A handy new website and extra money for marketing are helping the Minot Convention & Visitors Bureau get out its message.
Its major message is that there are hotels rooms available, said Wendy Howe, executive director. Questions about hotel rooms have generated heavy call traffic to the office in the past, but now that information is just an Internet click away.
The CVB's newly designed website at (www.VisitMinot.org) offers regularly updated information, as provided by hotels, on the status of vacancies. People can check for any immediate openings, longer-range openings or availability during upcoming major events.
The Minot Convention & Visitors Bureau’s new website is mobile-device friendly and includes features unique to tourism websites.
"For us, last year was about reminding people that Minot was still open for business. This year with more hotels coming online, really our focus has been to remind people that we do have room availability," Howe said. "We are finding more weekend availability. That has kind of changed our marketing message a little bit, too."
Minot's high hotel occupancy, which averages 86 percent, has meant increased lodging tax collections, which are the CVB's primary source of income. The bureau also receives some funding from a 1 percent car rental tax and advertising proceeds from its visitors guide.
The 2 percent lodging tax isn't levied on long-term stays by the same guests of more than 30 days. Still, with more hotel rooms, higher room rates and high occupancies, the CVB's budget is up about 15 percent this year. The CVB had seen a significant increase in tax collections between 2010 and 2011, too. Howe said the projection is for collections to be up slightly this year.
The CVB's annual budget of about $880,000 isn't as high as the state's larger cities, but it has enabled the bureau to be more competitive in its marketing, Howe said.
"We have been able to do some new and different things," she said.
The CVB has offered sponsorships to assist convention groups in coming to Minot and to help support events such as the jazz festival and upcoming air show. The bureau is offering matching marketing grants of up to $5,000 to help businesses advertise outside the area.
"Marketing has been a major focus for new dollars because there's a perception of Minot and we want that perception to be positive," Howe said.
The CVB also would like to get back the Canadian visitors lost when hotel rooms became tight after the flood. Facebook advertising has enabled the CVB to target Canadians and quickly get the word out when weekend room availability looks good.
In addition to its increased marketing efforts, the CVB has made other small changes, such as adding another phone line after its staff were swamped with calls last year. The CVB employs four people full-time and adds a couple of college students in the summer.
The new website developed by technology company KK BOLD of Minot also is relieving the workload by giving visitors more information electronically. Besides having a cleaner look, the new site is mobile-device compatible and allows users to personalize information to fit their interests and travel needs.
Among the features:
- My Map is a customized function that allows users to select items from the categories of Play, Sleep, Dine and Shop to create their own trip agendas. The new website automatically saves this information, enabling users to pull up the information when they return to the site.
- Optimized for phone users, the mobile-device site provides a quick and easy way to locate venues and get information on attractions. For instance, a tourist staying in a hotel and looking for nearby restaurants can search the mobile version of the website to get suggestions.
- The website can offer recommendations based on where visitors are traveling from or where they are when they view the site. Because it can detect the viewer's point of entry, it is able to display a special greeting for Canadians when someone signs in from Canada. The site also has links to information such as border rules and duty-free purchases.
There's plenty of features for local residents as well as tourists, with a community events calendar and information about what's happening or what's new in Minot.
"That's the CVB's ultimate goal, is not only to be a website for our visitors but a website for the community," Howe said. "Our new site definitely promotes Minot but it is also designed to serve as an information resource for residents. The community information feature will be continuously updated so residents can use our site as their one-stop shop for all community information."