Vicksburg Tourism: Tweet the Twitter, ogle the GPS

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 12, 2010

Believe it or not, the Internet is old school.

While Vicksburg attractions are likely to continue to use Web sites for “passive” advertising and event listings, for booking hotel and bed and breakfast rooms and selling tickets, there are more interactive media.

The Vicksburg National Military Park, for example, has an “iPhone app.”

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Park Chief of Operations Rick Martin said technology is the way to help bring in young people and, given the National Park Service emphasis on helping the next generation learn to love and appreciate America’s treasured places, they’ll keep on keeping up.

The first recorded narrations for people touring the Civil War battlefield were eight-track tapes. They gave way to cassettes, which gave way to CDs. Now there are DVDs and links to the Global Positioning Satellite system that determine where a visitor is in the park and delivers the appropriate words and images.

That’s how the iPhone application works. A person with one of the proprietary cell phones can use the application to tap into the GPS and hear stories and see photos related to wherever he or she is in  the park at that moment.

Martin said he fears technology can take away “people contact,” which he said will always be important.

But technology also can increase “people contact,” said Bess Averett, public relations director for Ameristar’s casino and hotel operations in Vicksburg.

“As a company, we look for every opportunity to communicate with the public and our guests.  We are actively monitoring and using the newer forms of social media,” she said. That includes Internet services such as Twitter, which allows users to instantly send short written messages to others, called followers who sign up.

“Each of our properties has a Twitter account and we tweet daily to update our followers on everything from restaurant specials and slot tournaments to charitable donations in the community,” Averett said. “For us, social media is a way to be involved in a conversation with the public versus traditionally putting a message out and waiting or hoping for feedback.”

Businesses, including tourist attractions, can get customers’ e-mail addresses and send out marketing messages whenever they want, unless customers “unsubscribe.”

Yet another technique is to use special programs to monitor the Internet and send “alerts” to a marketing director whenever the name of a business is mentioned on a public site or “blog.”

“We aggressively monitor all social media and respond quickly to comments.” Averett said.

“We also use a Web-based comment system where our guests can make a request or comment and receive a personal answer from that property almost immediately. 

“Social media by no means replaces our traditional forms of communication such as print advertising, billboards, direct mail and press releases, but it does enable us to reach out to the public in another format,” Averett said. “It enables us to establish a more personal, individual connection with our guests.”

That leads to repeat customers and good word-of-mouth advertising, which Mickey Fedell, Rainbow Casino’s marketing director, said is essential.

Vicksburg is not going to become Atlantic City or Las Vegas. In the years since the first casino opened in 1994, the market has defined itself and settled out.

“The size of our properties does act as a hindrance, but we try to reach out to other markets such as Louisiana or Texas,” Fedell said. 

Fedell believes another strategy might involve collaborating with the other casinos in town to market themselves more broadly.

“If we could all get together and speak from a unified voice, then we can reach out to other markets in higher populations,” he said. “Making one big package together that sends the message of why you should game in Vicksburg, I think that would help a lot.”

Andrew Mullen Scott and Aline Carambat are students at the University of Mississippi.