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Local tourism number up, reports visitors bureau

Joshua Sebold
Staff Writer
3/16/2011

Plumas County Visitors Bureau Director Suzi Brakken delivered good news about local tourism to the Board of Supervisors at a meeting Tuesday, March 1.

Brakken reported transient occupancy tax (TOT) revenue and walk-in visits to her department were both up by 4 percent, while e-mail and phone calls to her agency were up 10 percent and visits to the visitors bureau website were up 17 percent compared to the prior year.

She explained the TOT number was about $100,000 short of the highest on record, which came in 2007, but represented a bounce back after dropping 4 percent in 2008 and 9 percent in 2009.

“This certainly is an indicator that things are better and hopefully on the way up,” she concluded.

In a short interview, the director explained the difference between her report of a 4 percent growth in TOT and County Administrative Officer Jack Ingstad’s recent report of a 10 percent growth.

She said the visitor’s bureau always requested the TOT numbers as late as possible in the fiscal year to make sure the majority of tax returns were in, while the county requested the numbers at mid-year, meaning late payments weren’t collected yet.

Essentially the county needs to get a preliminary number to make mid-year adjustments, meaning Brakken’s number is likely more accurate.

Back at the meeting, Brakken said the Web visit number was rebounding from a 5 percent drop in the previous year.

The director also reported that people used her websites’ occupancy report page to link to websites for local accommodation providers 8,062 times in 2010.

Brakken said the two highest traffic days on the website were the Monday and Tuesday before the Fourth of July weekend.

Her annual report added that the highest month for walk-in visits was October, when a “record-setting” 753 walk-in visitors were tracked.

The report also indicated articles in Via magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle created nearly a 300 percent increase in contacts tracked to publicity, with the number of e-mails and phone calls responding to articles jumping from 140 to 411, also a record.

The director explained the largest strides were likely made on the Internet, where the agency’s e-mail newsletter recipient list grew from 3,436 addresses to 4,090, while Facebook fans jumped from 264 to 776 and Twitter followers ascended from 495 to 625.

Brakken said 40 percent of e-mails and phone calls were generated by the website, 22 percent came from referrals or return visitors, 18 percent were regarding inquires about specific events like the High Sierra Music Festival or fall foliage, and 18 percent were in response to publicity.

Graeagle Supervisor Jon Kennedy asked who managed the social media aspects of the visitors bureau campaigns.

Brakken said she and information specialist Kari Underwood split that duty.

“Facebook, I believe, is a ridiculous tool, I mean it’s so good,” Kennedy commented, before asking what Brakken’s strategy was for cultivating a larger audience through the social networking site.

“Not a lot other than having it on our website,” Brakken answered.

“Because I think there’s some room there to get the word out a lot more,” Kennedy continued.

“Yeah, it’s one of those things. I don’t want to be overly pushy when it comes to Facebook,” Brakken responded.

“—the most effective social networking tool in the universe?” Kennedy queried.

“Well let me just tell you, I had a big conversation with a guy from Facebook because we attend some trainings and he looked at our Facebook and he said ‘you haven’t posted in three days,’” Brakken explained.

“He said you should be posting something every day, and not everybody wants that. I’m not so sure. It’s a strategy, certainly, but I think it could get overdone.”

“The numbers that you have on Facebook, they seem like a good increase, but given Facebook’s success, that’s not that good so I think there is a lot of room for more Facebook,” Kennedy persisted.

“Keeping in mind we have 665 people visiting the website every day,” Brakken responded.

“I’ve been critical of Facebook in the past and I’ll admit it,” Quincy Supervisor Lori Simpson added. But “the younger generation, they’re all wired. That’s how they communicate.”

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