Why Fort Worth Sent Billy Bob's Texas Line Dancers to St. Louis

Tourism Bureaus Look to Mobile Location Data to Find Tomorrow's Visitors

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When the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau learned more people from St. Louis were visiting, it sent some of its most entertaining ambassadors to the Gateway City: line dancers. The Dallas-area city has combined quantitative and qualitative research with information from mobile tourism data provider Arrivalist over the past 18 months to learn more about who's coming to town and to isolate potential niche growth markets. Cities including New Orleans, Atlantic City and Palm Springs have also invested in new data and analytics to reveal where tomorrow's visitors are.

"If we know that there are a lot of people coming from a certain market we can even verify that with qualitative and anecdotal information," said Mitch Whitten, VP-marketing for the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau, an independent nonprofit organization that contracts with the city. Data from Arrivalist, informs "not only where to spend paid dollars but also helps inform our public relations as well," he said.

Dispatching line dancers from Fort Worth's famed honky tonk, Billy Bob's Texas, to the Taste of St. Louis last summer was a natural way to inject the city's culture into a place that research indicated interested travelers would be. In the past, Fort Worth has marketed mainly to cities within a three-hour radius such as Oklahoma City and Houston, but now wants to identify "micro-targets" outside that vicinity, said Mr. Whitten. The Chicago Air Show was another destination for Fort Worth PR recently, he added.

Spending on services including Arrivalist amount to "a modest investment in the scheme of the overall budget, but a key investment was hiring a fulltime employee who would oversee both our research and our media planning," said Mr. Whitten, noting his organization hired Matt Clement as a marketing manager to oversee research analysis around the time it started working with Arrivalist.

The location data flowing from mobile phones not only feeds ad targeting platforms but systems like Arrivalist, which provides reports to its municipal clients showing connections between consumer exposures to ads served online and in mobile environments and actual visits to those cities. The company gets its location data from partners, including geographic data firm Digital Envoy and ad platforms like GoogleADX, AppNexus, OpenX, Rubicon, Pubmatic, Admeld, MoPub and Collective, according to Cree Lawson, CEO and founder of Arrivalist.

That information, along with first-party data from client tourism sites and data from their publisher partners (think a food site running custom marketing content on behalf of a tourism advertiser) is used by Arrivalist to measure the value of its clients' ad and marketing efforts. The company measures mobile devices that are present in a locale and whether those same devices were served tourism ads for that city. Reports show where visitors originated, top cities of origin and the number of days between first ad exposure and visit.

The city of New Orleans wanted to know how its Mardi Gras visitors differed from people visiting during less-popular seasons. It worked with Arrivalist in the year leading up to this past Mardi Gras event, and learned visitors from Texas decreased from 13.9% to 9.6% between February 15 and 18, the period before Fat Tuesday, the final day of Mardi Gras before Lent. Also in that time more home-state locals came to party: Louisiana visitors grew from 13.2% to 16.2% in that period.

"A huge number of people that were using our website and showing up in-market were doing so within a week or so before they arrived," said Jeremy Cooker, VP-marketing for New Orleans Tourism, which expects to alter its future geo-targeted television buys based on the data.

The data is provided to clients in aggregated form and isn't tied to individual users, stressed Mr. Lawson, who also founded the Travel Ad Network.

"We are not accessing individual consumer information. We are looking at broad brushstrokes of travel trends," said Mr. Whitten.

Indeed, no Arrivalist clients, which also include Atlantic City, New Jersey, currently use the data to re-target ads to people who have visited their cities, though the mobile data firm did develop the technology to do so.

The city of Palm Springs, Calif. has also invested in innovative data analysis to spur revenue. In 2011 the city worked with data consultancy Buxton, which employed aggregated Visa data combined with demographic and psychographic information to determine that a significant portion of the city's sales -- 73% of dollar volume -- came from people who didn't live there. It also found 13% of the money spent in the city was from people who reside in America's wealthiest areas. That data was used to spur support for a new upscale shopping district.