The Chamber’s destination marketing arm, Visit North Central Massachusetts (VNCM), finalized its FY23 annual marketing plan. Proposed marketing efforts included in the plan range from digital advertising campaigns, sponsored campaigns, public relations, social media, trade show participation and several collaborations with state and local partners. The primary focus of marketing efforts will continue to be on attracting the weekend and daytrip leisure traveler from within a 250-mile radius, including key origin markets like Boston, Southern Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island. Other target markets for our efforts in FY23 include the youth/amateur sports market and corporate/associations. The plan was approved by the Board of Directors and submitted to the Mass Office of Travel and Tourism as part of our annual tourism grant submission. We hope to hear back on our final grant award in December.
Throughout the Fall season, we also worked on updating and refining the content on our travel website – Visitnorthcentral.com. Visitors use the site as a guide and can easily find out about places to visit, where to stay, culinary experiences and local services offered in the region. We updated listings and the event calendar. We also added new content to help promote the region, including some seasonal landing pages; a section highlighting communities in our region; and a new landing page to help promote the region as a destination for youth and amateur sports tournaments and events. In addition, we posted several stories highlighting activities and attractions, such as “Choices, Choices! How Do You Pick The Perfect Apple?” which promoted the region’s orchards; “It’s Festival Season” which highlighted the region’s abundance of Fall festivals and events; and “Tunes & Taps” which promoted the region as a destination for craft beer lovers.
The Fall/Winter edition of the Guide to North Central Massachusetts was published in September. This popular publication is a glossy, full color magazine with pieces that aim to inform and inspire readers, and brand North Central Massachusetts as a unique destination and a dynamic place to live, work and visit. Over 35,000 issues were distributed to over 300 high traffic locations through-out the region and state. A digital version was also posted on the website and shared via social media and email. We have seen strong demand for the publication this year and anticipate running out of the remaining supply of the Winter edition at the visitor center by early December. Costs for producing and printing the guide have increased, so we will need to carefully evaluate advertising interest to weigh if we can increase the number of issues for the next edition to meet the increasing demand we have been seeing. Members interested in advertising in the 2023 Spring/Summer edition are strongly encouraged to contact the Chamber as soon as possible.
We also invested in several paid campaigns executed through Facebook that were targeted to the drive market during the Fall season. The ads highlighted Fall activities in North Central Massachusetts, including apple picking, Fall foliage, festivals and other activities. The campaigns ran in September and October and resulted in a paid reach of 448,894 and 1,545,900 impressions. Organic reach during the same period was 398,967. The campaigns also resulted in 18,013 engagements and our Facebook following growing by over 2,000 followers. During the same period, our Instagram posts had a reach of 19,383 and saw 78 new followers.
Our other paid advertising efforts during the Fall included a Labor Day campaign with Media News Group to promote Fairs and the kick-off of the Fall season. The campaign included digital and print ads in their publications. The digital ads resulted in 190,689 impressions and 156 clicks. We also complemented the campaign with radio advertisements. During the season, we also partnered with the Hampshire County Regional Tourism Council on an advertising campaign in the Boston Spirit and we secured an ad in the Dream Destinations Guide targeted towards the Western Massachusetts and Connecticut market. We also hosted a booth at the Dream Destinations Travel Show in Springfield and helped to staff the Massachusetts booth at the Big E in Springfield.
Lodging data was very strong for the Fall season. Hotel occupancy for YTD through September was 70.9%, a 20.7% increase over the previous year; ADR was $173.76 which is a 41.5% increase; RevPar was $123.18, a 70.9% increase over the previous year; total room revenue was up 70.9%; and rooms sold was up 20.7% for YTD. AirDNA data also showed that demand for short term rentals (vacation rentals) in the region has increased 53.1% YTD through September and revenues have increased 62.6%. Although we saw strong lodging data and social media results, website traffic was down modestly about 6% during the season.
Our Johnny Appleseed Visitor Center also saw strong traffic during the Fall season. Sales at the gift shop were at a record high, up 35% over the previous year and 10% over 2018 which was our previous record year. We also saw eighteen group tour buses stop at the center in the Fall, an increase over previous years.
With Fall behind us, we have shifted gears to focus on promoting awareness and visitation to North Central Massachusetts during the Winter season.