BY RICH JONES
ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR
The Greene County Partnership has launched its vastly upgraded tourism website, heightening the community's profile in the increasingly competitive online environment.
A soft opening of http://www.visitGreenevilleTN.com occurred last Friday. The website is now live.
"It's really going to aid us," said Tammy Kinser, tourism director of the Partnership. "The new website will be constantly updated. It really is one of our most important marketing tools."
visitGreenevilleTN.com -- dedicated to tourism -- joins the recently redesigned growingreene.com, which is dedicated to economic development and as a tool for business and industry site selectors.
Still to come is a redesigned and more-user-friendly Greenecountypartnership.com, the Partnership's website devoted to the chamber of commerce-type aspects of the organization.
"Having good websites is an expected standard today," said Tom Ferguson, president and CEO of the Greene County Partnership.
"If communities don't have a good, professional website, they're often times not viewed as being a professional organization," Ferguson said. "We certainly have that now," he said shortly after the website launch.
The new tourism website has been in the works since summer 2011.
"We wanted to design a website that feels like Greeneville so people can get a sense of what the town is like and what it has to offer," said Mike Dupre, creative director at Rick Whittington Consulting, based in Richmond, Va.
The site includes improved content and is organized into topics such as "What To Do," "Events," "Accommodations," "Conferences and Meetings," and "Retire" so the visitor can easily access information.
That's been the goal, Ferguson said, since he pulled together 13 key leaders of the community about two years ago.
Ferguson recalled telling the assembled group that the Partnership did not have the financial resources to compete with more compelling websites to attract prospective industry and tourists.
"Basically, I gave them an outline of what we needed," Ferguson said.
His proposal involved raising $100,000, with $50,000 going toward the development of three distinct websites devoted specifically to the key areas of: economic development, tourism and chamber of commerce.
The other $50,000, Ferguson told the group, would go toward initiatives he said were necessary, including membership in the Tennessee Economic Partnership, a private sector organization devoted to promoting the state for economic purposes.
"I spoke to the group, made my presentation," Ferguson recalled. "When I came back [into the room] 15 minutes later, we had the $100,000."
The launch of the new tourism website brings Ferguson's plan one step closer to being fully implemented.
The economic development and tourism websites are now up and running, with the third one -- for Partnership members, events, and more -- in the works.
In addition, Ferguson now serves on the board of directors for the Tennessee Economic Partnership, helping to organize trips for Gov. Bill Haslam to promote business and industry in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
That connection owes much to the seed money provided by the private individuals, Ferguson said.
He also noted that about $30,000 of the $100,000 raised from private individuals remains unspent.
"I truly believe that if the Greene County Partnership works hard, and the people in the community see you're working hard, we will never have any needs and wants for money," Ferguson said.
ABOUT TOURISM WEBSITE
Kinser earlier this week summed up what the new website seeks to achieve:
"The new design and structure of the site evokes a sense of place, creates connectivity between all the information on the site and makes Greeneville/Greene County tourism more vivid to people.
"The new site takes its place as an evocative, persuasive and compelling tool within our tourism marketing campaign," she said.
VisitGreenevilleTN.com includes improved content and is organized into topics such as "What To Do," "Events," "Accommodations," "Conferences and Meetings," and "Retire" so the visitor can easily access the information they're seeking.
"The new website is vibrant, easy to navigate, and has the in-depth area information that will draw new tourists to the county to visit the historic home and burial place of the 17th President of the United States, Andrew Johnson, as well as many other wonderful resources found in Greene County," said Lizzie Watts, superintendent of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in a news release from the Partnership.
In addition to improved content, the new site offers mapping integration that did not exist on the previous site, according to the Partnership.
For example, each lodging facility now has an interactive Google map associated with its listing so visitors can easily find the location the most convenient facility for their needs.
Site maps of local sporting venues have also been added to the website to assist in the marketing efforts of the Tourism Department and its Sports Council to attract national and regional tournaments and sporting events.
"These maps will be an invaluable tool for recruitment," Kinser said.
"Tournament site selectors need detailed information on locations, field sizes, practice facilities and layouts before they will seriously consider us, and now we are providing that with a click of the mouse," Kinser said.
The website was designed and developed by Rick Whittington Consulting, a website design, development and marketing strategy firm located in Richmond, Va.
Whittington Consulting also designed the new Economic Development website, which won the Southern Economic Development Communications Award of Superior in August 2012.
"We are pleased to work with the Greene County Partnership on both its economic development and tourism marketing efforts.
"This new website provides a platform for the Partnership to market Greeneville as a top-notch place for work and play," Whittington said.