Riverside and Brookfield will be the first communities in the western suburbs to take advantage of new services being offered by the area’s regional tourism bureau, Visit Oak Park, in order to heighten awareness and draw more visitors to town.

In April, Riverside village trustees approved spending up to $5,000 for Visit Oak Park to create a local tourism webpage and launch a Riverside-focused online marketing campaign.

“We’re looking at a unique opportunity to capture a larger audience,” said Sonya Abt, community development director for the village of Riverside. “Visit Oak Park will be curating the website, updating it and creating dynamic content for it. We don’t have the ability to do that ourselves with the staffing and resources we have available.”

And, on May 13, village trustees in Brookfield gave Village Manager Timothy Wiberg the thumbs-up to explore a similar arrangement with Visit Oak Park. But Brookfield is also looking to put more resources behind their locally focused webpage — about $20,000 – which would be funded via the village’s hotel/motel tax.

Visit Oak Park says it will match Riverside’s contribution with another $5,000 to bolster the online advertising campaign. In Brookfield the tourism bureau’s match will be $10,000, said Visit Oak Park President and CEO Eric Wagner.

“Communities can use the marketing match opportunities with Visit Oak Park in a way that benefits both sites,” Wagner said. “At the end of the day, they want to promote Riverside [and Brookfield], and so do I.”

Content on the new webpages, which will have their own vanity URLs and can be accessed directly through those web addresses and through Visit Oak Park’s website, will include inspirational travel articles tailored to each community, specialized user content and an events page. The effort will also include a social media component.

After the first year startup costs, according to Wagner, it will cost each village $1,000 annually to maintain the webpages and have Visit Oak Park update content on the page. If the municipalities want to put more money into the online marketing efforts, they can do so, Wagner said.

“Brookfield’s would be a bigger digital campaign [than Riverside’s],” Wagner said in a phone interview, “reaching more people and covering a larger geographic area.”

Riverside and Brookfield are the first two communities within the Visit Oak Park region to move ahead with the new service being offered by the tourism bureau, though others are considering it, Wagner said.

Visit Oak Park is one of 40 certified regional convention and visitor bureaus across Illinois and serves 18 communities, including Brookfield, Riverside and North Riverside. The regional bureaus are funded by a combination of state and local hotel/motel and food/beverage tax dollars based on population.

The village of Oak Park contributes all of its annual hotel/motel tax revenues as the local share of funding Visit Oak Park. For each local dollar, the state contributes two. In exchange for the local funding, Oak Park’s name is associated with the bureau, with the understanding that it serves a larger region, Wagner said.

Wagner was hired to lead Visit Oak Park a year ago after serving for three years as assistant deputy director at the Illinois Office of Tourism. During his time there, Wagner helped launch EnjoyIllinois.com, the official website for the Illinois Office of Tourism, and helped launch several marketing campaigns, including the Illinois: Are You Up for Amazing? integrated marketing campaign.

In his year at the helm of Visit Oak Park, Wagner has shifted its focus toward digital marketing and closed its brick-and-mortar visitor center in Oak Park. On June 13, Wagner plans to unveil Visit Oak Park’s new website.

The custom Visit Riverside and Visit Brookfield microsites are expected to launch this summer.

“Time are changing; technology has changed a lot of things here,” Wagner said. “The visitors center only engaged people who were already here. Our challenge was, how we use funds to inspire people elsewhere to visit?”

Riverside knows just how difficult, and expensive, it can be to undertake a branding and marketing effort on its own. In the past three years, the village has expended more than $50,000 to create a new logo and branding identity and create a marketing campaign that included a short-term social media effort last year. 

While that campaign drove visitors to a specially created website – riversideoffthegrid.com – while it was being actively promoted on social media, traffic fell off dramatically after funding ran out.

According to Abt, it was important for Riverside to go through the branding process, because it allowed officials to better understand the village’s strengths and where efforts should be focused.

“For us, attracting visitors and bringing those dollars in is important,” Abt said. “If we can focus our dollars on that, we’ll see that trickle-down effect of getting more well-known, getting visitors and interest from businesses.”