FAIRMONT — Officials at the Marion County Convention & Visitors Bureau are looking at building on the success of 2019 to help meet its goals for the new year.

“We’ve been working on an updated guide and informational rack cards. This material is available throughout the county as well as distributed through WV’s Welcome Centers and rest stops,” said Leisha Elliott, CVB executive director. “We also mail guides that have been requested through our website and digital advertising.

“We’ve also planned our 2020 marketing and advertising calendar, so we’re excited to really get into this New Year and see the responses to it all. The CVB is also planning a series of videos highlighting some of our unique attractions, events, and restaurants. People like to see what there is to do more than just reading about it,” Elliott continued.

Elliott said one of the CVB’s goals is to support the efforts of local events and businesss that attract guests to stay in Marion County.

She believes the county’s fairs and festivals are among the events that lure guests here.

“Our biggest and most traditional are The West Virginia Three Rivers Festival, The Celebration of Lights and The Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival, all of which have been awarded the Southeast Tourism Society’s Top 20 Event for their respective months,” she said.

“Many businesses here make some great food that you can’t get anywhere else,” she added. “I’m talking about the pepperoni roll in particular. So we support our heritage and the local economy in one fell swoop by promoting it in every way. Colasessano’s, Country Club and Muriale’s are part of our Italian American heritage — and for good reason.”

She said food tourism is a growth trend she wants to see continue growing in 2020. She also said Pricketts Fort State Park and Palatine Park are always a great draw for guests.

“Research shows many people are coming to stay in hotels to see family and friends. Marion County also has quite a few people coming here for nostalgia, reconnection and to learn more about their family’s heritage. Marion County, if you haven’t noticed, is also perfectly positioned,” said Elliott.

Elliott said the slogan adopted in 2019, “the middle of everywhere” is also proving to be successful.

“It’s always been a great place to stay for WVU fans and for Canadians and snowbirds who need a place to stay as they travel south in the winter and back north in the spring,” she said. “We also know from our hoteliers that people are staying in Marion because of meetings and business travel. Our goal is to give these travelers a reason to stay one more night to explore the area or come back with their families.”

Elliott said tourism is good for local communities because guests who come here shop locally and dine in local restaurants. Guests also plan family reunions around fairs and fun events.

“This brings outside money into Marion County,” she said. “The longer we can encourage people to stay in the area the more money they are going to spend locally.”

Another of the CVB’s goals is supporting and promoting area attractions with promotions, advertising and on the CVB website.

“We constantly promote and advertise Marion County,” she said. “We’ll base our ad campaigns on the big events whether that is a festival, a Pricketts Fort event, a mountain bike race at Valley Falls or anything unique. Alongside that, we promote the local businesses on our social media, and we promote those ads to a very targeted audience. We know that our calendar of events is the most visited page on our website so people are interested in what is happening.”

She said one new offering revolves around geofencing. An online definition states that geofencing is “the use of GPS or RFID technology to create a virtual geographic boundary, enabling software to trigger a response when a mobile device enters or leaves a particular area.”

“We’ve used geofencing to promote businesses and attraction to people who are already here for an event, but we’re planning to broaden that marketing tactic,” Elliott said. “We’ll start to geofence specific events and recreational activities to areas within and outside of West Virginia. For example, instead of setting up a geofence at Valley Falls for the people here for a mountain bike race, we will set up a geofence around a race in another part of the state promoting our races at Valley Falls.”

The CVB also plans to put on emphasis on promoting Fairmont’s Anniversary and Marion County’s heritage and outdoor adventures in the area.

“Any big events associated with the 200th Birthday of Fairmont that would be attractive to visitors or potential visitors is certainly something we’ll promote whether that’s on our website, on our social media channels or in digital ads,” she said. “It is important that organizers of fairs, festivals, and big events keep us informed on what they are planning so we can help promote it.”

Elliott said the CVB noticed last year that heritage tourism is “really taking off.” The CVB will take advantage of this trend as well.

“Not only that, but people have shown an unexpected interest in Marion County’s history in the Civil War, in the coal mines and in the war memorials here,” she said. “We’re planning to expand on creative campaigns for that in the coming year.”

And outdoor events are part of the CVB’s plan for 2020.

“When it comes to outdoor recreation, the trails at Valley Falls are actually considered advanced mountain biking trails,” she said. “We’re planning to promote the races they host there, but we’ll also be promoting the park itself as a place for mountain bikers and serious outdoor enthusiasts to come experience. In addition to that, Marion County has two of the best disc golf courses in the state. This sport is gaining traction, and we want to get ahead of that to let people know that our facilities are some of the best in northern West Virginia.”

The CVB also wants to generate more awareness of what Marion County has to offer by creating compelling advertising that sends people to its website to find out more, according to Elliott.

She said this advertising “can be anything from social media posts to social media campaigns, digital pop up ads and magazine ads. We are always looking for creative ways to reach people.”

“The efficacy of each is all dependent on the content,” she added. “There are some businesses or events best promoted with social media and some are better to promote in print. The good thing about digital advertising is that we can see if it is effective and if we are not getting the results we want, we can tweak it immediately.”

Also, the CVB wants “to generate more information and knowledge through email nurturing about who is coming to the area, when they are coming and why they are coming,” Elliott said.

She pointed out that this has been very successful in the past.

“Working with (the) Digital Relativity (company) has been so helpful in this aspect,” she said. “Again, they can see which ads and campaigns are working and which ones may need adjusting.”

She said the CVB’s Monthly Events newsletter “continues to improve on both open rate and click-through rate. People are able to sign up for our electronic newsletter from our website. To date, we have 920 subscribers.”

Another electronic tool the CVB has used in the past is a blog, which was the idea of CVB engagement specialist Leah Nestor.

“It gets a lot of people in, it gives us a chance to highlight several businesses all at the same time,” Nestor said previously.

Elliott remains excited about the possibilities of the new year.

“A New Year always brings new strategies to better promote and market the area as a whole,” she said. “I’m very excited to advertise in such a way that people can shop in one town, stay in another and attend an event in yet another one of our awesome towns. The towns and cities in this county are positioned in such a way that they give visitors an incredible West Virginia experience!”

Reach Eric Hrin at (304) 367-2549.

Eric Hrin can be reached at 304-367-2549, or ehrin@timeswv.com.

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