Samantha Coppolino is used to others’ fear of missing out. The 29-year-old producer from the Z100 radio station’s Elvis Duran and the Morning Show notices it immediately from her 80,400 Instagram followers’ reactions to her travel posts.
The comments below a picture of Coppolino, who goes by Sam Rosalie online, were typical after she strolled near the Sensō-ji Temple in Tokyo in a sharp red jumpsuit last June.
“This looks amazing!!” one follower gushed. “Omg (Oh my god), I’ve always wanted to see Japan!!!!! Excuse me while I live vicariously through you,” another confessed.
But Coppolino smirked at similar comments on pictures of her spring trip to Orange County tourism hotspots like Angry Orchard and Bear Mountain State Park.
Orange County “was the first spot where I could respond and say, ‘This is easy for you to go to and do if you have a day and a half,’” said Coppolino, a seven-year veteran of Z100, a contemporary hit radio station in New York City.
“I was never ready to leave a place,” Coppolino said of her two-day trip, paid for and arranged by the Orange County Tourism Department. “It was always time for us to leave.”
The number of people visiting Orange County and their total spending rose sharply in 2018, according to new data. Among the reasons why, Orange County leaders say, are a growing tourism budget and ever more creative marketing, including hiring so-called social media influencers such as Coppolino.
Orange County’s visitor spending, adjusted to exclude tourist shoppers at Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, grew 17 percent to $577 million in 2018 up from $492 million in 2017, according to Oxford Economics, a research firm.
The county’s visitors spent $474.7 million in 2016 from $457.9 million in 2015. The county’s full 2018 visitor spending tally of $1.04 billion is the first to include Woodbury Common, at the request of Orange County’s Tourism Department.
Not counting the outlets’ 13 million shoppers, nearly 5 million tourists visited Orange County last year, according to Orange County Tourism Director Amanda Dana, up from around 4.5 million in 2017. Dana expects up to a 6 percent increase, or around 300,000 additional tourists, in 2019.
“Those amazing results reflect the hard work and investment that the Orange County government and tourism department have made in highlighting the cultural and natural assets of our area,” said Anthony Davidowitz, deputy director of operations for the Storm King Art Center, which has 100 outdoor sculptures on 500 acres.
In years past, Orange County’s tourism campaigns “were canned, just really outdated,” said Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus. Now, “It’s a multi-pronged approach in tourism, mixing old and digital media, and we’re big on analytics.”
From when Neuhaus took office in 2014 to 2019, he pushed to raise the county tourism budget 88 percent to $1.26 million, up from $669,000.
Hotel tax revenue, which covers the tourism department’s budget, also has grown — climbing to $1.214 million last year from $902,600 in 2014. And Neuhaus hired Dana in May 2018 to replace Susan Hawvermale, the department’s leader of 25 years.
Once tourism department dollars might have paid for an Orange County advertisement in a travel magazine tucked into an air plane seat-back pocket. Now, the county spends $525,000 on the tourism department’s annual advertising, marketing and public relations contract with Focus Media of Goshen.
Focus pays for the county to appear higher in Google searches based on certain search terms, while buying ads next to websites, such as Yahoo! and news and entertainment sources, visited by potential tourists.
Nearly 8 percent of those conducting county tourism-related searches on Google ended up clicking on the county’s paid ads, compared with just 1 percent for most paid Google ad words, according to Focus.
Future tourism campaigns could include targeted advertisements based on individuals’ locations, such as when people receive coupon ads on cell phones when they walk into a store, and co-branded marketing campaigns with major tourist attractions like Woodbury Common, according to Dana and Focus.
“Statewide, on average, for every $1 spent on a tourism department’s marketing budget, you get $10 in visitor spending,” said Dana.
And that spending can go a long way for an economy. Across the Hudson Valley, including Columbia, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties, tourism generated $4.36 billion in direct spending and $2.25 billion in labor income, while creating employment for 62,262 workers and $307.4 million in local taxes, according to Oxford.
Focus and the county aim to keep the tourism dollars coming. From Focus Media’s contract, $85,000 pays for another multi-faceted digital campaign with Z100 owner iHeartMedia, which also buys online ads for the county, provides radio spots and interviews, and pays for Coppolino's services.
Coppolino’s Instagram follower total exceeds the weekday circulations for each of the Hudson Valley’s biggest daily papers, from Albany to White Plains, while dwarfing the audiences of a typical local TV news affiliate’s morning or afternoon newscast.
Carlys Lemler of the popular Thayer Hotel, stately, castle-like lodging at West Point, also works with social media influencers.
“It’s the hub and spoke concept,” said Lemler, adding that overnight visitors spend five times more in an area than day-trippers. The idea is showing visitors they can “come and stay, and then you explore and do all these different activities. It’s all about providing a road map of all the different things you can do to enjoy Orange County.”