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GPTMC's Zale Helps Usher In Mobile, Growth for Region's Tourism Sector

It's been 15 years since the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation began packaging and selling the region to the rest of the world. Since the organization placed its first ad in 1997, the city's leisure hotel stays have more than tripled to 800,000-plus annually.

Not entirely coincidental has been the growth of the organization's use of technology. After all, it's not just visitphilly.com anymore. There are separate sites for GPTMC's Philly Homegrown, Philly 360, and uwishunu, to name a few.

So of all the newsworthy items packed into GPTMC's annual gathering of the tourism industry to present key upcoming initiatives on Tuesday--like the "With Love, Philadelphia XOXO" billboard contest and takeover of NYC and DC train stations, new TV commercials, and expanded local partnerships--it is the soon-to-launch mobile version of visitphilly.com that could steal the show this year.

The man largely responsible for GPTMC's web initiatives, Director of Internet and Technology James Zale, told a packed ballroom at the Courtyard Philadelphia Downtown in Center City that his No. 1 goal was to extend the reach and influence of content, and mobile, as we've come to know, is where it's at. It's hard to argue Advertising Age's proclamation that 2010 was the "year of the mobile traveler," as mobile travel-related search increased by 12 times in the last year, while mobile traffic to GPTMC's site quadrupled in the last 12 months.

Zale and his team are working toward a Feb. 1 launch date for the mobile website, designed for both visitors planning trips and those already here. The goal is to streamline searching for hotels, restaurants and attractions, and the site will have a geolocation search feature as well.

"Our whole team has been busy," says Zale, who has been with GPTMC for eight years, almost since he graduated college. "We're never sitting around waiting for stuff to promote."

Zale says he is hoping to integrate ticket sales on the mobile site sometime later this year, and that GPTMC is still exploring options for developing a mobile application.

Social media was a big theme as well, evidenced by the more than tripling of GPTMC's fans and followers in 2010. Zale cited the case of the now-viral Flash Opera Videos from the Philadelphia Opera Company, which earned 300 Likes from the Facebook widget on uwishunu.

Also worth sharing is GPTMC's announcement of the new contest for its "With Love, Philadelphia XOXO" campaign, inviting folks to submit their own one-liners. The winner will be posted on a billboard along I-95.

Simply visit the contest site , enter a love letter up to 82 characters, wait for confirmation and spread it on Facebook and Twitter. GPTMC will choose a winner by Feb. 4, so hurry.

JOE PETRUCCI is managing editor of Flying Kite. Send feedback here.

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