There’s no doubt that tourism has grown into a major part of the economy here in Western North Carolina. Ever since I first started our digital marketing agency in Asheville, JB Media has supported that growth by helping local and regional businesses and organizations that rely on tourism attract more attention and visitors.

In fact, without tourism, the JB Media might not exist. When I was an undergraduate student studying computer science and business at UNC Asheville I came up with the idea for a local digital advertising network focused on showcasing businesses that are local to the Asheville region to tourists and locals searching for information. That idea grew into my first venture– The skills I gained running Asheville Now led to social media and SEO consulting jobs with The City of Asheville, Asheville Chamber of Commerce, and Explore Asheville (the Convention and Visitor Bureau). And those jobs led me to start JB Media.

Ever since the first days of JB Media, we have been proud to support some of this region’s most prominent tourism based businesses and organizations. Tupelo Honey and The Grove Park Inn were some of our first clients. Our work with Blue Ridge National Heritage Area and The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians shows our particular love for supporting organizations that preserve the cultural traditions and natural beauty of this area.

Big Challenges, Big Opportunities: How Small Towns Can Leap Over the Hurdles to See Big Tourism Growth

From my earliest experiences, I started learning how to scale down tactics and strategies that served Asheville and big organizations like Grove Park Inn for the benefit of smaller businesses and communities. I quickly saw that small organizations need to understand how to benefit from the attention that Asheville brings to the region–and how to differentiate themselves from Asheville on a much smaller budget.

For example,we have been doing some strategic work with Polk County (home to several small towns on the NC/SC border including Tryon, Saluda, and Columbus, NC) to help that county attract the right kind of visitors. In order for our work to be successful we must come up with digital content campaigns that help potential visitors understand what makes Polk County unique. That’s the biggest opportunity for many small communities, especially those in our Appalachian mountain region.

Small communities need to be asking the question of how can they bring, not just any people, but the right people–people who will come because they want the exact type of experience that community provides and will support local businesses while they are there.

Connecting with the right tourists is often what it takes to bring in the kind of business revenue that rural businesses need to support jobs for locals who want to stay. Serving tourists is one way that rural Appalachian communities are surviving and in come cases thriving.

Here are a couple of the biggest challenges that stand in the way of these communities attracting the number of tourists they need to thrive economically.

Challenge One: Content Production

One of the biggest challenges that almost all tourism organizations in smaller communities face concerns content production. Audiences have high expectations for content. In order to inspire engagement, and inspire people to do more than engage with your digital content, but actually book a trip to your town, content published on your website and promoted through digital advertising and social media should look professionally produced and visually appealing. Multimedia elements can help.

Most importantly, your content should tell a story–one that will help people make an emotional connection with your community. All of your tourism marketing content (blogs, videos, social media posts…etc.) should convey the unique value that your region provides.

Producing this kind of content takes a high amount of effort or expenditure of resources or both. It can be a difficult balancing act, figuring out what to do in-house and what to outsource. There are pros and cons for hiring local talent (and keeping the money local) and for outsourcing content production jobs to skilled and experienced professionals who do not live in the community.

Challenge Two: Training

For a lot of people in marketing roles at the local level, the learning curve is steep. Digital marketing may be very new for them. There’s a lot to learn. Social media is always changing. Then there is video marketing, how to work with social media influencers and niche media, digital advertising, and search engine optimization. Each marketing channel is unique and ever-changing.  Knowing how to prioritize your time, knowing how to use some of the tools and technologies to get the most benefit for their time in a budget is important. So if you’re a small team, you’re not going to be able to simultaneously manage all the work you have to do and keep up with learning it.

How We Can Help

To help with both of these challenges, JB Media offers options for staff augmentation and specialized support. We offer project based work and don’t require multi-year long contracts with a fixed retainer every month. We can do a small strategy project that our tourism clients can implement themselves over six to twelve months.

If the client sees good results from that first project they typically come back for a larger project the following year, or ask us to come up with a strategy for campaigns every month on a smaller scale. We also have specialized talent in digital advertising, Google Ads, email marketing, SEO, and social media so they can choose just to outsource that or part of that to us.

We’ve also developed a slate of training services through our sister company, JB Media Institute. Because of the number of businesses in the region that are tourism based, we’ve created some specialized curriculum, workshops, and a two day conference to help provide an affordable slate of professional development options.

Specialized Support for Tourism Nonprofits: Google Grant Support

Nonprofits, 501C3 organizations, can utilize the Google Grant. We’ve had a tremendous amount of success using the Google Grant for tourism organizations, which is a free Google AdWords account offering $10,000 a month in free ads.Our tourism experience includes museums, historical associations, National Historic Areas including the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. All of these non-profit categories are great fits for the Google Grant.

Workshops for Local Tourism Based Businesses and Organizations

The best entry point for locals who are interested in getting help from us is to participate in one of our workshops. For regional or nationally based communities we offer our Content Strategy Roadmap Course, which is a monthly online training. These offerings are affordable for most communities, as our workshops usually cost less than $99 for a half day event.

Our online program, which is a great starting point, starts at $69 per month and increases to $99 per month if you add our monthly coaching and accountability call. That is a much lower price point that it would cost for an entry-level engagement with our agency. If you know that you need help with Google Ads, Google Grants, social media strategy, search engine or content strategy, and you have the budget for a two or three month project, that’s a good starting point for getting outside help. You can also save money by implementing the creative work yourself.

The last thing is our DIY Tourism and Local Marketing Workshop–a two-day workshop specifically for destination marketing organizations and hospitality based businesses (including all kinds of local businesses that serve tourists). The 2019 DIY Workshop had over 100 attendees from across the Southeastern US, and offered 20 different sessions and we expect that to continue to grow each year.

Educational sessions at the workshop will be led by myself, my JB Media Institute cofounder Sarah Benoit, and our event partner Chris Cavanagh, who has had a long career in tourism in the region and extensive consulting and training experience. The three of us plus 5 other outside instructors put together a diverse content offering across a two day event designed for entry level and intermediate level marketing people as well as executives, like directors of TDAs or leadership members of tourism attractions. There is content specifically offered for each of these audiences.

JB Media Institute also offers a free monthly webinar called the Digital Drop In, which is typically scheduled for the first Wednesday of every month around noon. JB Media Institute co-founder Sarah Benoit hosts the event which features a variety of guest instructors, on topics that are almost always relevant to tourism and destination marketing businesses.