Friday, Nov 27–Host Our Coast Campaign Upgrades Planned For 2nd Year

SNOW HILL – Aspiring travel journalists can sign up as candidates for the second year of Host Our Coast, a tourism initiative using a dedicated blogger to showcase Worcester County and nearby attractions, beginning in February

The tourism initiative, which recently won the state “Visit Maryland” award, will return with a few changes, although the basic concept will remain the same, with the host traveling around Worcester County and areas nearby, then blogging about attractions, activities and other tourist worthy items.

One planned major change is the time period, which will cover the entire summer by beginning at the end of May.

“We’d love to have our host working Memorial Day through Labor Day, the full summer,” said Jim Rapp, director of Delmarva Low Impact Tourism Experience (DLITE).

The 2010 initiative will also include more interactivity. “We do love to get ideas from local people and folks who visit and hear what kind of stories would you like to see,” Rapp said.

While previous hosts Paul Cox and Melanie McLean did a great job using online networking tools like Facebook and Twitter, Rapp said he would like to elevate the interactive nature of those connections even more.

Plans call for a dedicated portal on the Host Our Coast website (hostourcoast.com) allowing viewers to submit story ideas.

There were a lot of stories program organizers wanted to see which just could not be fit into the schedule in summer 2009, such as a day out with one of the commercial fishermen operating from the West Ocean City harbor.

Rapp said he would like to see segments on the local people who make the local tourism industry work, like the people who clean the beaches every day or the people who work at Thrasher’s French fries.

“These are the people that make you want to come down there,” said Rapp.

Organizers are also considering offering the 2010 host an equipment stipend to purchase what would enhance the experience.

Rapp said organizers do not want any kind of camera crew, just handheld equipment that can capture an authentic experience.

The host will receive free housing and $15,000.

Host Our Coast will debut an improved website in the first half of December. The official hosting contest will begin Feb. 1. Voting will begin this winter on the website to choose the 2010 hosts.

The most important requirement for applicants is a 60-second video stating why he or she wants to he next host. The contest also requires a sample blog post about a travel experience, whether to the local diner or to Mt. Everest.

“It can be whatever you want it to be,” Rapp said.

The application materials can be viewed by everyone who visits the site, who then can vote.

This year, however, judges might take a different approach, with an initial round of judging followed by a semi-final round. Some or all of the semi-final group would then be interviewed by the judges.

The vote will only be one element of the 2010 host selection process. Judges will take the vote into consideration, but will make the decision based on their own judgment of all the factors. The final decision will be made in late May.

Hosts both follow their own journalistic instincts in creating stories and cover topics assigned by DLITE. Last year, roughly 75 percent of Cox and McLean’s stories were assigned, with 25 percent coming from the hosts. According to Rapp, the hosts were never told how to cover a topic.

“We let them find their own story. Everything was fair game,” Rapp said.

Stories focused on local topics of interest, from businesses to natural resources, and only covered things unique to the area.

Rapp attributed the original idea to Worcester County Tourism Director Lisa Challenger, who was inspired last winter by an Australian tourism campaign.

Challenger said she and other supporters threw the 2009 effort together in less than a month.

The 2009 Host Our Coast contest attracted 74 applicants. Website visitors voted for their choice of hosts, and McLean and Cox won the slot.

“They were covering things that are authentically real and good in Worcester County and southern Delaware: the parks, the food, museums, people,” said Rapp.

The Host Our Coast initiative is probably the most effective use of new media for tourism promotion he has seen, Rapp said.

The 2008 campaign used video blogging, Facebook posting and Twitter messages to promote Delmarva Tourism, which allowed hosts to communicate with visitors and potential visitors every day.

Approximately 3,000 people followed the team’s efforts every day, according to Challenger, with the Host Our Coast website enjoying “tens of thousands of hits” over the summer months.

The project even inspired busy commenting back and forth on Facebook and Twitter, Challenger said. She estimates that the campaign caused $50,000 worth of magazine coverage, on a budget of $37,000.

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