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Annapolitan Encourages Performance Measures

"Many people think that because Maryland is such a great destination, visitors will just come," says Connie Del Signore, president and CEO of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau (AAACCVB).

"That's not the way it works," she says. "Look at McDonalds, look at Pepsi – they spend millions to market their products." Del Signore says she's optimistic that Maryland's tourism industry will have more dollars to spend for marketing when the state makes its allocations for fiscal year 2011.

She expects the provisions of the Tourism Promotion Act of 2008 will kick in with increased funding for the industry. The new law ties the level of state funding for marketing Maryland's tourism industry to tax revenue generated by retail sales of tourism-related goods and services.

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As chair of the Maryland Association of Destination Marketing Organizations, Del Signore helped get the Tourism Promotion Act through the state legislature. She recalls daily visits to advocate for the bill. "It took a lot of educating," she says. "And many thought it would take years to pass."

Del Signore, who is also a member of the Maryland Tourism Development Board, believes in a measured-results approach to marketing. "Our own organization (AAACCVB) has become performance-based," she says. "We track our marketing and our conversion rates." Conversion rates refer to the percentage of targeted consumers who respond to advertising by taking the advertiser's suggested action.

 

"Our research shows that 75 percent of the consumers who saw a ‘Come Sail Away' ad," she says, "ended up as visitors to a county destination." "We also use Google Analytics to track the effectiveness of our web site," Del Signore says.

As for specific accomplishments, she says her organization's communications team delivered $5 million worth of media exposure during fiscal year 2008, double what had been achieved the year before.

"We booked 15,000 hotel room-nights in fiscal year 2008," she says, "which is consistent with the last two years." In 2004, the figure was 4,500, she adds. The goal for fiscal year 2009, she says, is 20,000 room-nights.

Del Signore says the thrust of their marketing efforts have shifted to online and social marketing. This involves submitting material – articles, photography and video – on web sites, such as Trip Advisor, a consumer travel site.

Currently, AAACCVB is partnering with Baltimore's MIX 106.5 FM radio to run "Holiday Kickoff," a campaign designed to boost tourism during the holiday season. Del Signore says the program has three focal points – encourage local residents to shop and dine in the county, encourage consumers in the region "to take a break and come to Anne Arundel County," and promote Toys for Tots. An upcoming marketing project links to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington and promotes the County as a viable add-on destination for tourists visiting the festival next Spring.

Del Signore has been in the tourism industry for nearly 18 years. Prior to joining the AACVB in 2003, she was at tourism agencies in Pennsylvania. A native of Johnstown, Pa., Del Signore started her professional career as an elementary school teacher. She enjoyed teaching, but says, "The tourism industry suits me perfectly." Having grown up in a family (restaurant) business, she says she's especially proud of her organization's success at promoting "mom-and-pop" businesses across the county.

She also points out that "last year, our convention and visitors bureau produced enough tax revenue to provide salaries for 300 teachers in Anne Arundel County."