Wednesday, April 09, 2014
 
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Tourism bureau to interview marketing firms

Cellphone tours on hold

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[April 09, 2014]  Thursday evening the Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau of Logan County will have its first meeting for the month of April. The board meetings have moved back to the former Holiday Inn Express, now owned by the Hampton Inn. The motel is on the city's far west side, behind Russell Stover Candies.

At last month's meeting, the tourism board put a few items on hold because they don't want to make long-term decisions until they have selected a marketing firm.

Among the items put on hold was the ordering of rack cards used to promote a cellphone tour that David Doolin has been working on. This was due partially to the eventual hiring of a marketing firm, but also due to the lack of data to support the usefulness of the cellphone application in drawing people to Logan County.

The tour was first released as a cellphone app attached to the chamber of commerce app during the 2013 Lincoln Art & Balloon Festival.

At the first meeting in March, interim tourism director Nancy Saul said they were running low on the cards and needed to place an order if they were going to continue with this program. The board said that before they decided what to do, they wanted to hear from Doolin about the app and its success in drawing tourists into Logan County.

At the second meeting of the month, on March 25, Doolin was present to answer questions and discuss the project with the board.

Doolin said that the app he has developed blends information from his Explore Logan County website into a smartphone app and adds the downtown walking tour, which is a product of Main Street Lincoln. He is also working to tailor the app to tourist attractions as well as info about the county, shopping opportunities, restaurants, local parks and local events.

Doolin was asked if he had any numbers to show that the app is being used. Doolin said he really didn't feel like the app has had enough time to produce accurate numbers. He noted that it was rolled out with the chamber app at the end of August. He said it was the end of the tourist season then, so he didn't feel any numbers would give a true representation of how many visitors the program had the potential to draw.

Doolin also told the group that the app is not yet fully completed. He outlined how he wanted it to work. The first step is to draw visitors to a single location in Logan County, based on their interest. Once they arrive at that location, Doolin said the plan is to have a QR, or quick response, code on the attraction signage. The code could be scanned into a phone and lead visitors to other nearby points of interest.

That part of the project, he said, has several challenges. First, there is the matter of locating all the attractions. Once they are all located, then the next challenge is to get unique QR codes for each one. Once the codes are established, they will need to be printed and mounted on existing signage.

He said that Saul could attest that one of the biggest issues right now is finding all the landmarks. To date, the bureau doesn't have an inventory of wayside signage in Logan County, so this has become a huge task for the interim director. She told Doolin they could certainly work together and share information on their findings.

Andy Anderson asked what the cost of the printed QR codes would end up being. Doolin said he really couldn't say. He explained that he had been moving forward on this project with the old board of directors, but when the new board was appointed and the city took over administration of the tourism bureau, he put the project on hold until he could know what the intent of the new board would be.

Doolin was also asked if the app would indicate visitor numbers, and he said that it would. He explained that when everything is in place as it should be, the app will count the number of times the QR is scanned. It will also give the tourism bureau an accounting of where the visitor is from according to ZIP code.

The final question for Doolin was whether this is a project he is willing to continue working on with the tourism bureau, and he said that it was. The conversation stopped there and the board moved on to other topics.

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Later in the evening, Jean Bruner-Jachino brought up that the board was discussing matters and taking action on items that may not be in line with the advice and guidance they receive from a marketing group, once one is hired.

This came up as the board was discussing what to do with the two billboards they have access to. One billboard, located in the Atlanta area, is on a monthly lease. For the time being, the bureau has offered that billboard to the Lincoln Heritage Museum for the opening of their new museum location at the end of April.

The other billboard is owned by the tourism bureau and located in the Elkhart area. Board members discussed what to do with that particular billboard right now, as they do not feel that what it currently contains does much to promote Logan County.

It was shortly afterward that Jachino and Andi Hake both asserted that some of these decisions really need to wait until a marketing firm is hired. It was pointed out that what the board may think is a good idea, the marketing firm may say is not productive.

This led the discussion back to the cellphone app. It was first questioned whether the QR codes are actually as effective as their inventors hoped they would be, and some were of the opinion that the codes might be a passing thing already.

In addition, there is information on the back of the rack cards that the tourism bureau knows is going to change, and there could be additional information the marketing firm suggests they change.

What they know for sure is that the name of the bureau is going to change. The name currently being used, Abraham Lincoln Tourism Bureau of Logan County, gives predominance to Abraham Lincoln and not to Logan County.

Another thing they know is going to change is the tourism website. The current URL for the website is www.abe66.com. The board also knows that the logo for the bureau is going to change, because once again it puts emphasis on Abraham Lincoln and Route 66, but doesn't really emphasis Logan County as much as they would want.

The discussion again turned back to the lack of data currently attached to the phone app. Tom O'Donohue said he was not at all opposed to the app, but he wanted to see what it was producing, and right now Doolin doesn't have that information.

To bring this particular discussion to a close, O'Donohue asked if anyone was willing to make a motion that the bureau order more rack cards. He offered opportunities for someone to make the motion, saying, "Going once, going twice, going three times  it's done." With no one willing to make the motion, it died on the floor.

O'Donohue also told Doolin that the cellphone app project wasn't dead. He wants Doolin to do some more research on the number of hits the app has received since September and said he could then return and it would be discussed again.

In the meantime, the bureau is moving forward with plans to hire a marketing firm to assist them in creating a new brand for tourism. They decided to invite two prospective firms to the Thursday meeting.

The first firm is DCC Marketing, an agency Jachino is familiar with through her employment with the Hampton Inn. The second firm is Simantel, a firm that was used by Lincoln Christian University and known to Mayor Keith Snyder.

The group agreed that they wanted to hear from both firms on the same night. They set a protocol that each firm will be allowed up to 30 minutes for their presentation and an additional time of no more than 30 minutes for a question-and-answer session.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Thursday, with DCC speaking first, followed by Simantel at approximately 6 p.m.

[By NILA SMITH]

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