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How blogs have reinvented Philadelphia Tourism

How blogs have reinvented Philadelphia Tourism

By Clark Turner 

Philadephia had an image problem. Seen as rusty industrial backwater on the East Coast, it lacked the glamour and prominence of New York City or Washington D.C. and was seen as a place to pass through rather than stay.

Its approach to marketing the city as a tourist destination was also falling behind in the online revolution with an increasing number of travellers and holidaymakers researching and booking via the web.

A dramatic solution was needed to reposition the city  - a radical message and a radical platform from which to deliver it that could be accessed globally.

The answer for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) was to create a custom made website. The result was (as in ‘you wish you knew’) dedicated to championing the “unconventional and contemporary”’ face of the city carrying up to the minute blogs from a team of insiders.

Director of Uwishunu, Errin Cecil-Smith, told us, “The thinking behind the site was that we understood the researching and purchasing of travel was almost completely a web based business. Things have progressed technologically and travellers have become more savvy.

“There was also an unknown, unconventional side of Philadelphia beyond the Rocky Statue (as in the film) and Liberty Bell we wanted to present as travellers were customising their experiences more and more.”

She added, “We realised we needed to go beyond a conventional cool website to deliver something where the visitor could talk with like-minded people.”

“Blogs are so much more agile. We can make instant decisions and changes in 30-seconds. We wanted the content to change perceptions about Philadelphia presenting the coolest and hottest things to do.”

Cecil-Smith’s idea was that potential visitors around the world could access the site and plan their visit, but then also find inspiration when in town. Logging on at 10pm, the aim is to deliver ideas for going out one hour later.

Channels on include Dining, Drinks, Nightlife, Weekend, Arts, Music, Shopping, Sports and Video. Content is provided by a dedicated blogging team, which has grown from 32 at launch in January 2007, to almost 80 today.

Some 75 per cent are paid for their contributions and content is monitored by two editors.

“It turns out Philadelphia has a huge creative economy,” said, Cecil-Smith. “I knew there was a creative element to the city but had no idea it is as big and varied as it is.

“When I first said the word ‘blog’ people looked at us like we mad. Most people associate them with politics, but using blogging for business was a new concept. We initially found some good writers and then roped in their friends, but once you start something like this people quickly come to you.”

She continued, “Our writers are treated like journalists and to get the quality of work we need, it only right they are paid for their contributions.”

”The site acts as a catalyst for the community giving small enterprises, boutiques and galleries a voice that would never heard otherwise and generating ‘eyeballs’ and business. That’s a great thing.”

One of the most popular channels is Video. A number of original series have been created for the site including ‘IllaDates’ on affordable dates, ‘All Up In Their Grills’ on behind the scenes at restaurants, ‘IllaNights’ on the diverse nightlife scene, and Studioscopic on artists in the local area.

Uwishunu acts as companion channel to the wider GPTMC programmes. It serves as part of the vertical campaign but focuses on the unconventional side of Philadelphia. The platform has also adopted as many social media tools as possible.

“We need to deliver the information as the customer wants it,” explained Cecil-Smith. “We need to be reaching them through channels such as Flickr, Facebook and providing tailor made RSS feeds.

Around 90 per cent of the Uwishunu budget is spent online, with 45 per cent targeted at blogs and the rest at aggregated online sites. There is also partnership marketing with aggregated online sites and brands such as the Village Voice and Southwest Airlines. Marketing is aimed at consumers in the travel and lifestyle sectors, according to Cecil-Smith.

“A large proportion of our marketing efforts are concentrated on the East Coast, at consumers in New York, Washington and Boston, who can reach us by train,” she added. “A part of our internet marketing is also involved in providing flight and hotel packages especially in international markets including the UK.”

Influential UK youth magazines have also been targeted for advertising including style publication Dazed and Confused and its related website.

“We need to give visitors a reason to visit us over NYC so our messaging is more aggressive internationally, promoting our cultural assets and value for money, as well as presenting Philadelphia as a young attractive metropolis,” Cecil-Smith explained.

So how has Uwishunu delivered? Success is tracked by Google analytics and surveys but also though the sale of packages and tickets available exclusively through the site.

To date, the project has also been honoured with four national awards in the travel and public relations industries in the UK.

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