Another year has passed, and business owners from across the county gathered at the Pocahontas County Opera House May 4 for the annual Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau Tourism Luncheon.
Nearing the end of the luncheon, CVB Executive Director Cara Rose, along with CVB President Mary Snyder, took to the podium to announce Droop Mountain Battlefield and Beartown State Parks Superintendent Mike Smith as the recipient of the 2016 Tourism Person of the Year award.
“We would like to honor a special person who has been a cornerstone of tourism in Pocahontas County for over thirty years,” Snyder began. “A person who doesn’t just work his job, he [the recipient] is dedicated to his career and educating everyone he meets with the wonder of his attraction. He is an expert in the place of his work and home. He happens to live where he serves and is a devoted steward of Droop Mountain Battlefield and Beartown State Parks.”
West Virginia State Parks and Forests Chief Sam England was invited to speak about his friend and colleague.
“Mike epitomizes what we would see as a State Park ranger,” England said. “Without a doubt, he is one of – if not the best – park managers we’ve had. If you go to his area, he will always show you what he’s up to. There’s hardly ever a call down to our office about a problem because Mike just goes out and does it. That’s what park rangers do – they fix stuff. They figure out how to make it happen and how to make it work.
“Mike, I cannot imagine any better person – to actually be here with you all to represent Mike Smith, who really does represent Pocahontas County. It’s a true pleasure to be here, as your friend, and see you get this award.”
Mark Wiley – former Watoga State Park Superintendnet – congratulated Smith on his award, as well, and recounted fond memories of working together and of his boys returning home from school, where Smith had been a visiting educator.
“I’d just like to say that it has been a privilege and an honor to serve Pocahontas County over the last thirty years,” Smith said humbly. “I just can’t think of anything I would have rather done.”
The Tourism Person of the Year award was established in 2014, and was designed to acknowledge an individual who has contributed significantly to the tourism industry in Pocahontas County.
Presidio Studios President Timothy Luce was unable to attend Wednesday’s luncheon in person, but with the help of the CVB, Luce made an appearance via video conference to speak briefly on the “dos and don’ts” of using TripAdvisor – a travel website where guests can leave travel-related reviews.
According to Luce, one of the biggest mistakes a business can make is to ignore TripAdvisor [TA].
Just because a business owner hasn’t personally created a listing on TA doesn’t mean that a listing doesn’t already exist. Anyone with access to a computer and the Internet can create a listing and post a review for a business, and by ignoring TA, business owners cut themselves off from having a presence and a voice on the website.
To combat their lack of a presence on TA, Luce encouraged local business owners to actively engage the website, and the first step in actively engaging TA is to claim your business listing.
Once a business owner has claimed their respective listing, it’s important to continue moving forward on the right foot, and one way to do so is to make your listing as attractive as possible.
“When you post your listing, you want to make sure you use great photography,” Luce explained. “The old adage rings true here: ‘A picture is worth a thousand words,’ and if you’re posting your listing and using the default ‘Google Places/Earth’ images Google has available, it’s not going to be very flattering for your establishment. Creating a listing and using your own photographs – that are high-quality and represent your place well – will have a positive influence in potential customers’ decision-making.”
Another big mistake a business owner can make when using TA is to make customers unhappy.
Personal experience – as well as accounts shared by those who work in customer service – has taught Luce that unhappy customers are more likely to share their negative experiences than a happy customer is to share their positive ones.
In order to make customers happy, Luce urged business owners to remember that the guest experience is paramount.
“You’re not going to be able to please all of your guests all of the time,” Luce said, “but you can certainly please most of them. A happy customer is the best sales tool, and nothing that you say or do via TripAdvisor will change that. You can’t please everyone, but again, you can please most.”
It is important that customers know that business owners care for the needs of their guest, as well, and in order to recognize those needs, Luce encouraged business owners to think like a guest – to travel; see what suits them; talk to friends of all ages and families of all sizes – and maintain a running list of suggestions that can later be applied to their businesses.
Luce spoke on the importance of utilizing social media, as well.
More often than not, there is a high likelihood that the customers and guests interacting with a business has an account on one or more social media sites – be it Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.
“Ask them to share in whatever medium they’re comfortable sharing,” Luce added. “It’s not limited to just TripAdvisor. You want to make sure you’re engaging people in the ways they like to communicate, and in so doing, hopefully you’ll attract other customers in a similar fashion.”
As his presentation neared its end, Luce took a moment to remind business owners that – while ignoring TA was the number one way to lose customers – the number one way to win customers was to care about their guests.
Following Luce’s presentation, CVB Groups and Events Coordinator Sarah Irvine announced the 2016-2017 Geocache Challenge.
“This year’s challenge is based around the idea of finding our past” Irvine said. “Each year, I try to find different locations around the county – places that maybe even local people don’t go to very often or have never seen before. I try to mix it up with new locations each time, and I work with a lot of partners when trying to plan this.”
Following the theme of historical discovery, the “Finding Our Past” Geocache Challenge will lead geocachers on an exploration of Pocahontas County in search of five caches. Each cache will feature a historical fact that geocachers must use to complete one of five “Fill in the Blank” sentences attached to their challenge flyer.
The first individual – or group – to complete the challenge will receive a First Finder’s prize – including river tube rentals from Jack Horner’s Corner. The first 100 geocachers to complete the challenge will receive a Pocahontas County “Finding Our Past” Challenge Coin.
The six-month-long challenge began May 1 and will end October 31. For more information concerning the challenge – and to download the challenge sheet – visit www.pocahontascountywv.com/geocaching.
Cailey Moore may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org