Monday, October 25, 2010

State tourism bureaus use social sites to promote sights

CONCORD, N.H. — Dog sledding without snow?
Karen Tolin knew the concept was a little hard to understand, but she believed a Facebook promotion for her White Mountains dog-sledding business through the state tourism division would help clear it up — and draw some customers during the off-season.

She was right.

Visitors mentioned the August offer when they booked a "rolling" dog sledding tour — in which dogs pull passengers in a wheeled cart, something more common in the West. Tolin combined an excursion discount with a whitewater rafting trip called "Paws and Paddles."

State tourism bureaus, including New Hampshire's, have been aggressively using social networks to promote business and attract visitors with travel packages, itineraries and tips from travelers themselves. Tolin's Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel is among those reaping the benefits.

"No one Googles 'dog sledding,' " said Tolin of Gorham, N.H., "so taking advantage of social media in addition to traditional advertising has been a big deal and has gotten the word out and has increased our business in a big way."

Indiana has partnered with Foursquare, a smart-phone application that reveals the user's location, to provide discounts at museums, restaurants and other places through its Leaf Cam foliage-viewing site. Virginia recently won a national award for using Twitter to promote wine tourism. Nearly three-quarters of Michigan's Facebook fans learned from fellow travelers about unfamiliar places and activities.

"We're starting to see more and more organizations see the value of blogging," said David Serino, a Michigan-based travel industry consultant who tracks and ranks social media use among state tourism sites.

"We're generating content that's keyword-rich, and the content we're generating is very search engine-friendly," he said. "The content is extremely beneficial to the traveler. With blogging, you really get the insider information or the insider's take."

Number of fans soars

New Hampshire's Division of Travel and Tourism Development started its Facebook page in July 2009 and connected it to its website. When it began offering promotions in November, it had about 1,400 fans, said Tai Freligh, a spokesman for the division. Today, it has nearly 20,000.

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