Tourism marketing for a county is a mix of challenges canned goods from Lancaster County PA at Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Canned goods at Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market from “Amish Country” in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, one of the few county names in the U.S that visitors might actually know as they plan travel (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Tourism marketing for a county can be a challenge from two directions:

  1. Visitors don’t generally plan travel to counties, so they don’t look for information by county name, and
  2.  Smaller county destinations may feel slighted that branding and emphasis is focused on the larger towns in the county that people actually know about.

Several of our favorite destination marketing experts had these reminders about visitors to counties:

“[The county boundary] is an imaginary line that doesn’t matter to them.”

“Visitors don’t care what county they are visiting. You promote the main destination and they will explore the rest from there. Hey – once they visit, they may want to move there someday and will then become county residents. Until then, go with your main draw. We go with ‘Main Big Town Area.'”

“For us, the biggest challenge is that while we are branded as a county destination, our area is comprised of four cities and four smaller towns. People typically search by city name, not county name. So in SEO/PPC and even Facebook advertising, we have to optimize for the city names that we know people are searching. People may not search ‘XYZ County’ but they certainly search for ‘Big Well-Known Town, YourStateOrProvince.'”

Many times, on top of all the above issues, tourism marketing for a county is run by a one- or two-person staff that is also wearing other hats.

We got an email from one such person. Here is what was asked – edited for clarity and anonymity – followed by our responses:

“I’m a few months on the job doing economic development for a rural county of under 15,000 total population. I am an army of one (yes, just me; no assistant, just a board of directors who meet once a month). Our towns really don’t have individual economic developers either, so I help them, as well as spurring development for the entire county. Along with those duties, I handle housing assessments, our county historic preservation commission, and of course, tourism.

My biggest hurdle is trying to find the time to do EVERYTHING.

My predecessor didn’t leave me with much (in fact, nothing on our state tourism website, or a website of our own, for that matter). We have a printed visitor guide, but that’s about it. And it’s my responsibility to distribute that visitor guide to welcome centers and areas around the county.

Any thoughts, input, advice? Do I focus on attractions (museums, buildings) or festivals? Or both? How do I prioritize?”

Here Is What Leslie Advised

Oh, do I feel your pain, as I’ve been there/done that for both an unincorporated area within a county and a region in Southern California. It certainly can be overwhelming, of course, but tourism is SUCH an important tool for economic development.

First and foremost, get a website and then break that down into economic development categories/tabs and include a separate tourism tab with a dropdown that includes a calendar of events, history of the area, and everything else a visitor would want to know (directions, weather, attractions, lodging, restaurants, etc.).

It is so much easier to simply update info, activities, attractions, and events on a website than to run all over the county distributing visitor guides.

I know the idea of a new (mobile-friendly!) website can be daunting, but it will make your job so much easier in the long run.

In the short term, use Facebook to help promote your area. To make it easier, try a simple Page schedule based on days of the week.

For example:

  • Monday’s post is about a specific town in the county
  • Tuesday’s post is about a specific business in one of your towns
  • Wednesday’s post is about events that are happening in the county over the weekend
  • Thursday’s post focuses on something historic – take advantage of #tbt Throwback Thursday
  • Friday is about the weekend weather forecast and a bit more about events or attractions/activities

Plan the week ahead and then pre-schedule Facebook posts so they don’t take up time each day, other than responding to people who interact with them, of course.

Make sure your events provide you with photos to post on the Facebook Page. Try to enlist locals to help promote all that is going on in the county – if you can gather some locals to be “online champions” who like and share your posts, they will become an informal part of your marketing team.

List all of the events in the county on your Facebook Page and then drive posts to each of the individual event listings. In the Story and About sections of the Facebook Page, list all of the major cities and towns, and explain where you are located in the state or province, as well as the highlights that draw visitors to your county.

Here Is What Sheila Added

Remember that you can’t effectively promote the whole danged county ALL by yourself – make sure your county tourism partners have their own marketing houses somewhat in order, by claiming their respective Google My Business listings and maintaining active, helpful Facebook Pages of their own.

We even made a short video about these two marketing must-do items:

On the county economic development Facebook Page, you can mix in visitor info/posts with economic development posts, but they really are two different audiences. As soon as you can set one up, it would be better to have a separate visitor-focused Page.

Visitors do not care about ribbon-cuttings, workforce development initiatives at the local high school, companies relocating, etc.

You can get around to worrying about print brochures after all that. 🙂

Keep in mind that generally speaking, no one sets out to visit a county. Visitors have no idea where county lines are, and they don’t care. It makes it a little tough for marketing, because you end up highlighting the more popular towns and attractions, and some partners get huffy.

Try to explain the “rising tide lifts all boats” concept – the whole county will benefit if major chunks of it are successful. It’s very likely that the average visitor wouldn’t ever consider the county’s smaller or niche attractions or towns, but if you can entice them to visit the bigger, better-known places, you have a chance of getting them to work in side trips.

Examples of county tourism websites, to give you some ideas:

If you have to choose between building visibility for your attractions, or focusing on festivals, I’d say start with the attractions, restaurants, and hotels. The festival people need to market themselves; you get the visitor “building blocks” in place first.

There are our thoughts about tourism marketing for a county. Did we miss anything? Tell us down in the comments.

You’re also most welcome to pass this email along to another county person who might need it, or share it on social media using the handy-dandy buttons at the bottom of this post.

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Even if you are not in Texas, you may want to consider attending or sending someone to the TACVB (Texas Association of CVBs) Marketing Symposium May 2-3, 2018 in Temple, about an hour north of Austin in central Texas.

As long-time fans of  TACVB – and Affiliate Members ourselves – we’re always impressed with their educational offerings, especially for smaller DMOs, but this event really knocks it out of the park.

There’s a hands-on digital campaign development lab on May 2 with our friends from TwoSix Digital, and then May 3 is an insanely great speaker lineup of DMO experts from all over the U.S.

See the agenda for yourself, and hope to see you there!

Commenting area

  1. Great info! I work for Gwinnett County, GA (Explore Gwinnett) and we face some of these challenges. Thanks for the great info.

  2. Thanks, Victoria, glad it was helpful to you. 🙂

  3. We have developed the highway traveling concept to promote small communities and small businesses within them.

  4. Good idea, Shelly. That’s why we partner with the National Scenic Byway Foundation for their online training – all the communities along a route can benefit from visitors.

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