday of each month.

“We have the good fortune to have this page provided to us complimentary, and [the page] is sometimes supported by local advertisers if their sales department can get it done.”

The CVB also supports local arts organizations, like the Vallejo Symphony, the Vallejo Music Theatre and the July 4th Parade Association, and has monthly e-newsletters and quarterly newsletters.

Santa Monica, Calif.

One of the most aggressive CVBs in reaching out to the local market is the Santa Monica, Calif., Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We want to make people aware that tourism is a really important part of the local economy,” said Kim Baker, director of marketing for the CVB.

During the holidays, the bureau works with local hotels to offer discounts to residents and their friends and relatives. The promotion is featured on the CVB Web site, pitched to local media and posted on the participating hotels’ Web sites.

The CVB’s “I Am Santa Monica” program educates local business and hospitality employees, city staff, police, firefighters and residents about the city and how to best talk about it to visitors.

“The program consists of an hourlong tour that points out visitor center locations and talks about how TOT [the local tourism tax] funds a number of important city programs,” said Baker. “That is followed by a class that goes over the different aspects of Santa Monica and ways to effectively communicate things like parking, getting around the city, the smoking ban and more to ensure that visitors have a great stay while in the city and leave wanting to come back.”

National Tourism Week shines spotlight on the industry

Each year, Azalea Belles and team mascots greet residents near North Carolina’s Wilmington Cape Fear Coast CVB’s riverfront visitors booth during the Be a Tourist in Your Own Hometown event.

Each May, the U.S. Travel Association promotes National Tourism Week, a time devoted to promoting the economic, social and cultural benefits of travel and tourism. It also affords local convention and visitors bureaus a great opportunity to promote what they are doing and to promote tourism to local residents.

The Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau runs an ad campaign through local media during National Tourism Week that talks about the economic impact of tourism on the parish and how tourism benefits the average resident.

“We also host a Children’s Day where we have the museums, theater groups, etc. come out and show kids all the cool things that are to do in the area,” said Katie Harrington, public relations manager for the CVB.

“We also host a Restaurant Day where local restaurants come out and prepare a sampling of their cuisine for the general public.

“The last free public event during National Tourism Week is Volunteer Day. We invite local volunteers to come by for refreshments and learn about what we do and what there is to do in the area.”

During National Tourism Week, the Santa Monica, Calif., mayor works a day at one of the visitor centers to generate press coverage for the local CVB.

“In addition to the usual annual release of tourism economic impact numbers and the annual National Tourism Week observance, which includes a proclamation signed by county commissioners, the Wilmington Cape Fear Coast CVB organizes an annual Be A Tourist in Your Own Hometown event where by 30 plus attractions open their doors for free to New Hanover County residents,” said Connie Nelson, communications and public relations director for the CVB. “2010 will mark the 15th year for our hometown tourist event, held the first Sunday of March to familiarize residents with all there is to see and do in our destination and to remind locals of the importance of tourism in New Hanover County.”

The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission also promotes Be a Tourist in Your Own Town by hosting several activities during National Tourism Week, including an outdoor public tradeshow, a high school culinary cookoff, a Hispanic Festival and the Annie Malone May Day activities, along with running print advertisements, disseminating press releases to and arranging for interviews with local media outlets.

Throughout the year, CVC president Kathleen “Kitty” Ratcliffe provides weekly business updates on a local radio talk show and writes a monthly column in the St. Louis Business Journal, while the staff writes a monthly column in the St. Louis American focusing on being a tourist in your own town.

The bureau also has booths at various events throughout the year; holds an annual community forum to brainstorm ways to improve the beach experience for residents and visitors; encourages members of its staff to sit on the boards of several local charities; submits regular content to SeaScape, a city publication that is distributed only to residents; and has a “Local Community” section on its Web site that features programs, events and local news.

Lake Charles, La.

“We promote tourism in our area to the local community in many ways,” said Katie Harrington, public relations manager for the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana CVB. “One of the biggest opportunities we use is through speaking engagements at local Rotary, Kiwanis, etc., meetings. We talk about what the bureau is, how we are funded, what we do and what there is to do in our area.

