Pulling Back the Curtain

Promoting tourism one URL at a time
Illustration by Paddy Mills

Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home.

Louisiana is known as a top travel destination, but that reputation doesn’t build itself. Hundreds of professionals are working behind the scenes to share the story of our culture and to entice visitors to see Louisiana for the first time or the fifth.

One such person is Cathy Alfonso, content director at Miles Partnership, who oversees website content for the Louisiana Office of Tourism (LOT). Miles Partnership, a firm with over 300 employees worldwide, has been the contracted destination marketing firm for LOT for over 10 years; Alfonso recently joined the company. I spoke with her about her role and what it takes to promote Louisiana tourism.

How did you become interested in tourism?
I got my start in the tourism industry in 2013 while still an undergrad at LSU. I was studying public relations at the time and landed a communications internship at New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau (NOCVB), now New Orleans & Company, where I interned for about a year. During my time at NOCVB, I placed pitches in national trade publications like Travel + Leisure and Meetings International and worked with a number of conventions and journalists coming to New Orleans. As an avid traveler myself, I instantly loved the tourism industry—both my parents are from Honduras, and I grew up spending my summers there and traveling. When I started working on the backend of the tourism industry to promote New Orleans, I was instantly hooked.

From my time at NOCVB, I was referred to Visit Baton Rouge (VRB) where I interned briefly. I was hired following graduation ats the destination content manager, where my job was to focus on the VBR web content and industry partner relationships. My time at both destination marketing organizations taught me so much about Louisiana tourism and the economic impact it makes on our state.

How does Miles Partnership support Louisiana Tourism?
Throughout our work with the Louisiana Office of Tourism (LOT), we’ve provided all six of our core services: strategic consulting, branding and creative, content creation and distribution, digital development and optimization, media planning and buying, and revenue generation and coop programs. Within my role, I focus predominantly on content creation/distribution and digital development and optimization. Our primary client in Louisiana is the Louisiana Office of Tourism, and through that contract we work with other offices that fall under the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism (DCRT) — for example, Louisiana State Parks, Louisiana State Museum and the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.

As the content director for our Louisiana team, it’s my role to work alongside LOT to create effective digital content strategy. I serve as the main point of contact for their web needs and assist in creating and executing a vision for Louisiana Travel web content. I work hand-in-hand with our content manager, who handles the Louisiana Travel social media channels.

After working to promote New Orleans and Baton Rouge, what are you most excited about in promoting Louisiana-wide tourism?
Louisiana is such an eclectic state. In one trip, you can go from dancing in the French Quarter to kayaking through the Atchafalaya Basin or attending an LSU game and then exploring one of our 21 state parks. There’s certainly no shortage of content ideas in Louisiana, and I’m thrilled I get to play a role in telling that story.

What do you see as the biggest challenge in translating the Louisiana experience to web content?
I think the challenge with crafting any content is making it compelling to your audience. I think if you’ve traveled to Louisiana once, you instantly get it — the culture is immersive and one of a kind. In Louisiana, there are so many activities to tantalize even the pickiest of travelers. I think a big part of creating effective content is understanding the data behind it. By relying on web analytics and assessing user interest, it points me in the direction of what a traveler is looking for and allows me to tell the story they’re looking for.

Why is creating fresh website content important? How frequently does new content get added to the main website and its subsidiary sites?
Our team is in daily communication with the LOT team regarding digital content projects. We have user-generated content that feeds into the site, and we can change content as frequently as daily to seasonally—it really just depends on what is going on within the state. We see about 10 million web visitors a year, with roughly 600,000 followers on Louisiana social media followers.

What is a Louisiana hidden gem you have discovered?
The End of the World in Delacroix, St. Bernard. It’s the fishing community my husband grew up in. Atop the backdrop of shrimp boats and crab traps, there’s literally a sign that reads: “End of the World.” It’s pretty amazing. Some mornings I wake up and look at my to-do list and I just feel really lucky that this is my job. I love Louisiana, I love travel and I love storytelling. What more could I ask for in a career?