The city of Boston wants to expand a multicultural advertising campaign aimed at reversing the economic damage the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted on spending on tourism, hotels and restaurants.
The four-month pilot version of the campaign – launched in April – had two parts: “All-inclusive Boston,” a tourism advertising effort designed to attract diverse and multilingual local and regional visitors, and “B-Local,” a small Business engagement app that encourages visitors and residents to shop locally.
On Monday, the city released a new request for contractors to bid on a second round of the project which will run through December.
The city says All-Inclusive Boston generated 1.2 million social media impressions and 500,000 views for the launch video that encourages people to visit neighborhoods generally overlooked by tourists, as well as traditional places like the Freedom Trail. Part of the goal was to “foster a welcoming environment for diverse travelers, especially people of color from other parts of the United States,” according to the original RFP last fall.
The 83-second video pays homage to classic places like Fenway Park and Mike’s Pastry, but also features beloved joints like Jamaica Plain’s El Oriental de Cuba, Tawakal Halal Cafe, a Somali restaurant in East Boston, and 50Kitchen, a Asian owned by black people. and the South Fusion Spot in Dorchester.
The initial $ 2.5 million pilot project was proposed by the administration of then-mayor Marty Walsh and was supported by former economic development chief John Barros, who is now running for mayor . The city plans to spend at least $ 1 million on the second round of the marketing effort.
Three entities – Colette Phillips Communications, Proverb and the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau – won the initial contract and jointly developed a brand campaign to redirect travelers to tourism and hospitality, which is the third largest segment of the economy of Massachusetts.
The city says arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services account for 10.4% of jobs in Boston, sectors that were affected when the coronavirus stopped travel.
The B-Local app rewards users when they shop at participating businesses, many of which are run by black and brown owners, with points redeemable for discounts at 350 local businesses. The city reimburses business owners for the cost of rewards redeemed by users. Over 2,600 local businesses are participating in the program and over 7,300 users have downloaded the app.
Federal COVID relief funds have supported the pilot version of the program and will partially fund the second round with money from the city’s operating budget for fiscal year 22.
Barros said Boston is not used to doing branding and marketing campaigns for travelers and residents. “New York is doing it. Baltimore, other cities our size have campaigns like this going on all the time, $ 25 million, $ 30 million, $ 40 million, ”he said.
The branding campaign, which was regional, aimed to reach people who drive, take public transport or go from neighborhood to neighborhood, according to Barros.
For the All-Inclusive campaign, the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau said it and other agencies spent $ 750,000 on advertising within a three-hour drive of Boston, including billboards on heavily trafficked roads like the Mass Pike.
Colette Phillips, president of the public relations company that bears her name, said local media buys went to hyperlocal publications like the Dorchester Reporter, Bay State Banner and South End News / Bay Windows with the intention to support hard-hit small media. stores while urging locals to go out and shop.
Approximately $ 90,000 worth of advertisements were also distributed to Chinese and Spanish language media such as El Mundo, Univision and Sampan News.
The content creation process has been a diverse endeavor, Phillips said. She and Proverb CEO Daren Bascome are black; a Roxbury-based web development company worked on the site; a Chilean-American videographer produced the video posted on the site; the photograph was taken by an African-American photographer; The digital media awareness was carried out by a women’s group called Black Girl Digital, she said.
Martha Sheridan, CEO of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, said part of the project is figuring out what people think about when they plan to visit Boston. The office surveyed 1,000 visitors and residents before launching the campaign.
“The perception of Boston among residents and some visitors to Boston is predominantly white, rather masculine. Boston which was very focused on the sport and what the mass media portray to us, ”said Sheridan. “So think of Ben Affleck or (no denigration there at all), or a Matt Damon movie or maybe a Dunkies commercial, that kind of feeling people had. People didn’t know that well. Boston’s multicultural assets But when we told them through research what they could be, they were very interested in finding out more.
The initial goal of the project was to reach out to people who have visited Boston in the past 13 months – such as former suburban commuters who might work from home – and attract them again, with a particular focus on people interested in going to museums, historic destinations, hotels and restaurants.
The pilot project is now cash-strapped and ad purchases are on hiatus, but the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau continues to update and host the project’s web page.
The city is now continuing a second cycle of the project, believing that the increase in the number of COVID cases this summer has limited the impact of the first cycle.
Sheridan said when the campaign was conceived last fall: “People weren’t 100% comfortable traveling, so we were hoping that by the time we launched the campaign we would have been further away. of the pandemic. Late spring and early summer, however, brought new concerns about the delta variant.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t work for us, but the funds had to be spent within a certain timeframe,” she said.
The second round aims to expand the projects, while continuing to highlight “the cultural and commercial assets in areas of Boston that have long been marginalized.”
Philips said the campaign needed more time to reach more people. “If we’re really going to change the perception people have of this city and really show Boston in all its diversity, it takes a longer period of time than just four months,” she said.
Barros said it is essential to follow the progress of the campaigns.
“The hotel occupancy rate at one point had fallen below 10%. More recently, it was 33 percent. And we had to make sure that the trend was in the right direction, ”he said, adding that he believed a second round of funding would.
The city also wants to encourage more people to download the B-Local app.
Philips also said private organizations have expressed interest in the campaign.
“We’ve actually had companies like Wayfair and others who really want to use this campaign as part of their outreach to encourage more diverse talent to come to Boston by showing Boston truly as an all-inclusive,” he said. she declared.
Philips said they heard from the owners of Blue Nile, an Ethiopian restaurant on the Jamaican plain; Urban Grape, a South End wine store, a black-owned business; and Daryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen where more and more tourists come to eat and buy products.
She would like to know who changes their travel plans or creates them, depending on the campaigns. “I would say we’re going to go back and do some more research and focus groups to see how people reacted to this,” Philips said.