WITH 15 million annual visitors boosting Cumbria's economy by more than £2 billion every year, it is clear that the county relies on more than just its picture postcard charm to attract custom.
Realising the special place the Lake District holds in the hearts of people from over the world, it seems that everyone from the tourist board to the smallest independent businesses is embracing new technology to shout about all that is great about Cumbria.
Recognising its new marketing-savvy status, one of the new categories created for the Cumbria Tourism Awards 2015 is the Innovative Tourism Business Award, rewarding ground-breaking ideas and creativity. Ian Stephens, managing director of Cumbria Tourism, said: “Tourism businesses across Cumbria continue to raise the bar and go from strength to strength each year illustrated by the high calibre of award entries we receive. We aim to uncover and highlight new talent and creativity in the county and to strengthen our already established vibrant and world class visitor offer.”
Cumbria Tourism knows all about the Lake District’s pull at a national level and, after launching its #theplacetobe campaign last year, has recently been revamped the promotional push for 2015.
In March 2015 specialist website Cumbria Live’s own hashtag promotion, #cumbriaweekend was held for the second year. It was building on its success which saw it engage with a worldwide audience, with tweets bearing the slogan viewed more than one million times over the course of the first year's two-day event, highlighting the best attractions and free days out the county can offer.
People sitting at home in the States wondering what or where Cumbria was, or those in the Far East planning a pilgrimage to the home of Beatrix Potter, can explore the place from their home computers. Google Earth and Google Maps have been useful tools since becoming fully functional around a decade ago.
With the addition of Street View, you can get a feel for a place or plan your visit before you arrive. The latest development sees online users navigate their way down the high street and now they can enter shops and businesses and look around inside.
Peter Bebbington of Active House Media is one of Cumbria’s only Google Trusted Photographers. Delivering high quality 360-degree virtual tours using panoramic photography, his company is steadily mapping out more and more of county by the week.
He said: “I did one day of work for Google down in London on a project, and I gave them a call to see if there was any work I could do for them. They introduced me to this idea, and now Cumbria is one of the only places in the country that you can view in this way."
“It was perfect for me, because I didn’t need to move away from Cumbria for work, and I’ve really embraced the idea. The benefits for businesses is that the tours can be embedded in to a Facebook page or a website, and possibly the biggest benefit is that it can enhance your Google search status by up to 20 per cent.”
Inspired by a project in Dubai, which has seen the cityscape mapped out using panoramic photographs taken from a helicopter and embedded into Google Maps, Mr Bebbington is working on a personal project to map out all of the Lake District’s summits in this way – eventually hoping to connect the panoramas to create a virtual tour of the whole region. You could one day be ticking off the Wainwrights while lying in bed.
Comfort is very much in the mind of another businessman also helping the world sit up and take note of Cumbria. Stephen Hargreaves, owner of The Cranleigh Boutique earlier this year opened Church Suites, a short stroll down the road in the centre of Bowness. Hailed as the hotel rooms of the future, the four new suites combine technology and luxury to create what industry insiders have labelled the “best accommodation north of the Midlands”.
Mr Hargreaves said: “These rooms are the most high-tech in the UK. When we were coming up with ideas, I asked my staff what they would expect to see in a hotel room 10 years from now." “There are cinema screens that descend from the ceiling, and you are totally in control of what you are listening to by using the iPad or the button on the wall.”
The hotel has more than 100,000 likes on Facebook, it is more popular on social media than many of the top London hotels. The hotel has landed a host of accolades for its social media presence, including Best Use of Social Media at the National Entrepreneur Awards.
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