Integrated Marketing Communications:
INCREASING CANAL QUARTERS AWARENESS AND BOOKINGS (2014-present)
For years, the Canal Quarters program was one of the area's best-kept secrets. My goal has been to change that! Through an integrated marketing campaign, I have consistently grown awareness of the program, which has translated into increased bookings and revenue. The Canal Quarters are seven historic lockhouses that have been rehabilitated into overnight lodging for guests. Each tells a different story of a period in the canal's history, are furnished with authentic pieces, and sleep eight people who can"step back in time" to live as the lock keepers did.
There is no other program like Canal Quarters in the the country, which makes it attractive to the press. I have set up journalists from a variety of local, regional, and niche publications with visits or overnight stays in the lockhouses, and I also work closely with the tourism organizations in Montgomery, Frederick, and Washington Counties, who include the lockhouses in their own fam tours and press trips. The Maryland Office of Tourism is also a big fan of the program. I have achieved 33 major features in media publications on the Canal Quarters program over seven years, which have significantly helped to raise awareness and drive bookings. A list of media placements is included below.
Until two years ago, I only had $1,200 a year to market the Canal Quarters program, so I relied heavily on media placement and promotion to our own constituency through print/email newsletters, direct mail to past guests, and social media. Signage in the park and word of mouth also perform well for us, as over 80% of traffic to the Canal Quarters site this past year was either from organic search or direct traffic. We have in place strategies to encourage word-of-mouth marketing, including training Park Rangers and volunteers, targeting audiences who thru-hike or thru-bike the entire towpath, redoing the post-stay email, and promoting social media hashtags and journal entries. Two grants enabled us to create videos for Lockhouses 6 and 22, which have experienced high engagement on social media.
In order to continue increasing the occupancy of the lockhouses, I advocated for and received a $9,000 annual budget for Canal Quarters marketing, which I am devoting to print and digital advertising campaigns. I will track the results of these investments closely to determine whether they are worth repeating in future years. We also experience success with email and social media campaigns and have seen a bump in traffic with the addition of AdWords in the past 6 months. We host open houses once or twice a year to raise awareness within the local community about Canal Quarters, which can provide a unique staycation experience. Our seventh lockhouse, "Swains,"opened to great fanfare in June 2019, with coverage from WTOP, WAMU, Preservation Magazine, and several other smaller outlets. We gave tours of the new lockhouse to over 500 people during the two-day grand opening.
During the pandemic in 2020, the Canal Quarters program was closed for several months, but upon opening, saw tremendous growth in bookings. Because the Trust committed to cleaning each lockhouse between guests, I was able to market the lockhouses as a safe, socially-distant vacation option. Bookings are now nearly double our pre-pandemic rates.
Over seven years, I have been successful in raising awareness of this award-winning program, increasing bookings, and attracting 15,500 guests for lockhouse stays, which also serves many as their first exposure to the work the C&O Canal Trust does in the C&O Canal National Historical Park. These guests are then incorporated into the Trust's larger awareness campaign, where they receive our email and print newsletters and begin to move up the ladder of engagement to become repeat Canal Quarters guests, volunteers, and/or donors.
In bookings since pandemic
Over 7 years
National Parks Magazine, Spring 2021
The New York Times (mention), February 2021
Fox 5 DC, January 2021
State College Magazine, January 2021
Maryland Road Trips, November 2020
Country Homes, March 2020
Macaroni Kid, January 2019
Lonely Planet, December 2018
The Culture Trip, September 2018
Susquehanna Life Magazine, September 2018
WTOP, June 2018
Chesapeake Bay Journal, April 2018
Early American Life Magazine, June 2017
Frederick News-Post, April 2016
AASLH Blog, January 2016
Montgomery Magazine, December/January 2016
Family Fun Magazine, October 2015
Eastern Home and Travel, September/October 2015
Frederick Magazine, July 2015
Hagerstown Magazine, July 2015
NBC Washington, April 2015
ALHFAM Bulletin, Spring 2015
Architectural Digest, December 2014
The Baltimore Sun, April 2014
Funded by the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Grant Fund, featuring the Stacy and Wheat families as volunteer actors.