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Outlook 2013: New tech trends to help raise tourism

Rachelle Beasley, manager of the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau, plans to increase area tourism by utilizing high-tech Internet "applications, which can be downloaded to smartphones and similar devices. Also in the works are plans for greater use of the Flint River, including canoeing and kayaking trips. (Outlook 2013)

Rachelle Beasley, manager of the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau, plans to increase area tourism by utilizing high-tech Internet "applications, which can be downloaded to smartphones and similar devices. Also in the works are plans for greater use of the Flint River, including canoeing and kayaking trips. (Outlook 2013)

ALBANY, Ga. — You’d have to search a bit to find a stronger hometown advocate than Rachelle Beasley. Listen to her talk for a while, and you might wonder if she thinks of anything else.

As manager of the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau, it’s Beasley’s job to make the city irresistible and she’s always on the lookout for ways to do it better. In 2013, she and her staff are taking full advantage of mobile Internet applications, or apps, to make it even easier to love the Good Life City.

“Apps are the wave of the future,” Beasley said. “There’s an app for everything and by using them you can get updated information, like on a website, but you don’t have to go through all the search engines and all of that.”

According to Beasley, when a potential visitor downloads an app on his or her smartphone or similar device, a wealth of local information becomes available, including restaurants, shopping opportunities, lodging and area attractions. For even more assistance, a Google map springs up, giving step-by-step directions to anywhere the visitor wants to go.

“If you’re looking for lodging, you can see it on the map,” Beasley said. “Then you can book the room with your smartphone, Android or iPad.”

One of the most promising in-progress local promotions is the Paula Deen Hometown Tour, Beasley said. The local girl gone-cooking-icon has cooperated fully, even lending her voice to the application introduction.

“Hey, y’all, it’s me,” says Deen, who goes on to list the major elements of the driving tour, including the church where she was married and the high school she attended. Easy step-by-step instructions are given to the 12 Paula Deen locations. The voice is Deen’s, but Beasley wrote the script.

“Her staff had to clear it with her style,” Beasley said, “but of course, with me being Southern, it didn’t take much.”

Beasley said the Deen project began in December and is expected to be ready by the end of March.

Another mobile application tour expected to be popular is the Sherwood Movie Tour, an Internet-directed guide to local spots seen nationally in movies like “Courageous,” “Flywheel,” “Fireproof” and “Facing the Giants.” According to Beasley, Sherwood Baptist is helping with location information.

Also in the works is the upcoming African-American Heritage Tour, designed to attract family reunion traffic from around the country, Beasley said. Jenny Collins, CVB marketing manager, is working with tour specialists Laurie Rowe Communications and local African-American leadership to form the tour.

“Family reunions are really huge in Albany, especially in the summertime,” Beasley said. “We’ll be arranging for motor coaches and making it really easy.”

And don’t forget the Flint River. For the longest time, Beasley said she has yearned to get more mileage from the city’s greatest natural asset. Working with Downtown Manager Aaron Blair, the CVB is trying hard to put people and river together.

“In the past we haven’t promoted the river a whole lot,” Beasley said. “But canoe and kayak launches will give people the opportunity to come downtown, canoe downtown, take in the attractions, eat downtown. Lots of people take overnight trips, and the Hilton (Garden Inn) is just right here. Merry Acres offers shuttles, too.”

According to Beasley, river launches are planned behind Ray Charles Plaza and underneath the train trestle.

“Most of the canoe and kayak people have their own stuff, and that’s the people we’re trying to attract right now,” Beasley said. “Then people like Aaron Blair or the EDC would be able to lure an outfitter downtown.”

Speaking of area attractions, Chehaw Park is pouring on the steam this year with a variety of time-tested and brand new promotions designed to bring more people to the zoo and its grounds.

In February, Chehaw conducts Sip & Safari, a festive dinner celebration and exploration of the park’s new African Veldt. That’s followed by the brand-new Lou Thompson Memorial Trail Ride in March.

“We have tons of stuff in April,” said Tonya Hart, marketing and development manager for Chehaw. “It starts with the Annual Catfish Rodeo when our catfish pond reopens so everybody can come out and fish.”

Also in April will be a Chehaw staple: the Native American Cultural Festival, as well as the Cheetah Chase Run, a mountain bike trail race, Party for the Planet, where people have cake and park animals enjoy special treats.

Later in the year comes the Lineman’s Rodeo, the Fat 4 Bike Race (it’s not what you think), Through the Zoo 5K Run, the Lost Woods (haunted trail), Walk on the Wild Side, and Festival of Lights.

“We’ve always been the area’s best-kept secret and that’s all right,” Hart said. “But now we’re not a secret anymore.”

Albany’s other major animal institution, home to the kind that swim, has experienced financial challenges since it’s inception. In an effort to turn things around, the Flint RiverQuarium announced in January the elimination of the CEO position, held by Sanders Lewallen. Board Chairwoman Emily Jean McAfee now serves as volunteer CEO.

According to Marketing Manager Wendy Bellacomo, promotions for the RiverQuarium are expected to continue in essentially the same vein as before with the popular Turtle Race event leading off in March. Through the warmer months, several canoe trips are planned as well.

Wild Affair, which includes a wild game dinner, auction and entertainment, is planned for April, as well as the brand new Rainbow River Run, a 5K race with a colorful twist. Spectators are encouraged to pelt the runners with packets of powdered pigment, hence the name of this event.