It’s a brave new world for tourism marketing, and the days of frequenting visitor centers to learn more about an area are on the wane. It’s all about online tour guides and apps now, according to Visit Oak Park’s new president and chief executive officer, Eric Wagner.

That’s why Wagner, who was brought on at Visit Oak Park in June, is closing the Oak Park Visitor Center, 1010 Lake St., at the end of the year and plans to redirect the center’s $150,000 annual subsidy toward digital marketing.

“I came in and looked at the budget and realized we just need to reallocate those dollars into marketing and advertising,” said Wagner, who previously served as assistant deputy director at the Illinois Office of Tourism.

Tourism is changing, he said, and digital marketing will reach more people, encouraging them to visit Oak Park and other communities in the western suburbs.

Oak Park is one of 18 communities marketed under the Visit Oak Park tourism organization, but the village is the only one to contribute dollars to the effort. That’s why the village gets naming rights for the organization.

The village contributes $212,000 from the hotel/motel tax and $37,500 from the general revenue fund to the marketing effort, and roughly $485,000 comes from the state of Illinois, Wagner said.

For every dollar contributed by the village, the state adds about two dollars, Wagner said.

Roughly $150,000 of that has gone toward running the visitors center and funding visitors services, he said. Rather than running the center, that $150,000 will be used on a digital marketing campaign, which aims to bring more people to the village and the western suburbs, Wagner told Wednesday Journal.

Visit Oak Park is working with the travel marketing firm TimeZoneOne to create an updated website with itineraries, photography and video “that inspire people to come here and stay longer,” he said.

The bureau is also working with Meredith Corporation — publisher of Better Homes & Gardens, Midwest Living, Travel + Leisure, Family Circle, and a number of other travel-related publications — to create an “inspiration guide” for visitors. That guide will be distributed to Midwest Living‘s 350,000 readers in six states.

That guide is expected to go out in May or June of 2019, Wagner said.

The third leg of the marketing stool goes toward digital marketing and advertising, he said.

The Visitor Center will be open through the end of the year, but no date has been set for its closure. The shop, which features print guides to the area and work by local artisans, is currently selling all its inventory for 15 percent off.

Wagner is also looking at new opportunities for center volunteers and working to find new venues for the work by local artists featured in the store.

“At the end of the day, it’s a cost-benefit thing,” he said.

tim@oakpark.com

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