SARANAC LAKE - Representatives from the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism gave a report Wednesday night on their efforts to market Saranac Lake so far.
ROOST Chief Executive Officer Jim McKenna and Carol Joannette, executive vice president of sales and marketing, along with other ROOST staffers, gave an update to village of Saranac Lake, town of Harrietstown and Franklin County officials, as well as a large group of businesspeople from the Saranac Lake area.
The Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce signed a three-year contract with ROOST this spring to provide destination marketing for the area. The village, town and county all contributed funds to the $65,000 plan.
Jim McKenna, chief executive officer of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, talks about the tourism marketing plan ROOST has been working on for Saranac Lake.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
McKenna said traditional marketing is dead, and people now find out about places to travel through word of mouth and reviews on TripAdvisor.com and other websites. Therefore, much of the ROOST plan has centered on getting people to www.saranaclake.com through Google searches, email list mailings, Facebook posts and blog mentions.
Joannette talked about the process people go through when they make travel plans, which starts with the dreaming phase. To catch people in that phase, ROOST tries to send out emails a month or two before people are likely to take a trip to give them ideas. Then there's the "zero moment of truth," when people start doing research about a destination and decide to go there. That's when Saranac Lake needs to get potential visitors to their website, by getting it to the top of Google and other online searches.
Then there's the actual experience of traveling there. The Saranac Lake visitor center is important to that, as is destination master planning, which seeks to ensure that people have things to do and all the amenities they need when vacationing somewhere, McKenna said.
After the experience, people share with others photos and reviews of what they did on their trip. ROOST is trying to facilitate photo sharing through its Facebook page and photo contests.
McKenna shared a list of numbers for things like the unique page views for when people search the Web for Saranac Lake hiking, and all of them had increased, in some cases by more than 200 percent, over the same time period last year.
At the end of the year, McKenna said ROOST will reach out to people on Saranac Lake mailing lists to find out whether they ended up coming to Saranac Lake and, if they did, what they did while here and what their experience was like.
McKenna said ROOST is in the beginning stages of the marketing plan, and he's looking for input from local officials and businesspeople to find out what's working and what they still need.
Several businesspeople in attendance said they have seen increases in business this summer that they at least partially attribute to ROOST's efforts. These included Brian McDonnell of MAC's Canoe Livery and the Paul Smith's College VIC; Jack Drury, who has a small lakefront rental property; and Nicole Brownell, who co-owns Gauthier's Saranac Lake Inn.
Jim Murnane, who runs Saranac Lake's Best Western hotel and also sits on the Harrietstown town board, said ROOST staffer Kelsey Stanton makes everything easy for people who aren't good at marketing. He said the booking mechanism ROOST has on www.saranaclake.com is unwieldy and difficult to work with. McKenna said that's something his staff is working on.
One attendee, Carla Sternberg, who owns Two Horse Trade Company on Broadway, said she hasn't seen a huge boost in business. She said she can spend hours on the computer looking up Mexico, but it doesn't mean she's going to go there.
"I'm not getting this. I'm sorry," Sternberg said. "How does this pertain to downtown Saranac Lake?"
McKenna said the effort just started, but the idea is to build up visitors to Saranac Lake over time.
"It's not an instant thing, but I think that we're on the road right now to creating a customer base that will have an effect for most businesses, including downtown," McKenna said.
Johnna MacDougall, who teaches massage therapy at North Country Community College and said she's looking to open a business in the community, said it's important to get the community to buy into the program.
"If they don't understand what you're trying to do, it isn't going to work," MacDougall said. "It takes a whole community to do this."
She told them she'd be willing to help with that.
ROOST is also looking at taking over tourism marketing for Hamilton County. McKenna told the Essex County Economic Development Committee Tuesday that Hamilton County has sent out a request for proposals to take over the county's tourism marketing, and he asked Essex County supervisors for input.
"It seems like it would be a good thing to respond to," he told them.
Tourism doesn't follow county lines, and this move would recognize that, McKenna said.
Town supervisors, especially for towns that border on Hamilton County, supported the idea. Minerva town Supervisor Sue Montgomery-Corey said her town feels left out sometimes, so this would help support more things going on there. Minerva already collaborates with Hamilton County towns, she said.
"Anything we can do to bring marketing for that part of the world together would be good," she said.
Hamilton County has $250,000 budgeted for the program, and McKenna said it would allow ROOST to put "more hands on deck" to aid with marketing.