The Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has created a multi-channel lure to attract millions of visitors and billions of dollars to the area. With 60 percent of its budget devoted to Google search and display, VisitMyrtleBeach.com lures new prospects and then sends the traffic on to hotels and attractions for conversion. In return, its pay-for-impressions deals with partners deliver revenue to help support the bureau.
While some chambers just have a website to provide information about the destination, Myrtle Beach has positioned itself as the marketing organization for local businesses, according to Susan Phillips, director of marketing. "The process starts when people are daydreaming about a vacation and searching," she says."We get people pulled in based on the emotive elements, so when they come to the site, they are prequalified for the destination."
The primary goal of VisitMyrtleBeach.com is to pull in first-time visitors. Phillips says, "We know that once we get them here, our hotels will do such a fabulous job of remarketing to them that we don't need to go out and retarget them." In fact, as of 2012, 38 percent of the travelers to the area were first-time visitors.
In addition to national Google search and display campaigns, the chamber also does local and regional campaigns, as well as interest targeting, for example, to golfers or women planning a girlfriend getaway. These ads land visitors on areas of the site targeted to those interests.
VisitMyrtleBeach.com tracks leads sent to partners but doesn't follow their trail. "Once they go off our website, that is an opportunity for our partners to convert, but they typically don't tell us the conversions," Phillips says. "We do a lot of the heavy lifting for them, and it's very quantifiable."
According to Google, the Google Display Network drives one third of total site traffic at 33 percent lower cost-per-click, compared to search.
The bureau relies heavily on Google Display's testing functionality, often in conjunction with other efforts. For example, this year it held focus groups in Atlanta, Washington DC, and Toronto to test ads, headlines and videos. Phillips says, "In almost real-time we were able to make changes" reflecting insights from the consumer research.
Mobile traffic was 24 percent in the first quarter of 2013, with traffic from iPads at 16 percent. To address the growing mobile audience, last year the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau worked with Simple View on a complete website overhaul to optimize VisitMyrtleBeach.com for mobile devices.
The bureau also uses hospitality-specialist MMGY Global as its social media agency; Fahlgren Mortine for public relations; and Visibility and Conversions, a digital services agency that helps with its Google accounts.
As it aims to grow its actual tourist traffic from the current 14.5 million vacationers a year to its goal of 20 million, Myrtle Beach will continue to adjust the mix of its advertising, Phillips says. For example, the bureau may switch some of its TV budget to YouTube.
The problem is, while Myrtle Beach knows that some of its TV advertising isn’t working as well as it could, it's difficult to measure. At the same time, some of it is clearly working. Phillips says, "Where we have to be careful is that we know what we're doing now is working. It will be a slow, gradual transition."
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Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.
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