Greater Rome Convention & Visitors Bureau: Inspiring visitor relationships via the web

The “Georgia’s Rome” website is the Greater Rome Convention & Visitors Bureau’s (GRCVB) principal means for promoting visits to Rome. “It’s our main inspiration tool,” said Kristi Kent, GRCVB’s communication director, “We push visitors there from social media, search engines, email, print and display advertising.” Rome and Floyd County have abundant visitor amenities—from Downtown Rome and Myrtle Hill Cemetery to Berry College and the new Rome Tennis Center with the rivers in between—the challenge is to build interest in a world with many options. The GRCVB has tons of content related to attractions, restaurants, and other visitor assets. But that’s just the start!

The GRCVB uses a wide range of digital tools to build a relationship between visitors and the community, to keep bringing them back. First, the GRCVB makes extensive use of social media. “We are always creating new content through blog posts and webpages to inform people about upcoming events, restaurants, shopping and attractions in Rome,” said Kristi, “then we utilize social media to promote the content to potential visitors.” The GRCVB uses social media to promote things that are currently happening, and encourages people to tag their content #romegeorgia. The #romegeorgia tag makes it easy for GRCVB personnel to identify and repost positive content. Tagged content can be quickly reposted to promote a current event and related to content of the website. For example, when they find a good picture, GRCVB personnel will repost it via social media. “People love it when you share their photos and videos and credit them,” Kristi noted. “The more beautiful the imagery, the better the engagement.” The bureau also hosts a photo and video contest every year, which promotes Rome’s great photographers and videographers. These digital tactics give the GRCVB fresh, relevant content for its website, connects to local resources, and keeps visitors up-to-date on what’s happening in Rome.

The GRCVB partners with other organizations to build and promote content around Rome’s activities and assets. They have a partnership with Venue Dog to populate the “Georgia’s Rome” calendar and keep it fresh—a perennial challenge for websites. Partner content is at the core of the GRCVB website to reach both the leisure and business traveler. The GRCVB works with local businesses who contribute to the travel and tourism economy to include lodging, transportation, retail, entertainment, events, attractions, restaurants, events and meeting space partners.  The GRCVB also works with other destination marketing organizations to promote Rome within the region. The bureau expands its reach even farther by partnering with the state to leverage larger resources, including the “Explore Georgia” branded social media and web platforms that direct traffic back to the “Georgia’s Rome” website.

Perhaps the strongest partnership is between the City of Rome and Floyd County. The GRCVB website is a point of collaboration for gathering and sharing information about activities and assets, and all of it is possible because people are willing to work across organizational lines. The GRCVB recognizes that visitors can become residents, and that residents can be visitors. They work with other agencies to make sure content is relevant to community members, too.

The GRCVB uses digital technology to do more than just draw in visitors; technology is also used to enhance visitor’s experience. Two custom mobile apps help visitors easily explore the town in a very engaging way. One takes visitors on a tour of the historic Myrtle Hill Cemetery. It not only provides maps to find the graves of notable Romans, it also tells their stories and brings history to life for visitors. Similarly, the GRCVB’s “Rome Georgia” app presents fun and interesting challenges, like digital scavenger hunts, that get visitors into the community as well as guiding them to local places. “It’s a trivia game that challenges you to tour Rome, talk with locals, and capture your experiences,” said Kristi, because, “When you have a chance to engage with the community it forms the deeper connection that makes you want to return.”

An essential part of a visitor’s experience is the personal interactions. That’s where the “Superstar of Service” award program comes in. Via the GRCVB website anyone can easily nominate a hospitality or service industry employees for going over and above expectations, or nominate a citizen to recognize “Roman Acts of Kindness.” This program awards the “frontline folks” who consistently work to make the visitor experience meaningful. “The human element doesn’t go away when you bring in the technology,” Kristi pointed out, “It becomes more important.”

The “Georgia’s Rome” website is designed to support relationships several types of visitors. It provides general information about attractions, dining, and lodging, and features a visitor’s guide and walking tour maps that can be downloaded and printed. The website also caterers to more specific interests. Sports fans and event organizers can learn about facilities and services, and can download and print a local sports guide. The website has resources and suggestions for media/film & TV producers. If you need to host a meeting or a group, the website has just the information you need. “Georgia’s Rome” even provides information targeted at persons traveling with their pets. The website is also structured to inspire before, during, and after the visit. Prospective visitors can go all the way from initiating a relationship with the community by requesting information all the way to cementing the relationship by purchasing mementos from the online Last Stop Gift Shop.

Rome’s own SAI Digital built the “Georgia’s Rome” website, and recently implemented responsive design to improve user experience and search optimization. The redesigned site responds to the user behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientations so it provides an optimal viewing experience on all devices. “Our challenge is to always adapt to changing technology, so that we are relevant to the audiences we are trying to reach,” said Kristi. The GRCVB doesn’t just throw content up and hope for the best; the bureau constantly tests, measures and optimizes its content. Market insights come from variety of tools, from the data provided by mobile applications to Google Analytics for tracking website performance. “One of the great things about marketing through social media is the immediate response,” explained Kristi. “You know instantly what content your audience prefers, which allows you to easily test new content for further development.”

The GRCVB’s goals for the future are to capture more data and do deeper analytics, especially via the mobile apps. Eventually, the goal is to be able to directly share content from the mobile apps to social media and the GRCVB’s website. This will enable the bureau to connect visitors to the community and respond to their interests even more completely and quickly. Digital technology has given the GRCVB a set of power tools for building visitor relationships, and it’s continuing to build and improve its toolset in order to make it easy for all roads to lead to Rome.