By LAURA CARRELL
Courier staff writer
---- — WATERLOO — Three southern Iowa organizations have been honored for what they're doing to bring more people into their communities.
At the 2013 Iowa Tourism Conference last week in Waterloo, 20 awards were given to recognize excellence in both metro and rural parts of the tourism industry. The Fairfield Convention and Visitors Bureau received an award for outstanding social media, the Villages of Van Buren were given the Outstanding Promotion Material award and The American Gothic House Center in Eldon received the Outstanding Tourism Experience award.
Fairfield Convention and Visitors Bureau
Fairfield's new app, designed by Appsolootly, a Fairfield-based mobile marketing company, gives visitors and residents alike the inside scoop on what's happening in the community. The bureau's executive director, Rustin Lippincott, says the organization has prided itself on being on the cutting edge, using technology for marketing and promoting the town's events.
"At the end of the day, it's an honor that our efforts are being recognized as industry-best practices," Lippincott said.
Released in May, the app was also useful during RAGBRAI's visit, helping riders find needed Fairfield information. Downloadable from both the iPhone and Android platforms, the app also includes an updated listing of local events with links for ticket purchases, making it a versatile and well-rounded resource in the community.
Appsolootly has done several apps for Fairfield and the surrounding community, including Parks and Recreation and local cafés and restaurants. Owner Dick DeAngelis says the tourism app has been popular with both visitors to the area and the residents who live there.
"It's been useful for local residents because we can direct them to the app for everything they need to know about what's happening," he explained. "It has lots of flexibility on a state-of-the-art platform. An app done right will help build a community."
In addition to the social media award, the bureau also received a grant from the Iowa Tourism Office to assist with the redesign and printing of the Fairfield Visitors Guide.
American Gothic House Center
For Holly Berg and the volunteers at the American Gothic House Center, the Outstanding Tourism Experience award isn't something they're actively seeking, it's just the recognition of what they do every day.
"An outstanding tourism experience is all about the things we do for visitors to have the best experience possible," Berg said. "We're happy to stay open late, take pictures in the cold or the rain, always have someone here to greet people. That's how it's always been. We want to be as hospitable as possible."
Being welcoming, being available and being free were just a few of the components Berg says caught the tourism conference's eye.
"For this award, they are talking about how, before the center was here, there was no voice for the American Gothic House," she said. "But now they're talking about how it's driven tourism to the area."
And in the end, it's the pleased visitors, whether they're from right here in the area or the other side of the world, that's the most important part.
"We've had such good feedback. People will send us pictures — we get Christmas cards they've done with their pictures," Berg said. "We're always improving, and that's hard but fun because we serve two different groups — visitors and local and regional residents. We're always looking for new events and activities to keep them coming back."
The American Gothic House Center was also awarded a professional development grant from the Iowa Tourism Office. This grant will provide funding for a social media intern from the social and digital communications department at Indian Hills Community College.
Villages of Van Buren
Villages of Van Buren received the award for "Outstanding Promotional Material" in the rural division. The brochure, Fantastic Road Trips of Southeast Iowa, encompassed several areas in southeast Iowa.
"This particular brochure was designed with a 'Hub and Spoke' theory, which simply means that I used Van Buren County as the 'hub' to encourage visitors to overnight in our county while suggesting day trips, or 'spokes,' throughout the region," said Stacey Reese, executive director for the Villages of Van Buren. "There was a lot of competition across the state, so this truly was an honor."
The annual Iowa Tourism Conference brings together more than 250 industry representatives from across the state to network, attend educational sessions and discuss emerging industry trends.
Tourism in Iowa generates more than $7.6 billion in expenditures, employs 64,400 people statewide and generates $841.3 million in state taxes. The Iowa Tourism Office is part of the Iowa Economic Development Authority.