Many folks in the Friendly City know that Wheeling is a great place to be, and thanks to the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), more people than ever have their eyes on Wheeling. Just recently, the CVB implemented a new venture to help people decide where their next vacation should be or even their next big move. Can you take a guess? It’s Wheeling!
Drawing in Your Attention
The CVB’s mission is to promote Wheeling as a great place to visit, and in doing so have sought out partnerships to help spread the word . With influencers now being one of the driving forces behind the marketing efforts for essentially everything you can imagine; the city of Wheeling is no exception.
“Right now, we are working with the state co-op program to bring in bigger influencers,” said Olivia Litman, Marketing Director of the Wheeling CVB.
“We would find it difficult to afford them to come into Wheeling on just our budget, so to have the power of partnership will make this an affordable venture.”
An important question before we dive deep into influencer strategy is… what even is an influencer? Luckily, Litman has the answer.
“Influencers have been a part of the travel marketing society for a long time. They used to be referred to as FAM tours or familiarization tours. You would bring group leaders, tour bus operators to your city/state to sell them so they would create the itineraries to include your destination,” said Litman.
“Influencers is just a hip new word to do just that. We have been a part of that strategy for as long as I can remember at the CVB. What has changed is the vast world of the web and social media channels being a go-to for most people to learn and explore.”
While inviting an influencer to visit Wheeling may seem simple enough, it is meant to look that way, according to Litman.
“We participate in a crowdsourcing platform that allows us to request rights to videos and photos of those posting on social media. Some may be leisure travelers that are just posting and tagging their location here. Some are influencers that are trying to gain ‘clout’ on travel platforms and know how to play the game. The fun part for us is they are all influencers within their group or social audiences,” said Litman.
While it looks like all fun and games when scrolling through Instagram, there is a lot of planning, meetings and budgeting that must take place prior to an influencer’s visit. However, Litman ensures that the influencers she meets don’t let the business side of things negatively impact their visit to the Friendly City.
“What I love the most is working with the visitors that LOVE to VISIT our city. They don’t see our struggles to make changes, create new business and attractions from a city level. Seeing their love of the city is great,” said Litman.
Influencers Hit the Friendly City
The most recent influencer to land in Wheeling is Joey Kinsley, who is more commonly known as Sir Yacht online. Kinsley became an independent content creator once the pandemic hit in 2020 and hasn’t looked back since.
Originally from Ohio, Kinsley began creating videos to showcase just how great his hometown state is and has been expanding his content to other states. With over 370,000 followers and 18 million views on TikTok, this Ohio native is helping put Wheeling on the map with viewers from all over the nation and even the world.
“It was my first time visiting. I was expecting it to be a cool river town, but had no idea about the food, entertainment and how friendly the people would be in Wheeling,” said Kinsley.
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“There is a big food scene in Wheeling and in the area that is growing. Housing is relatively cheap and a great place for young professionals to live.”
The self-proclaimed “CEO of Ohio” has been featured on the Food Network and travels in an effort to promote cities that he believes deserve passionate attention. One of those cities in his opinion is Wheeling.
“I started off the trip at Hangover BBQ and ate some of the best barbeque I’ve ever had. We checked out the amazing riverfront, including the historic Wheeling Suspension Bridge. We walked around downtown and saw the Wheeling Nailers stadium at Wesbanco Arena, ate some DiCarlo’s pizza, went to Coleman’s Fish Market, and saw the greyhounds race at the Wheeling Island Racetrack,” said Kinsley.
“One of my favorite spots was at the Mount Wood Overlook, which featured an amazing view of Wheeling and the Ohio River. I also enjoyed eating at Belmont Brewerks in Martins Ferry and Tacoholix — both amazing spots. Doing a Segway tour at Oglebay Park was amazing as well.”
While Wheeling is a welcoming place for just about anyone, Kinsley says it is exceptionally perfect for young professionals.
“Oglebay is an awesome place to see some amazing scenery, work out and go on a date. Going to the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack is a good time,” said Kinsley.“A lot of cool bars and restaurants that offer a fun nightlife as well.”
If you are paying a visit to Wheeling and don’t know where to stay, Kinsley says the highlight of his trip was staying at one of our local hotels.
“I’d say the biggest surprise was The Hampton Inn I stayed at. It is ranked the number one Hampton Inn in the country and for good reason,” said Kinsley.“The staff was incredible and treated everyone, including myself, very well. I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels and they by far had the best service I’ve ever gotten.”
As a newcomer to the Friendly City, Kinsley can attest to this city’s openness and excitement towards new and forward-thinking possibilities.
“All you have to do is leave your backyard and discover some amazing spots. I think it’s easy to get caught in the trap of living in a place for a long time and taking what you have there for granted. Wheeling has so many hidden gems in the city limits and the people really make it a desirable place to be,” said Kinsley.
“It’s called the Friendly City for a reason. The people really make it an awesome place to live in or visit!”
What Is on the Horizon
While Kinsley is the most recent of influencers to breeze through Wheeling, Litman says there are far more to come in an effort to promote the city.
“We have travel writers and bigger influencers that are looking at West Virginia to branch out. Travel research shows women plan trips 86% of the time for their families, friend groups and themselves. Kinsley contacted us because he found Wheeling himself and wanted to branch into West Virginia,” said Litman.
According to Litman, the list of influencers will continue to grow vastly in 2021 with explorer, photographer and journalist Marilyn Jones.
“Last year, we were contacted by Marilyn, who is an avid traveler that happens to be a guest contributor to many travel magazines. She works differently,” said Litman.
“She visits, has fun and then writes about the experience in hopes it will get picked up by a publication. Her trip to Wheeling was featured in the January/February 2021 issue of Escapees Magazine. She sent us a copy as a courtesy and reminder of how wonderful our destination is.”
While hiring influencers takes time and effort, it is an approach that Litman believes allows for a bright light to shine on all the great things going on in Wheeling.
“You cannot buy the power of the word of mouth. Although you are sponsoring the trip, it is very noticeable when it is a forced experience. We strive to make the visit fun for the influencer, but also a natural experience for them to personally enjoy our area,” said Litman.
“…Seeing (the influencers) love of the city I call home is as great as sitting at the table that is creating the energy they are enjoying during their visit.”
With beautiful Oglebay Park, countless bars and restaurants, riverfront views and friendly faces, what’s not to love? The Friendly City is waiting for new visitors with open arms.
• With a background in journalism and being a true Wheeling native, Jessica Broverman was destined to work with Weelunk. She holds a degree in journalism with a minor in criminal justice and works with Williams Lea Tag as a legal proofreader. When she isn’t typing away for Weelunk or WLT, she is enjoying a coffee at one of her many favorite spots in Wheeling, spending time with friends, or having fun with her husband Zachary and their two cats, Proctor and Max.