Borough refines marketing plan to bolster tourism industry

Economic Development Department staff met Oct. 18 with the Wrangell Convention and Visitor Bureau to review the borough’s travel marketing strategy and prepare it for final bureau approval in November.

The group discussed industry trends, the borough’s strengths as a destination and the methods it should use to expand tourism in town.

Potential visitors might ask, “why come (to Wrangell) when other communities north and south of us are easier to get to and have more perceived amenities,” said Economic Development Director Kate Thomas. She believes the borough can capitalize on its working waterfront, unique history, recreation and wildlife viewing opportunities, and small-scale boutique tours to capture new types of travelers.

According to anecdotal evidence from bureau members Erin Galla and Brenda Schwartz-Yeager, who work face-to-face with tourists every summer, the town’s main visitor demographic is currently “well-traveled, well-to-do … (and) most likely 75,” said Schwarz-Yeager.

The group discussed how to maintain their hold on the older age group that is “putting heads in beds right now” while simultaneously appealing to a younger market.

The ideal Wrangell tourist, according to the marketing plan, is between 35 and 55, active on social media and lives on a dual income without kids. Visitors like these can afford Wrangell’s upscale tours and would be likelier to spread the word about the destination online.

They might be outdoor recreation enthusiasts or “digital nomads,” seeking a fresh environment to explore while working remotely.

Many young professionals are “looking to make traveling a lifestyle,” said board member Mya DeLong. They might “make an extended stay and still be able to work remotely. … I think people are traveling a little bit differently” and pursuing lifestyles that integrate work and play, she added.

Bureau member Caitlin Cardinell can see the town becoming a digital nomad hub. “Working in an office is a slowly dying thing,” she said.

The tourist profile that Wrangell is targeting is “dreamt up by us and supported by new opportunities and travel trends,” explained Thomas. The geographical areas that it’s targeting, however, are based on data the borough collects about its visitors.

Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia, are cities of focus on the West Coast. Chicago, New York and Dallas are targets throughout the rest of the country, along with the international markets in New Zealand, Australia and Germany.

But national and international travelers aren’t the only ones the borough is hoping to attract. Regional visitors could help boost tourist numbers in the late fall, winter and early spring as they come to town for local events like the Christmas tree lighting, the community theater or the Wrangell Cooperative Association’s cultural workshops.

The department also discussed its successes in recent months, particularly in developing a visually unified brand and creating a database of high-quality photographs that it can use for ads and publications.

Thanks to the efforts of marketing and community development coordinator Matt Henson, the department is “not in the same place we were six months ago with our media library,” said Thomas. The camera that he uses to document Wrangell life has paid for itself several times over, she added.

Having an overarching strategy in place will also make the Economic Development Department more efficient. Now that Henson has joined the department, “the office has new capacity and needs direction for that,” said Thomas. She hopes that the plan will allow him to be self-directed in his marketing efforts for the borough, “so we’re not dialoguing about the minutia all the time.”


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