Spartanburg County’s reputation as a destination for leisure travel is growing, but local officials will have to invest more money in marketing efforts if they hope to keep the momentum moving forward, according to a new study.
Missouri-based H2R Market Research conducted its Spartanburg 2017 Brand Perception Research study. The firm’s objective was to measure how regional travelers view the county as a leisure destination and provide insight regarding how it compares to its own historic average and to other communities in the South.
H2R said it interviewed 800 travelers within a 500-mile radius of Spartanburg for its research.
Findings showed that Spartanburg’s aided brand awareness increased to 76 percent, compared with its historical average of 67 percent.
The county’s Visitor Growth Indicator (VGI), which measures a brand’s opportunity for growth, registered a score of 765, nearly double the size of the firm’s industry norm of 324.
However, Spartanburg’s conversion rate, or market share divided by market potential, dropped to 13 percent, compared with its historical average of 16 percent.
“We studied the marketing and we said, ‘You know what, let’s go test the branding,'” said Chris Jennings, executive vice president of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). “We wanted to see what our real strengths and weaknesses are.”
“This is research-based, so we’re not just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks,” Jennings added.
H2R conducted a study in 2016 that measured the impact of the CVB’s advertising on visitation, travel spending, and return on investment.
The 2016 study found that tourism had a $17.4 million economic impact on the county, while the CVB invested $158,000 in paid advertising during the fiscal year. That means for every $1 spent by the CVB on advertising, there was a more than $110 economic impact.
Overall, the CVB’s marketing reached 4.3 million households and resulted in 32,800 incremental trips, the marketing and media effectiveness study said.
The branding study found that aided brand awareness was 74 percent in Chattanooga, Tenn.; 83 percent in Knoxville, Tenn.; and 78 percent in the Raleigh and Durham, N.C., areas, and 69 percent among residents who live within 500 miles of Spartanburg.
Spartanburg’s advertising awareness increased to 12 percent, compared with an 11 percent historical level.
During the past six months, travelers’ perception of Spartanburg has experienced a net change of 15 percent toward a “somewhat/much more favorable” opinion, according to the study.
The adjectives travelers most associated with Spartanburg included “friendly/welcoming, relevantly Southern, down-to-earth, and traditional,” the study said.
Among a variety of choices, 68 percent of travelers indicated the most appealing brand position — the one that would most likely persuade them to visit Spartanburg — was “History, Food & Fun,” according to the study.
“Spartanburg is most differentiated by its historic sites and museums, being a sports destination, and having the best craft beer/spirits and distilleries,” H2R said in the study.
H2R recommended the county beef up its advertising budget, test to ensure its advertising messages inspire visitation, and spend money on advertising in markets where travelers are most likely to come from.
“Spartanburg’s VGI is quite large, and marketing ROI was excellent last year,” H2R said in the study. “However, both assisted ad awareness and conversion rates remain comparatively low. Stronger reach is needed, but this will likely require the investment of additional marketing funds.”
Jennings said local officials will use the research to help improve marketing efforts during the coming year and in the future.
He said advertising will focused on multiple media channels.
“It’s a great time to visit Spartanburg,” Jennings said. “We are a very unique destination compared to other destinations of our size. … We’re making a lot of progress, and now we’re looking forward to taking it to the next level.”