Founded in 1978, the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau (GWCVB) promotes the area’s history, arts, culture and gardens to leisure travelers, business travelers and meeting planners. Sarah Willoughby joined the GWCVB in 2004 and became its executive director in 2008. She’s witnessed significant changes in the way local venues attract visitors, and in how tourism is marketed.
Q: Restaurants are a major draw for tourists. What’s happening in downtown Wilmington and downtown Newark?
Sarah Willoughby: Wilmington’s Market Street should soon be called Restaurant Row. In addition to established restaurants such as Ernest & Scott Taproom, Chelsea Tavern and La Fia, we now have Stitch House Brewery and Farmer & The Cow. More restaurants are scheduled to open soon on Market Street. Coffee Mode is a real treat! Newark continues to thrive on the dining scene. You can find some tasty treats at Duck Doughnuts — I still find Delawareans who are not aware of this place. The growth of breweries in New Castle County is crazy good — and more are coming.
Q: How are attractions stepping up their offerings to appeal to visitors who want experiences?
SW: This is a work in progress. The Delaware Art Museum and the Brandywine River Museum of Art used technology to highlight two recent exhibitions. [At the Delaware Art Museum, visitors could wear virtual reality headgear to help them enter the scene of a Pre-Raphaelite painting. The paintings became three-dimensional displays. As visitors moved through a 3-D space, the objects around them became blurred; within seconds, fruit that is part of the painting moved from green to rotten. The Brandywine River Museum of Art introduced a new, immersive video exhibition that combines art and images of nature.]
Q: Websites are now primary sources of information for prospective visitors. How has yours changed?
SW: The website was my first major project to take us into the future. We hired a company focused solely on destination marketing organizations. Our members can update their information 24-7, add photos, coupons and events.
We’re using a new platform … called Adara that tracks what visitors are doing on your website. We’ve seen visitors go on to make hotel and airline bookings.
We will be working on our third redesign, with a goal of launching it in December 2018. With the new website, we can serve specific content to site visitors based on their web-surfing history and their location — whether they are a local or they’re from out of town.
Q: How important is social media to your marketing effort?
SW: #VISITWILM has allowed us to begin integrating user-generated content into our marketing efforts. Potential visitors want to see how others [who have used the hashtag on their social media posts] experience a location. They don’t want to see staged photos. We are starting a lunch-and-learn for our members to address social media changes. We take pride in staying on top of ever-changing marketing tools, and we share information with our 450-plus members, so they can do the same.