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Once a year, the Connecticut Office of Tourism invites those in the tourism industry, including many entertainment, historical and arts venues as well as the hospitality industry (hotels, B&B, etc), to gather to hear the latest updates from the state and its marketing partners. There are six of these meetings this week throughout the state but the closest one to Hartford happened on Tuesday, March 8, in Cromwell. Numerous Hartford venues were in attendance including the CT Science Center, the Wadsworth, CT’s Old State House, Mark Twain House and others.
The meetings generally follow the format of breaking down the numbers and focus of the state’s marketing efforts from the past year as well as give insight into what, and where, they will be focusing efforts for the upcoming year. This is generally followed up with some more logistical ways to build marketing and social media efforts through the state’s marketing partners that are no doubt, fueled by additional time and/or money. This meeting was no exception and here’s what we learned.
Overall impression: Great stuff, adding new excitement and a refreshed look. Onward.
Were you there? What were your impressions? Comment below.
Take Away #1: New CTvisit.com website launches April 4
The biggest news of the day was an upcoming new generation of the CTvisit.com website. We all have to continually update and install new software (and hardware for that matter) to keep up with the dynamic properties of our world. Websites that don’t change and refresh every few years become dry-obsolete barren lands or simply “butt ugly”.
So, just as Front Street in Hartford has been renewed, so must CTvisit.com be renewed.
Of course, there are always challenges, and some blight, during renewal as the cliché states “to take two steps forward, we often need to take one step back”. As a result of the new website, CTvisit.com will go dark (be offline; down) from March 17 – April 4. Going dark isn’t always a bad thing, as it creates an emotional drought prior to a refreshing renewal and builds…..wait for it……anticipation.
Take Away #2: More cowbell
Imagine a grander, more emotionally charged and visually rich tourism-centric website. The new look of the CTvisit.com website is even grander and bolder; with immaculate video and visuals welcoming visitors to the site, and state for that matter. No doubt, the design is meant to entice web users into the gorgeous setting of Connecticut and show the vast amount of things to do here. Job well done. It seems less billboard-y and slogan-y than the current site, although this was always done with a nice balance anyway.
It is also designed with a modern, social media-influenced feel, with elements of Facebook and Twitter, but a predominantly stronger Instagram and Pinterest impact. Social media is how we live, so this makes perfect sense. Each venue page will also be more enriched with social media tie-ins and links embedded. Let’s just hope the Snapchat influence isn’t too apparent, making content disappear before we can really explore. Which brings us to one concern…
Take Away #3: Less cowbell?
Oops! During the presentation, as they were unveiling the new robust, beautiful, graphically-rich website, the WiFi where the meeting took place was a bit slow and causing delays in loading images. Call it irony or a good test; it uncovered the dark side of relying so much on heavy graphics. When the graphics don’t load right or when they take too long, it will cause the user to get a very bland, frustrated feeling of the state. In other words, unless the user is hard wired, within a strong WiFi area or has a strong 4G signal, their experience with the website might backfire. Also, attendees didn’t get a chance to see the mobile version of the site at the meeting either, so it is unclear whether this issue exists there also. I am sure these issues, among others, will be addressed prior to official roll out.
Once Q&A began, the reliance of heavy graphics and downloading them to get the intended website experience was even the very first issue raised. The answer was that the website is still in beta (prototype) and will be enhanced to prevent this. While this is true, the mere fact that a graphic and video demanding site requires a strong Internet connection should not be taken lightly either. Sure, we want to show the beauty and rich visuals that will emotionally pull users to come to CT, but also need to be sensitive to the first experience many will have with the state through the website. Someone in attendance joked about anyone who can’t get a good signal or doesn’t have 4G isn’t the target audience for travel to Connecticut anyway. Harsh, but likely true.
Takeaway #4: Easier navigation and integration
You might notice an easier to understand and use navigation on the new site. Top level navigation changes to active words like IDEAS, DO, STAY, and EAT from current top nav terms that have more of a “push” feel to them such as “don’t miss”, “52 getaways” and “travel deals”. The new site improves the user’s experiences by empathizing and putting themselves in the user’s shoes with these action verbs. Additional top level nav are EVENTS, REGIONS and of course, SEARCH, to help dig deeper. Second level navigation seems to also be more intuitive and uses radio-style mouse-overs and buttons. For instance, when you go to the DO tab, you get choices on what types of things you like to do, e.g. ACTIVE ADVENTURE, REST/RELAXATION, ARTS/CULTURE, FAMILY FUN and HISTORY. While we aren’t sure if new content emerges with a mouse over or a click, it is definitely more visual than a long text page that currently exists.
In addition, the new CTvisit.com better integrates and places the conversation into the social realm of the user through integration with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and others. This is imperative to continue as that is exactly where people are discussing things in our modern times.
Takeaway #5: More storytelling
Each venue will have enhanced ways to add additional images and video to their listing on the new CTvisit.com. There are also opportunities to build more emotional connections via storytelling opportunities. This isn’t necessarily a new feature for 2016 but it is being emphasized a bit more as attendees were given a Madden Media “2016: Tell Your Story” handout in their packet (see below for packet content).
Takeaway #6: More advertising in Massachusetts + Boston
The state plans to hit the Boston area, and MA, with more advertising in 2016, including television, to draw our northern neighbors down to CT. Personally, I feel this is money better spent for the Hartford area, as the previous focus on heavy NY/NJ brings people to CT but mainly to the shoreline areas. In our opinion, by focusing on Massachusetts and Springfield/Western MA, there will be more of an economic impact to the Hartford area venues and hospitality industry. What do you think? Comment below.
Here are the MATERIALS given to attendees:
- 2016 Official Spring/Summer Visitors Guide
- Tourism Tracker: Key results of the state’s tourism marketing initiatives
- Ways to Leverage the Brand Campaign (a great “cheat sheet” overview)
- Open House 2016 letter (June 11)
- Connecticut Governor’s Conference on Tourism (SAVE THE DATE: April 27)
- PR + Social Media Support Overview
- 2016 Tell Your Story initiative (soft sales piece)
- Partner Field Form for Requesting PR and Social Media Assistance (soft sales piece)
CTvisit.com partners with two Avon-based firms, Adams & Knight and Witan Intelligence, as well as South Norwalk’s Media Storm and Madden Media (based in Arizona).