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Jacksonville embraces digital marketing

Jacksonville business boosters are going digital.

The town’s Visitor Information Center will reduce its hours in response to a nearly 40 percent drop in people served over the past six years, and the Chamber of Commerce will put its focus on marketing through electronic media.

Outdoing chamber President Tim Balfour explained the change to the City Council Tuesday. The council approved the reduced hours called for in a contract between the city and the chamber, which oversees the center. The city supplied $33,329 from the transient room tax to run the center in 2014.

“It’s past time to make changes in the center to address the changes in the travel and tourism industry,” said Balfour.

Nearly 60 percent of lodging reservations nationwide are now made from mobile devices, Balfour told the council. Most people are using Internet searches and online resources to obtain destination information.

The chamber board has approved the creation of a half-time executive director post with 75 percent of the time allocated to marketing and 25 percent to center oversight. Emphasis of the new position will be to push out information through the chamber’s website, social media and other travel websites, Balfour said.

The center manager and chamber assistant position, held by Sandy Torrey for 13 years, was eliminated earlier this month. A part-time staff of three will serve visitors at the center in person, on the phone and electronically.

A center is still needed for people who don’t use electronic information devices and to provide a personal touch, Balfour said.

The center will remain closed on Sundays. Other days it will be open for five hours rather than seven, but Saturdays from November through April it will be open for three hours. Councilors gave the chamber flexibility to set hours.

“Sundays are dead at visitor centers. Visitors come in early to get information,” said Balfour. Sunday has been the center’s lowest use day, he added. Last year the center had 7,230 walk-in visitors and fielded 3,500 phone inquiries.

One suggestion was to use volunteers to help man the center. Balfour noted that is done in Medford, which has a much larger population from which to draw.

“I’m not really fully ready to embrace the volunteer model,” said Balfour.

Councilor David Jesser urged the flexibility in scheduling, saying there should be no constraints and that the center is a work in progress.

“I’m convinced the direction the chamber is going is something the business community has been waiting for and a wonderful opportunity for the city of Jacksonville,” said Jesser, who is on the board of the Jacksonville Oregon Business Association. He wants that group to be a financial resource for the chamber.

Jesser said he foresees a relationship developing between the chamber and JOBA that might be similar to the one between the city and the Jacksonville Urban Renewal Agency.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com