- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

BEND, Ore. (AP) - If you cleverly advertise it, they will come.

Trip visits to Smith Rock State Park, the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and Crater Lake National Park surged in 2014 due in large part, according to parks officials, to the state’s savvy “Seven Wonders of Oregon” media campaign.

“We saw a huge increase in visits,” said Shelley Hall, superintendent of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. “The numbers for our Painted Hills unit (which was one of the seven highlighted destinations) went up 50 percent from 2013 (to 67,457 visits through November 2014), and that’s even with Highway 26 closed for a week in July because of fires.”

Created by the Portland advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy, the $2.3 million Seven Wonders campaign launched in March with 30- and 60-second commercials seen across the West.

Travel Oregon, the state’s official tourism arm, highlighted seven of Oregon’s iconic outdoor destinations in the ad series: Mount Hood, the Oregon Coast, the Columbia River Gorge, Smith Rock, the Painted Hills, the Wallowas and Crater Lake.

“We see your wonders, world,” says the campaign’s signature commercial over footage of Oregon’s scenery, referencing the Seven Wonders of the World, “and raise you seven of our own.”

While the Painted Hills unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument saw the largest gain in visitors of any Central Oregon destination in 2014, other parks also benefited from the “awareness campaign.”

As a whole, the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument welcomed 182,427 visitors through November last year, according to Hall, an increase of approximately 19 percent from 2013. The national monument consists of three separate units: Painted Hills, Sheep Rock and Clarno.

Smith Rock, which has averaged a 5 percent increase in visitors each of the previous five years, experienced a 14 percent jump in 2014. And Crater Lake, one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Oregon, had 100,000 more visitors in 2014 than it had the previous year, with 619,469 people visiting the park last year, up from 523,027 in 2013, an increase of about 18 percent.

“The objective of this campaign and everything we do at Travel Oregon is to positively impact the state’s economy and job numbers,” said Linea Gagliano, Travel Oregon’s manager of industry and public affairs. “As for the (Seven Wonders) campaign goals this year, we are trying to drive awareness and inspiration and motivate travelers to see all (Seven Wonders) of Oregon in their lifetime.”

According to Gagliano, the Seven Wonders campaign spread awareness about all of Oregon’s tourism options, not just the seven highlighted destinations.

Travel Oregon gained 120,000 additional fans via social media last year, and traffic on the tourism’s website has grown each month since the launch of the campaign.

“From our perspective, and this is without an official survey, we saw a significant impact,” said Scott Brown, manager at Smith Rock State Park. “The quality of production was excellent. It made you want to see those places.”

That increase in visitors was even more impressive, Brown said, considering the ads only ran for nine months.

“We saw a lot more families in the campground and day-use area,” he added. “Our camp hosts and volunteers that ran the welcome center would tell us pretty regularly (visitors) had heard about us from the Seven Wonders campaign.”

Central Oregonians had more than just a passing interest in the Seven Wonders series. Deschutes County contributed $25,000 to the ad campaign from its general fund, and the Central Oregon Visitors Association chipped in $50,000.

“Not only does the campaign draw awareness to Smith Rock, but attention filters throughout the rest of the region,” said Alana Hughson, COVA’s president and CEO. “We’ve certainly found (the Seven Wonders campaign) an effective vehicle to do so.”

COVA’s cooperative marketing campaign with Travel Oregon focused on two of Central Oregon’s key markets - Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area.

With Central Oregon uniquely and centrally located near three of the seven touted destinations - Crater Lake, Smith Rock and the Painted Hills - COVA was able to market the Bend area as the perfect jumping-off point to explore those three landmarks in one vacation.

“The Painted Hills and Crater Lake, neither has a lodging base,” Hughson said. “We tried to utilize both those wonders, as well as Smith Rock, and let people know that Central Oregon is the ideal base camp to see three of the wonders.”

According to Hughson, the highly publicized campaign delivered 5.3 million Smith Rock impressions - digital views - 3.8 million of which were video views.

The goal for Smith Rock at the start of the campaign was 3.9 million impressions - total.

In the Painted Hills, Hall and her staff used a different set of numbers to measure the fossil beds’ newfound popularity.

“It was obvious in everything, from toilet paper to lines at the bathrooms,” Hall said about the increase in awareness about the Painted Hills and the John Day Fossil Beds. “We had to make some adjustments.”

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