Name: Shonna Howenstine
Job: Tourism coordinator
Organization: City of Paso Robles
What she said then:
Never miss a local story.
In fall 2009, The Tribune noted that the city of Paso Robles launched a new web site, TravelPaso.com with the brand “Authentic California.”
The Travel Paso Robles Alliance — local hoteliers — committed to joint marketing efforts to drive traffic to the city tourism site.
Paso Robles spent $19,200 over three budget years to build it, said tourism coordinator Shonna Howenstine. The site lists every attraction and hospitality business from Templeton to Shandon and Parkfield.
What she says now:
Howenstine’s office has met a target, with just under 8,000 visits to the site in the past month.
“We’re up year over year in our TOT,” she said, referring to the transient occupancy tax, often called a hotel tax, used to measure tourism rates. “It’s hard to tell exactly what’s driving it, but we’re up when others are down.”
Transient occupancy tax records show that, on average, the number of rooms booked remained constant in the fiscal year ending June 2010, compared to the previous year. But the most recent records showed a jump in July of almost 26 percent in revenue compared to July 2009.
It’s difficult to measure its direct financial impact, but she believes the site is an essential tool to build a brand following and encourage repeat tourism.
TravelPaso.com recorded 70,000 visitors who viewed an average of 6.5 pages per visit, Howenstine said, “which is good.”
It’s also become the hub of the city’s social media marketing. City staff posts articles, restaurant reviews, blogs, photo albums — anything that might drive followers on Facebook or Twitter to visit the city website.
“We have 2,500 fans and friends,” she said. “We keep Paso Robles top of mind with them.”
Individuals subscribe to “TravelPaso” at either social media site. Recent postings included reminders of free entertainment events, contests to win free tickets and a story about Harris Stage Lines aimed at baby boomers.
Other than staff time, there is no cost.
“Social media is free and easy,” she added. “In most instances, it’s the most effective. It’s truly interacting with this community. You build clientele quicker than you would have otherwise done.”
The tourism official believes in a proactive approach. She searches Twitter for references to Paso Robles, then offers directions or recommendations to the commenter. She recently introduced a blogger to a handful of local wineries.
“Bloggers are great,” Howenstine said. “They are the ideal people to have talking about Paso Robles” because they influence the decisions of their readers.
TravelPaso strives to have the most complete calendar of area events, searchable by category. Its business listings include every hospitality business issued a business license.
But Howenstine already sees room for improvement. When development began, neither hand-held devices nor web-feed technologies were common.
“Technology never sleeps,” she emphasized. “Many people are using their BlackBerrys and iPhones to get recommendations and directions when they travel. It would be nice to make Paso just that much easier for them to explore.”
— Raven J. Railey