Maximizing Online Presence in Southwestern West Virginia’s Tourism Industry – Lessons in E-commerce
Submitted by Jackie Whitley, Workforce Director
Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College
“I have a website, but it hasn’t helped my business.” “I can’t take reservations or payments online.” “I don’t have an availability calendar on my website for my lodging business, so I ask customers to call with desired dates.” “I’m not sure I even need a website or social media.” “I’m just not technical.”
These are the types of responses many small business operators serving the growing Hatfield McCoy multi-county ATV trail system in southwest West Virginia gave when asked how they were using the internet to market and conduct their tourism-related business.
To help entrepreneurs overcome these types of success barriers, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College partnered with NACCE through a Sam’s Club Shared Vision Grant to provide an internet marketing workshop called “5 Strategies to Promote and Grow Your Business Online – Turn Clicks into Customers.” Additional assistance was leveraged through the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey’s Broadband Technical Assistance Grant program which enabled the workshop to be offered at locations in six counties throughout our mountainous region.
One of the growing efforts to diversify the economy of the southern West Virginia coalfields is through the tourism industry. A major economic development driver is the Hatfield McCoy Trails which are comprised of over 700 miles of trails for recreational off-highway vehicles. Entrepreneurial opportunities abound for lodging, food, equipment, tours, adventure, heritage, theater, and artisan businesses to serve visitors to the region. Although the workshop was open to any type of business, the content was geared toward those operating a business or wanting to start a business serving the trail system.
Some of the workshop content included:
- Why Even Have a Web Presence? Every search starts online
- Your Website MUST DO Something-generate leads, sales, support, branding, trust
- Calculate ROI
- Legal Issues
- Design for Your Visitors – People scan, bite-sized, video
- The Tourism Goal: Book! – Visual, descriptions, call to action, testimonials
- Take Reservations Online - Options
- Understanding Search - How search engines work
- How to Rank Well on Google
- Goals for Social Media – Interact, “Top of Mind Awareness”, promote expertise
- Online Travel Sites
- Your Online Reputation
This material was delivered in a practical, no-nonsense, non-technical manner to help participants gain a good understanding of how internet marketing can work well. The workshop was also very conversational with attendees actively participating.
Our training was developed through a regional approach. Each county in southwestern West Virginia is actively involved in economic development activities on its own and sometimes views each other as competitors for resources and visitors. Recently, however, entities have begun working together as a team on regional economic development projects including this e-commerce training project. The project advisory team was comprised of representatives from economic development authorities, chambers of commerce, tourism authorities, business services agencies, and business owners throughout a six county area. As a result, 93 small business owners, employees, and other individuals attended the workshops. Twenty-one business owners received one-on-one follow-up marketing consultations with a trainer. Both the workshop and consultation evaluations were extremely positive. Without this regional team approach and personal marketing and outreach efforts of team members, this project would not have been nearly as successful.
The main takeaways for the success of this inaugural training project were to:
- Continue to approach projects, issues, and problems with a regional engagement of partners.
- Form a marketing subcommittee on day one. Develop a project marketing plan, timeline, and stick to it. Get your marketing materials out early.
- Particularly in rural areas, personal outreach and recruitment such as site visits and phone calls to talk with business owners and personally distribute marketing materials was key to increasing pre-registrations. People will more likely attend if they know how something can benefit them.
- Keep the training content relevant, practical, and non-technical. Give participants internet marketing and e-commerce information they can understand, immediately use, and know what their next steps should be.
- Follow-up contact with participants and information on future learning opportunities are essential to keep the entrepreneurial momentum going.
For more information about this project or Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, please call Allyn Sue Barker at 304-896-7404, firstname.lastname@example.org or Jackie Whitley at 304-896-7440, email@example.com.