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Hershey Harrisburg visitors bureau engaging international travelers

Thanks to The Hershey Co.’s growing chocolate empire, the Hershey name is known all over the globe.

With the Dauphin County-based candy-maker continuing to expand its reach in China, it’s only fitting the local tourism industry looks to make a bigger play for worldwide visitors.

Along with expanding its domestic reach into more affluent areas of New Jersey and Boston, the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau announced recently that it will actively engage international markets this year, something it’s never done before.

“I think there is room to grow,” said Audrey Bialas, director of sales, especially in China.

The bureau recently began purchasing Visa credit card consumer reports for Dauphin County. Aside from Canada, it found that China was the top international market for consumer spending over the last two years.

How many travelers are coming here from China is difficult to predict, the bureau said. UnionPay is the credit card of choice in China and hoteliers and motorcoach companies are not reporting figures they have to the bureau.

Nevertheless, the goal is to grow international spending, Bialas said. To do that, the bureau is partnering with Brand USA, a national initiative created by the U.S. Travel and Tourism Association in 2010, to spearhead international marketing efforts.

Together with Hershey’s Chocolate World, which has international stores, including two in Shanghai, China, the bureau has crafted a cooperative effort that includes a tour operator in China creating a Hershey tour itinerary.

“Hershey and the geography are the hook,” Bialas said, also citing regional draws for tour groups, such as Gettysburg and Lancaster, as a way to attract other international tours.

Also through Brand USA, the bureau is part of a co-op with the state tourism office and three regional bureaus to place area destinations on the Brand USA website and in their materials to get more exposure.

Other efforts

Domestically, the HHRVB is shifting its marketing dollars a bit from recent campaigns.

This spring, the bureau will spend its resources on efforts in the Philadelphia and northern New Jersey areas, as well as Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y., and Washington, D.C. It also will do some public relations in the Boston area.

“This region is not the vacation, it’s the getaway,” said Jason Brown, director of marketing communications, who has a goal of attracting more overnight visitors, rather than day-trippers from Baltimore.

With the economy continuing to improve, the bureau wanted to focus on locations with higher household income levels, thus targeting those who have disposable resources for leisure travel, Brown said. That’s why the New Jersey and New York areas were added.

The bureau has been building its photography and video library as it has been revamping its online and mobile content to coincide with new branding and a fresh visitors guide. The latter is heavily focused on telling personal stories, with a goal that visitors will have experiences they will want to retell to family and friends.

“Imagery relays what people know, but it also changes perception,” Brown said.

The guide is also broken out to cater to different demographics with its sweet family fun, great outdoors and urban eclectic segments that show everything there is to do in Harrisburg and Hershey, as well as throughout Dauphin and Perry counties.

The biggest goal with the bureau website is functionality and making it easier for visitors to not only research area attractions, but also to convert those visits into direct sales. Better back-end tracking of what users are looking at and doing in the Hershey-Harrisburg area will give partners more information to justify marketing budgets and help shape future advertising campaigns, bureau officials said.

“(Analytics) is in the DNA of everything we’re doing,” Bialas said, as she is also expanding trade show efforts tied to international markets and partnering with more domestic tour operators that already have strong itinerary packages and connections with foreign travel groups.

Top 10 markets

Based on Visa credit card reports, here are the top 10 markets for international consumer spending in Dauphin County last year, according to the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau:

• Canada

• China

• Puerto Rico

• Mexico

• United Kingdom

• Germany

• Japan

• Brazil

• Saudi Arabia

• South Korea

Spring growth

• 2014 spring/summer campaign: $325,000 spent on media buy and public relations efforts in Philadelphia and Baltimore markets.

• 2015 spring/summer campaign: $370,000 to be spent on media buy to include the Philadelphia and northern New Jersey areas, as well as Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y., and Washington, D.C. Public relations efforts will also be made in the Boston area.

“It’s hard to compare apples to apples when you look at our campaign plans and costs this year versus last,” said Jason Brown, director of marketing communications at the Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau. “This year we are spending a bit more and in different ways.”

Last year’s campaign included spending in television, digital and radio. By adding more expensive media markets, the bureau is spreading its budget between radio and digital efforts, including digital billboards.

Measuring return

The Hershey Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau is launching a more-responsive website this summer, which will allow it to better track investment returns.

Until then, the initial evaluation of the spring marketing campaign’s effectiveness will be to monitor website traffic, including landing page traffic that will be tied to digital campaign advertisements or the bureau’s homepage.

The new website will allow visitors to make reservations with hospitality partners and buy tickets for regional attractions, as well as measure digital traffic that uses the bureau page to visit partner websites.

“It’s absolutely critical today,” Jason Brown, the bureau’s director of marketing communications, said of the fully responsive website. “We’re doing business in a way that everyone is consuming media now.”

Over the last year, the bureau has been increasing its photography and video library to bolster campaign efforts and better tell regional stories on its website, in its new visitors guide and through social media channels.

The spring campaign begins April 13 with radio spots. Its digital effort begins April 27.

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