Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County (VAAAC) prides itself on being innovative. Even its name change earlier this year — from Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau — speaks of an organization in sync with the changing times.
President and CEO Connie Del Signore said the new name better conveys VAAAC’s mission as a destination marketing organization. “It’s more than a conference and visitors bureau. Each department is focused on marketing the destination via its specific area of expertise.”
Given the updated approach, Del Signore firmly believes organizations build their reputations in part by providing superior service and value added to their constituents. VAAAC’s constituents include vacationers, business travelers, business leaders and government officials.
VAAAC’s constituency is, just as importantly, composed of small business owners whose hard work has made Annapolis and Anne Arundel County the appealing destination it is, said Del Signore. “It’s the employees who wait the tables and captain the boats and provide the sailing lessons. It’s the nonprofit organizations that operate the historic properties, the dedicated employees and volunteers who animate our arts and entertainment scene. Our constituency includes everyone who lives and works in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. When all of us work together, when everyone gives 100%, the entire destination benefits.”
Del Signore said it’s that kind of team effort that led to a highly successful fiscal 2016 for VAAAC. True to its mission as a destination marketing organization, VAAAC invested more than $1.8 million in digital and traditional advertising to brand Annapolis and Anne Arundel County in the minds of consumers, as well as event, sports and wedding planners. Of that budget, more than $140,000 was used to market key monthly events in Annapolis and the Baltimore area to attract overnight visitors.
VAAAC’s advertising directed individuals to its redesigned, mobile device-friendly websites: VisitAnnapolis.org, WeddingsInAnnapolis.com, NaptownLocals.com, MeetInAnnapolis.com, VAAAC.org and TheHotelsAtBWI.com.
The individual sites were developed to enable VAAAC to better market to specific audiences, and the strategy is paying off. VAAAC tracked 947,935 visits to its websites in fiscal year 2016 – a 6.9% increase over the previous year. Once on the VAAAC site, users explored more than 3 million page views of content.
Power of the Press
In addition to paid advertising, VAAAC helps generate third-party endorsements of the destination in the form of journalist-generated print and digital stories. In addition to supplying digital assets, story ideas and VAAAC news, VAAAC targets select journalists at travel media trade shows and hosts journalists on press trips and familiarization tours. The success of these efforts is dependent in large part upon the businesses and nonprofits that waive their fees and provide complimentary meals and services for the visiting journalists.
As a result of this support, VAAAC’s media outreach efforts resulted in 606 print, broadcast and online articles carried by domestic and international media outlets in fiscal 2016. The ad equivalency value of the stories combined with print and broadcast advertorial projects amounted to $7.3 million in media exposure, compared to $6 million in fiscal 2015. VAAAC’s media relations efforts resulted in a total reach of $3.3 billion in fiscal 2016.
VAAAC’s sales team uses the diversity of the destination as a key selling tool. Annapolis and the BWI region offer two distinct personalities for meeting planners and sports events organizers to choose from. The sales team took this message on the road via 17 trade shows and 773 appointments in fiscal 2016. With the help of local businesses and partners, it invited key clients to experience the versatility of the destination for themselves. It also provided services to 169 groups, a 15% increase over the previous year. As a result of the team effort, VAAAC booked 60,791 room nights in fiscal 2016, a 1.26% increase from the year before.
While VAAAC’s marketing, public relations and sales efforts drive individuals to the destination, volunteer information specialists at VAAAC’s 26 West Street Visitors Center and City Dock seasonal information kiosk assist inquiring individuals once they come to town.
For the fourth consecutive year, VAAAC’s roving Visitor Ambassadors are out on the streets on weekends and holidays from late March through the Boat Shows in mid-October, assisting visitors and area residents with recommendations on places to eat, attractions to visit, directions and more. Armed with tablets, they quickly access information via VAAAC’s mobile-friendly websites.
In fiscal 2016, Visitor Ambassadors assisted an average of 4,948 visitors per month, an increase of 9%.
Del Signore said she’s grateful to the entire business community for providing the on-the-water activities, restaurants, attractions, shopping, arts and entertainment, accommodations, services and amenities visitors to Annapolis and Anne Arundel County are looking for.
“We are grateful, too,” she said, “for the confidence and trust our 645 members and partners, our elected officials and generous and supportive business leaders have placed in us by allowing VAAAC to serve as Annapolis and Anne Arundel County’s destination marketing organization.”