by Gene Marrano
The Roanoke Valley Convention & Visitor’s Bureau wants to make it easier for tech-savvy out-of-towners, and even some locals, to find out what’s happening in the area. So the RVCVB has introduced a new mobile website, visitroanokeva.com, which will enable visitors to search for hotels, restaurants and things to do in the area. Using integrated mapping software, the mobile website will offer directions as well. Visitors can peruse restaurant menus – even look at the daily specials.
The mobile website was introduced with much fanfare at the O. Winston Link Museum last week, the former train station that also houses the Bureau. Officials from Salem, Vinton and Roanoke County were also hand, since they are represented on visitroanokeva.com. The Convention & Visitor’s Bureau remade the original website more than a year ago and has reported a large increase in traffic to the more user-friendly site. Now the mobile website – designed with younger, more tech-savvy visitors in mind – makes its debut.
“We had to embrace this technology,” said Landon Howard, executive director for the Roanoke Valley Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, who kicked things off at the coming-out party by showing a movie clip from National Lampoon’s “Vacation,” of the Griswold family being hopelessly lost as they seek out a tourist attraction. “We’re very excited, obviously,” added Howard.
RVCVB Board Chairman Bart Wilner seconded the notion: “This is really where we need to be headed.” He then ticked off a Letterman-like top ten list of why the new mobile website application is key. Some of those reasons included the ability to capture some of the 73 million Americans who use smart phones, and an easy way to find the “best of the Blue Ridge.”
Wilner, who knows a thing or two about technology as the president of Entre Computer, called the mobile website “an [important] step into the digital age for our region [and] helpful for young, tech-savvy travelers.” The tourism industry accounts for 7000 jobs regionally and $150 million dollars annually, according to Wilner, who helped bankroll the movie “Lake Effects,” shot recently at Smith Mountain Lake.
RVCVB Board Member Ssunny Shah, who owns a number of local hotels, was also on hand. Shah already receives about 60% of his bookings via the internet. “This will be great for the entire [local] tourism industry,” said Shah of the new mobile website.
Deborah Wright, the director of marketing for the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, said a key now will be to “optimize” the visitroanokeva.com website, so that it shows up at the head of the list when someone types in the word “Roanoke” on a search. “That’s something we are working on,” said Wright. Being at the top on a Google search is the prize. “Unless people know [where] your site is they’re not going to find it.” Over the past year and a half the bureau has made it easier for local businesses to update information to the website; traffic is up 85% on the traditional visitroanokeva.com site since it was re-launched a year ago.
From the website, visitors to the area – or locals looking for something new – can place a call at the touch of an icon to the eatery, hotel, museum, etc. They can also search for the outdoor amenities that have been heavily promoted in the region over the past few years.
A daily, weekly and monthly calendar of events will help tie it all together. “It’s user friendly, it’s very active, it’s real time,” said Wright, “all the information they need in the palm of their hands.” Landon Howard seconded the notion, as another clip of the clueless Griswolds in Vacation (the Chevy Chase vehicle) was aired: “we don’t want to see people driving into the Roanoke Valley [unprepared].”