West Virginia’s Division of Tourism hadn’t done any in-depth research about who visits the state and why for over 10 years.
“There is not one part of this country or this world that somebody doesn’t know the song Country Road,” said Amy Goodwin, West Virginia’s commissioner of tourism and deputy secretary of commerce. The problem with that is, she continued, “That’s not a top travel indicator.”
“I wanted to know what’s my return on investment… and number two, what’s my image?” she said. “What’s the chit-chatter about West Virginia?”
When the Mountain State’s tourism team turned to research and mobile data analytics, it found enough information in the chatter to triple its 2016-17 budget to $6.5 million.
The tourism department invested in survey research by Longwoods International, a travel research firm that counts several states as clients, including Michigan, home of the Pure Michigan campaign. Earlier this year Michigan announced it would spend $12 million on its long-running national Pure Michigan, campaign which originated in 2006.
Longwoods conducted a survey of online panelists from West Virginia’s ad markets who had visited the state in the past year, asking them about their awareness of the state’s previous ads and perception of the state compared to regional rivals Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and South Carolina.
The research cost around $100,000 said Ms. Goodwin, who compared the study to blueprints for house construction, an expensive but necessary step. “Guess what? This is a competitive industry,” she said. “We’re fist fighting with them every day.”
Traditional methods like survey research, however, now received a complement in technology from Arrivalist, which provides reports to its municipal clients showing links between online and mobile ad exposure and actual visits to a locale. For West Virginia, the company is tracking mobile devices that are present in the state and whether those same devices were served tourism ads for that city.
Aggregated data shows where visitors originated, top cities of origin and the number of days between first ad exposure and visit.
Before mobile measurement efforts began about four months ago, the state used data from the survey research to recast its marketing message, creating the “Real. Wild, Wonderful West Virginia” campaign.
In the end, the research showed that West Virginia generated $7 for every $1 spent on tourism marketing, enough to convince lawmakers to hike the tourism budget.