“We also host quarterly partner breakfast meetings and invite our attractions, restaurants, hotel partners, etc., to come out and hear about what we’ve got going on and coming up. We also give them the opportunity to announce any events they have in the works.

“We also send out a marketing plan every year to the public to show them our scoreboard for the previous year, as well as our plans for the upcoming year,” said Harrington.

“And last but not least, we work with the area festivals to book media interviews to promote their events to the local community.”

Columbus, Ohio

“We at Experience Columbus do quite a bit to educate the local community about out goals and mission as a CVB,” said Scott Peacock, media relations manager.

“It starts with our local media relations outreach, constantly positioning ourselves as the local experts on things to do, places to see, etc., for the local arts, entertainment, sports and dining scenes.”

Peacock said the bureau adopted a theme of “The Faces of Tourism” for its annual meeting “to showcase the breadth and depth of the tourism and hospitality industry.” Local restaurateurs, hoteliers, museum curators, retail operators, caterers and others went on stage to put a face on the industry.

“We wanted everyone to walk away and realize they knew someone or several people who were in or affected by the industry, and we heard great feedback that we did just that,” said Peacock.

“Also, we hold an annual event called Experience Columbus Days, which is geared toward local residents and engaging them to go out and explore their own back yards and become ambassadors for the Experience Columbus mission to attract visitors.”

Peacock said the bureau works with its members to provide 50 percent off all major area attractions and events and 25 percent off at more than 40 locally owned and operated restaurants.

“This event reminds people each year of what we do and how important visitor spending is to the community, and how they can impact that by encouraging friends and family to come visit,” he said.

Experience Columbus also sends out monthly and weekly e-mails to mostly local and regional audiences. The monthly e-mail provides insider offers and discounts to area attractions and events, and the weekly e-mail provides a list of things to do the upcoming weekend.

Quad Cities

In May, the Quad Cities CVB started a new community awareness campaign called “What’s Up Quad Cities!” that features advertising on local television and radio stations and in local newspapers.

“The campaign is designed specifically for area residents,” said Jessica Waytenick, marketing and communications manager for the CVB, which represents the cities of Bettendorf and Davenport, Iowa, and Moline, East Moline and Rock Island, Ill. “It promotes all the fun things to see and do in the Quad Cities area.”

The campaign directs people to a new section on the CVB’s Web site that provides up-to-date information about deals and discounts, attractions and special events.

“There are also quotes and recommendations by local media personalities and famous native Quad Citians telling things they like about the area,” said Waytenick.

Residents can also sign up for a monthly e-mail and upload favorite pictures.

Monterey, Calif.

“We regularly appear as speakers at groups functions to get the word out about what we do,” said Celeste White, director of communications for the Monterey County CVB in California.

“I host a weekly radio program on our local radio station, which gives me an opportunity to not only evangelize the CVB message but also gives our members a chance to plug their own companies as well.

“We then divide each segment and upload them to our iTunes radio station and host them on our Web site media gallery,” she said. “In addition, we host a portion of a local public access television show, Your Town, where again we softly sell the CVB message at the same time, allowing our CVB partners to share what they are doing in the community.

“I am regularly available for interviews with our local newspaper and TV crews, so we are as transparent as possible, which reminds people in our area that tourism is the No. 1 industry on the Monterey Peninsula and No. 2, behind agriculture, in all of Monterey County.”

Bay Area Houston

“This is actually something that was the topic of a seminar that we attended recently,” said Michelle Quist, marketing coordinator for the Bay Area Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, a partnership of seven cities in the Houston area. “The fact is, it is difficult for CVBs to promote internally, so much of our focus is on educating people outside our region.

“In our community, we try to attend local events, so people can get to know us and our organization. We also try to have booths at festivals and fairs so that people can come over and hear about us and also about the other parts of the region that they might not know about.

“Periodically, we try to send out press releases that give a little bit more information about what the CVB is doing and what CVBs do in general,” she said.

Quist said that the grand opening of the CVB’s new visitors center this fall will feature animals, clowns, cake and local artists on the grounds for the public to enjoy.

“At this event, we will also have a specific area talking about the CVB and what it does,” she said.