Move over Hollywood celebrities. Social connections between visitors and savvy local residents are the heart of a newly revamped promotional website touting the sprawling Los Angeles area.
On Oct. 26 the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board unveiled its next-gen digital hub, DiscoverLosAngeles.com, designed by 15-year-old marketing agency Digitaria.
Like all city tourism sites, the new LA hub is competing with a growing list of travel search engines, destination ratings sites, and hotel booking platforms. Consequently, it has to be more than just a comprehensive directory, events calendar, and cheerleader for the city.
"Travel is becoming a truly social activity," said Don Skeoch, CMO for the LA tourism board. "Today's traveler increasingly wants helpful, general destination information along with insider information. So, we combined the best aspects of a travel guide with the best aspects of talking to a local."
The site is built around an exploratory process, "so that both visitors and residents can easily find what the area offers, beyond what they might already know," said Michael Brown, VP of media, entertainment, and travel at Digitaria.
To make the information manageable, the site's first focus is on the different regions of the LA basin, which are sometimes lengthy drives from each other. "We don't want people to feel overwhelmed by LA's sprawling size and diversity," Brown said.
Once a region is selected, the site offers an experience builder - similar to a mobile app - that allows users to add any activity to "My LA Bucket List." Maps show where selected activities are located in relation to each other.
Facebook and Twitter are incorporated into the site to foster real-time sharing and feedback. The Discover LA Facebook page boasts close to one million fans. Entries in the page's popular "photo of the day" have attracted up to 9,000 likes and hundreds of comments in several languages. The program's Twitter feed @DiscoverLA has almost 20,000 followers.
Content on the site is also carefully edited to give the digital hub a voice and personality, unlike straightforward, information-based directories. "People are more likely to share information they've discovered when it feels like the information comes from a person talking to them," said Brown.
For instance, David Oh, the NASA flight director of the Mars Curiosity Rover, who lives on Mars time, offers suggestions for other night owls, such as where to get sushi in Pasadena at 2 a.m. On the celebrity front, Magic Johnson recommends his favorite Beverly Hills Italian restaurant.
Going forward, the digital program will include additional insider tips and advice from local residents who are "neighborhood advocates," said Brown. The tourism group is just "scratching the surface" of using social sharing and personalization, he said.
For more traditional users, information is also filtered into typical lifestyle categories: culture, sports, attractions, nightlife, and dining.
The website relaunch is the latest installment in a new global branding campaign by LA Tourism, which began in Spring 2012. Next up: an integrated marketing campaign in Q1 2013, with digital, television, print, PR, and promotions, per a tourism rep.
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Joan Voight is a Contributing Editor to ClickZ. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has covered online and offline media, marketing and advertising since the mid-1990s for several business publications. She spent nine years at Adweek magazine, where she was San Francisco bureau chief, national senior writer and contributing reporter.