City needs to improve online presence to attract visitors

by: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The series of equestrian shows held each summer at Hunter Creek Farm outside Wilsonville seems to account for a significant amount of the citys current tourism. Does anyone remember the heyday of the travel agent?

No? Then you’re in good company. While they still exist, the once-massive market for in-person travel booking and services has all but collapsed, replaced by the ease of online shopping for the best air fares, hotel rates and meal costs.

Brick and mortar travel agent businesses still exist, to be sure. But they are now used by fewer than 5 percent of today’s travelers. According to a 2011 study of the Willamette Valley tourism market carried out by Longwoods International, a worldwide marketing, advertising and research firm, 1 percent of the 5 million travelers now arriving at valley destinations annually used a traditional travel agent to book their transportation. Statewide, that figure rises to just 4 percent of travelers.

By contrast, 47 percent of valley visitors and 52 percent of those coming to Oregon booked their own airline tickets or motel rooms. The rest used other means to book transportation. Also of note is that fully 61 percent of valley visitors are women.

“This is true of our state,” said John Hope-Johnstone, owner of HPR Marketing, one of several consulting firms now working to formulate a tourism development strategy for Wilsonville. “More women come to visit than men. It could be tax-free shopping, I don’t know, it could be horses, it could be all kinds of things. And it could be something to consider when you’re developing your content.”

Hope-Johnstone’s comment came Nov. 12 at the second meeting of the Wilsonville Tourism Development Strategy Task Force. The meeting focused mainly on how people gather the information they need to travel to Wilsonville and the Willamette Valley.

The consensus is that the city — and its business community — could stand to benefit from a far more authoritative Web presence than now exists.

After all, the Internet is where the travel business now exists, and that is where the city is likely to place most of its chips when it comes to marketing itself as a travel destination.

As always, the numbers tell a more detailed story. Longwoods’ study showed that 47 percent of Willamette Valley tourists — defined as those traveling from at least 50 miles away and/or staying overnight — booked transportation or looked for information online. A more recent study of Wilsonville’s Internet traffic done by Hope-Johnstone’s company showed the city’s online reach barely extends outside Clackamas County. During the one-year period from June 2012 to June 2013, Wilsonville captured only 5.4 percent of nearly 212,000 Web-based searches carried out by people looking for local motels, restaurants and attractions. The average for many other cities, Hope-Johnstone said, ranges from 15 to 20 percent.

“There is no one authoritative website dedicated to tourism and visitor information,” he told the assembled task force last week. “Now why is one website important? There can be some pages on a website, and that’s great. But Google in 2013 made this statement: ‘Google is doing a better job of detecting when someone is an authority. It could be medical, it could be travel. And trying to make sure that those rank more highly.’”

To become an “authority” on a subject when it comes to Google’s search algorithms is no easy feat. But it would be made much easier by the presence of a travel website dedicated specifically to the Wilsonville area.

“Where to stay, where to eat, what to do, those are the top three subjects that are searched for,” Hope-Johnstone said. “And I can tell you that those are the top three verbatim across everyone we work with.”

HPR Marketing’s latest research also showed the locations of people searching online for Wilsonville information. This is particularly valuable information when it comes to marketing, as it clearly shows where such efforts should be targeted.

Unsurprisingly, the largest number originated in Portland and the metro area. After that, Seattle, followed by a host of Willamette Valley and metro cities — and several destinations in Southern California — round out the top 10 when it comes to people searching for lodging.

For Shelly Kampf, owner and operator of Northwest Equestrian Sports, which puts on a popular series of high-powered equestrian competitions at Wilsonville’s Hunter Creek Farm each summer, those results make perfect sense; they closely mirror known equestrian strongholds.

“That’s extremely interesting to me doing the horse shows,” said Kampf, who also noted the results of lodging searches were notably different from those done for Wilsonville-area cultural attractions such as the Champoeg State Heritage Area.

“The people coming for the horse shows don’t care about the heritage at all,” she said. “And we have a huge, huge proportion of our clientele come from Seattle, so that is very interesting to me. As soon as I saw Temecula (Calif.), I was like wait a second, that’s kind of an odd place.”

“The information is all designed to say ‘why,’” Hope-Johnstone replied, adding that the numbers are too low to be called definitive. Nonetheless, he added, “they are indicative.”

When they arrive

How to direct visitors to amenities once they are in Wilsonville or the surrounding area is another task entirely. But it’s also one in which the Internet is going to play the biggest role, particularly when it comes to mobile devices, which a rapidly increasing number of tourists are using to seek out lodging, food and attractions on the fly as they explore their destination.

Not only is that authoritative website important, it needs to be optimized for use on smartphones and tablets. There are many other new tools, including GPS-based searches or geo-fencing, which use GPS location data to direct the user of a device to nearby restaurants, shops or lodging. This technology is already being used to bring up SMS (short message service) text alerts and other notifications when a user comes within range of certain hot spots.

At the same time, the users of this sort of technology are more segregated by age and demographics than ever before: Older baby boomers still use traditional printed brochures and maps, and many still prefer a physical visitor center like the one in Wilsonville that is slated to close at the end of the year.

“The human touch is very important along with all this other stuff,” Hope-Johnstone said.

From here, task force members will receive a comprehensive fieldwork research report sometime in December. The next meeting will not be until Jan. 29. Follow-up meetings will be held Feb. 26 and March 20. Final strategy recommendations in the form of a report are expected by April and will be presented to the Wilsonville City Council for approval at that time.

City seeks community input with tourism survey

The city of Wilsonville is seeking public comment via an online survey on issues related to the creation of a tourism development strategy.

The strategy is designed to guide planning efforts and prioritize public and private investments that increase the number of travelers who visit and stay in Wilsonville, thereby helping to grow the local sector of tourism and hospitality businesses and provide additional employment opportunities.

The survey is available at until 9 p.m. Nov. 30. Depending upon the length of answers, the survey takes only a few minutes to complete. The survey is being conducted by Total Destination Marketing, the consultant firm that is facilitating the tourism development strategy.

Josh Kulla can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 113.

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