Discover Central Massachusetts

People are saying that the site is appealing. The custom front end capabilities that allowed us to create a custom design driven by imagery has played a huge role in that. The team spent a lot of time ensuring that the connection between commerce and content was strong and would feature beautiful photography and images.

– Christina Andreoli President

At a glance – project highlights

  • Ultra’s solution includes engineering, design, development and Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Mobile-friendly, responsive website positions Central Massachusetts as a preferred destination for business and tourism
  • Website features thousands of unique pages, including member business profiles, an event calendar, and region-specific sections
  • eCommerce functionality enables Discover Central Massachusetts to sell and process membership subscriptions through its new website
  • Ultra ensures efficient management of membership subscription, profiles, and special offers
  • A unique event management tool allows organizations to create their own customized calendar available by API feed

Discover Central Massachusetts is on a mission to change the way people think about this region of the Bay State. The agency, established at the end of 2015, is dedicated to marketing Central Massachusetts as the destination of choice for travel and tourism, as well as convention, meeting, and event planning. According to Christina Andreoli, president of Discover Central Massachusetts, many people are unaware of just how much business is already conducted in and around the 35 towns that comprise Central Massachusetts. “Every year, travelers spend nearly $500 million in the region, resulting in local tax receipts of $10.8 million,” she notes. “Those expenditures include everything from lodging, entertainment, and dining to transportation and fuel. Our agency was formed to drive those numbers even higher by marketing the region as the preferred location for all kinds of events.” Whether that event is a cultural attraction, a tradeshow, or a company’s annual meeting, Andreoli and her group want it to happen in Central Massachusetts – and they want to tell people all about it.

Creating something new

That’s where Ultra come into the picture. As a newly formed organization, Discover Central Massachusetts needed an eCommerce-enabled website and platform built entirely from the ground up. In June of 2016, the agency hired Ultra for the project. “This wasn’t a case of updating or enhancing an existing system,” says David Crouch, COO of Ultra. “This was an exciting opportunity to create something completely new.”

The first order of business was to build wireframes for the site and detail the functional requirements. “This Engineering process happens before we do any kind of design or development,” Crouch explains. “We consider the audience and site objectives, determine main navigational elements, what types of data will be required on each page of the website and describe key features.”

Different audiences, different needs

Discover Central Massachusetts serves two types of audiences. The first, and primary, one includes businesses – such as hotels, restaurants, theatres, museums, and convention centers – who purchase a subscription to become members of Discover Central Massachusetts. Subscription prices are determined by a business’s size and type, and this membership entitles businesses to be featured on the agency’s website. Through the Ultra platform, all members are able to create a profile for their business, complete with information and photos, and include links to their own social media accounts as well as constantly updated information on events that are taking place at their business. Discover Central Massachusetts is able to accept membership applications, process subscription payments, and continuously track membership activity. Finally, members may also create and manage their own events calendar.

The agency also has a second type of audience: end-users such as tourists and meeting or event planners. These are the people and the decision-makers whose spending dollars will grow the business of the members who are featured on the website.

As they fleshed out the wireframes and began to design individual web pages from templates, the Ultra team had to consider all of the requirements of these dual audiences. For example, the development team had to create separate membership options for businesses according to their geographic region (outside Metro-Worcester vs. inside Metro-Worcester). Membership options for restaurants take into account a facility’s seating capacity. The registration and confirmation pages for subscription processing all had to have a specific look.

From an end-user standpoint, it was critical that the Discover Central Massachusetts website be mobile-friendly

and responsive: Ultra developers ensured that all visitors have the same experience and enjoy identical functionality, whether they access the site from a desktop computer or a mobile phone. The Ultra team created a website that allows end-users to do much more than simply read about the agency’s members. Visitors, for instance, can use the widget on a hotel’s profile page to book a room without leaving the Discover Central Massachusetts website. Built-in OpenTable functionality on the website enables diners to make reservations with the restaurants who are members of Discover Central Massachusetts. A “What’s In the Neighborhood?” feature displays links to places of interest that are nearby (if users are visiting a theatre’s profile page, for instance, they’ll also see links to restaurants, bars, and attractions that are in close proximity to the theatre). There’s even a special “Meet Here” button on the site’s home page that’s targeted to the highly specialized needs of meeting planners.

The site went live shortly before Thanksgiving of 2016, and Andreoli says that her agency and its members are extremely happy with the results of Ultra’s work. “People are saying that the site is appealing,” she comments. “The imagery has played a huge role in that. The Ultra team spent a lot of time ensuring that the site would feature beautiful photography and images.”

Flexibility for the future

The flexibility of the Ultra platform means that as Discover Central Massachusetts grows…the agency’s website and eCommerce capabilities will grow along with it

The flexibility of the Ultra platform means that as Discover Central Massachusetts grows, sells more membership subscriptions, and adds more functionality, the agency’s website and eCommerce capabilities will grow along with it. Andreoli already has enhancements planned for the site. “Down the road, we’ll be adding functionality that will let us offer packages, like a ‘Dinner and a Show’ option,” she explains. “Users will be able to select and purchase package offerings right from our site.” There will also be theme-specific guides available through the website, including guides for visitors and meeting planners.

For the moment, however, Andreoli and her staff are concentrating their efforts on driving traffic to their brand-new site, explaining the value it offers to members, and writing new content that will be appearing in the coming weeks. The agency has already done some paid advertising for the site on social media, and a comprehensive advertising campaign is scheduled to begin in the early part of 2017. “The businesses in this region have never had this type of attention paid to marketing all of them collectively, so it’s new and exciting – people want to be part of it,” she says.

Fast Forward to 2018

What do you when your site influence has grown by leaps and bounds and traffic is up 100% year over year? You keep building and improving of course!

Thinking creatively about how to promote local businesses and organizations, Discover Central Massachusetts decided the next step was to introduce a special offers program. This was the perfect opportunity to encourage local business members to collaborate with each other and combine complimentary offerings into an enticing package, such as transportation, dinner, and a show, further showcasing the unique offerings of the region. To ensure these offers were easily marketed from the Discover Central Massachusetts website, Ultra provided the perfect platform for the job. Ultra developers created a custom interface for Discover Central Massachusetts’ employees to create special offers which would then be searchable by a tagging system linking the offer to regions, businesses and categories.

In tandem, the Discover Central Massachusetts team was also receiving calls from other organizations in the region asking to utilize their Ultra-powered events calendar. The Discover Central Massachusetts team, working with Ultra, built out a unique event management tool for each partner organization – allowing the partner to select and approve events for their own calendar made available by an API feed. The Discover Central Massachusetts events calendar is now powering a number of social calendars for regional partner organizations – making the events calendar a centralized location for all events in Central Massachusetts.

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