Round Rock CVB Sports Capital of Texas breakfast with local bloggers; at left is Director Nancy Yawn (photo by Sheila Scarborough)When your organization is called a “Convention and Visitor’s Bureau” or “Tourist Board,” it’s hard to see why you should reach out to locals as part of your destination marketing strategy.

What’s the point, right?

They don’t stay in hotels, they don’t “count” in the statistics of people coming in to visit your town (a measure of how well you’re doing) so why bother?

Here is why – because in today’s more connected world, it is critical to realize that your locals have online networks with worldwide reach.  You never know who they know on Facebook, Twitter or through their blog.

Locals don’t stay in hotels, but their visiting friends and relatives do.  Locals recommend your restaurants, shops, museums, parks and music venues to visitors. They talk up the wonders of your town and region….or, well, they badmouth them.

Why does the Austin, Texas CVB have a relatively easy job of selling their city? Partly because tech-connected and very vocal locals NEVER shut up about how great it is there! From the online silence of some of the other cities, you’d think there was no other worthy town in Texas. There’s even a Twitter hashtag appended to tweets about great things in and around the Live Music Capital of the World – #WhyAustin.

The Ripple Effect of spreading buzz and excitement about your town starts with the people who live right down the street.

I had a CVB ask me recently how to start connecting with bloggers. I told them to go to Google Blog Search and type in “YourCity blog” and see what pops up for blogs about/written by locals in that town.  When I did it, I found some really trenchant, well-written blogs by locals. No, they aren’t travel or parenting blogs (the current flavor-of-the-month that many PR people are looking for) but I found posts that indicated the authors really care deeply about that town.  The CVB should know those guys.

You connect with your local newspapers, TV and radio stations:  add to that mix your Web-based content publishers (yes, whether they themselves realize it or not, they are writers and publishers, too.)  Look on Twitter for people who list their location as your city. Find them on Facebook. Ask around.

Then, have them into the CVB and get to know them.  Tell them what you do, what you want visitors to know and how they can help by becoming your online champions.

Two examples:

1)   My own Round Rock (Texas) CVB had some local bloggers and social media-savvy people in for a casual weekday breakfast taco gathering recently and a chat about their “Sports Capital of Texas” branding efforts.  They also demo’d the CVB Twitter stream, Facebook Page and YouTube channel and asked for feedback and suggestions.

I attended this gathering (yes, I knew all the geeks there since I’m one of them, and many attend Jelly Coworking Round Rock with me) and it was a lot of fun. Think of it as a free focus group for market research, if “fun” doesn’t interest you.

We even started our own hashtag:  #WhyRoundRock

2)   The Beaumont (Texas) CVB has locals in on a regular basis to talk about what the CVB does, how they can help and make sure they see the town through a visitor’s eyes.

They include a whirlwind tour of some major regional attractions, many of which the locals themselves have never gotten around to visiting (I love Becky McCray’s post about this phenomenon – Never Been There.)

Here’s a video telling you more about Beaumont’s tour for locals….direct link to it in case the embed box isn’t working….

Think about how you could do something like this in YOUR town.