Visit Indy relaunched its digital and social media advertising on Monday, in hopes of enticing leisure travelers from around the state to visit Indianapolis as local attractions begin to reopen.
The tourism group’s new “You Have Earned It” campaign focuses on Indiana residents—specifically families—and relies heavily on Facebook and Google advertising platforms.
Visit Indy is spending about $50,000 on the advertising campaign—the first buy since stopping 90% of its paid advertising March 16 as local tourism magnets began temporary shutdowns because of the pandemic.
Sudden stoppages in travel and tourism activity sent hotel occupancy rates plummeting and cost local businesses hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue with the cancellation of more than 225 events.
“We want to try to claw back some market share and fill up the hotels and restaurants and museums again now that they’ll be open and able to have visitors,” said Chris Gahl, vice president of Visit Indy. “And we want to do that in a meaningful, timely way.”
Marion County is expected to enter Phase 5 of the state’s Back on Track reopening plan in early to mid July (the rest of the state will hit that mark on July 4).
Several entities, including the Indianapolis Zoo, Newfields and The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis have announced their plans to begin welcoming visitors back throughout the summer, often starting with members.
The campaign, which is expected to last a few weeks, will focus on Facebook and digital display advertising on websites, as well as Google AdWords, a key traffic driver for the Visit Indy website and its partners.
Gahl said other cities in the state are the primary targets for the ads, including Bloomington, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Lafayette and South Bend.
As part of the campaign, Visit Indy partnered with more than 25 hotels that are offering up to 50% off their nightly rates for Indiana residents from July 3 to Sept. 7. The partnership includes several downtown hotels—The Conrad, Hyatt Regency, Hampton Inn, Courtyard by Marriott, Westin and Omni Severin among them.
Income and demand for hotel rooms has slowly ticked back up in recent weeks after bottoming out in early April, when the average room rates fell from $116 per night to $67. Rates for rooms in mid-July range from $70 to $145 at properties with available rooms.
The move to resume advertising is a significant one for Visit Indy, which has seen its own budget strained significantly by the virus.
At the start of 2020, Visit Indy had a dedicated digital advertising budget of $1.25 million, including $1 million for major cities within driving distance. It spent $120,000 in the first two-and-a-half months of the year on advertising to meeting planners and leisure travelers in major cities within driving distance.
The ad budget was among the many areas slashed as it sought to withstand financial challenges created by COVID-19.
The new budget allots $700,000 for targeting leisure consumers (such as those targeted in the new campaign) and another $200,000 aimed at meeting planners.
Gahl said the campaign’s success will be dictated by how many hotel rooms are booked over the next several weeks.
He cited a survey conducted through The Indianapolis Star website in May and June that found 49% of nearly 8,000 Indiana residents said they plan to travel this summer.
“We’ve taken more than six weeks to study the market, think about the market and put together this campaign,” he said. “We’ll look day-by-day, week-by-week to see how it’s performing—how many hotel room nights it’s driving and how many additional incremental visitors it brings to the city. If it’s fruitful, we’ll keep going.”