Local matching funds for a state grant to promote tourism in the Blue Ridge Mountains region around Roanoke will help provide almost $161,000 for an enhanced Internet presence aimed primarily at mobile devices.
A $50,000 "marketing leverage program" grant from the Virginia Tourism Corp. was announced earlier this month.
Monday, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling presented a ceremonial check to the Roanoke Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau and announced that the local governments that support the bureau have come up with almost $111,000 in matching funds.
"I can't think of any program more worthy of a grant" than the Blue Ridge Mountains regional promotion, Bolling said at a gathering of local government and tourism officials at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke.
"The Blue Ridge Mountains," he said, "are truly one of Virginia's best-known tourist attractions."
The convention and visitors bureau represents Roanoke, Roanoke County, Salem, Botetourt County and Franklin County.
In an interview after the meeting, Landon Howard, the bureau's executive director, said his agency already has purchased a new software program called Simpleview that will allow hospitality and tourism businesses to upload new information directly into the system.
That can provide almost instantaneous targeted marketing directly to arriving convention goers, for instance.
Later in the fiscal year, the agency plans to expand its online booking system from the hotels available now to allow ticketing for travel destinations and events, as well as restaurant reservations. It also plans to enhance its search engine presence.
"We will be able to attract people off the interstate, have them pull us up on their mobile devices, with a GPS built in, and know how far they are not only from the Roanoke Valley, but from that Italian restaurant or a hotel," Howard said.
The goals are increased visitors, longer stays and more tourist spending.
Bart Wilner, president of the bureau's board of directors, said tourism provides about 7,000 jobs in the Roanoke Valley and generates $600 million a year in tourist spending.
Statewide, Bolling said, tourism supports 200,000 jobs, brings in $17.7 billion in spending and adds $1.24 billion to local and state tax coffers.