Monday Spotlight: Hampton has been promoting tourism for decades
Juanita Hampton said it’s hard to believe it’s been almost 20 years since she started as part-time director of the tourist agency in Crawford County.
“It’s been quite a ride,” she said of her career, which started in 1999 when she was hired to direct the now-Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
She remembers at the time the agency board had six directors who were angry that the agency owed $40,000 in debts.
For 21/2 years, she was the only employee of the agency, which promoted tourism in the county. The agency was located in the Meadville-Western Crawford County Chamber of Commerce office at the time.
Now, the tourist bureau has its office on Route 322, less than a mile from Interstate 79, a location she believes is perfect.
She said the agency borrowed funds for operation, paid back the loan and borrowed money again to stay afloat. She credits former state Sen. Robert Robbins with strong financial support with special funds for tourism.
Hampton remembers lobbying hard for the county to impose a “room tax” for hotel rooms — much like the larger cities did. After the tax was imposed, it made a difference financially for the bureau, she said.
She credits her staff and her board for the support in making the bureau “stronger than we’ve ever been.”
The agency has a design department, which has been a tremendous asset, adding some funds for the agency while providing a needed service to its members and others in designing brochures and other material.
The staff consists of Kevin Parsons, Stacey George and Sharon Haregsin (a part-time bookkeeper).
It also has help from the Davies Program, which provides an Allegheny College student for the bureau and pays some of the student’s salary.
The agency has met success in many areas, including being named the winner of the Small Business category by the American Marketing Association of Pittsburgh, beating out agencies such as the Pittsburgh Zoo.
They were surprised to learn that not only did they win the category, they won the grand marketing award, which traditionally has been won by such businesses as Heinz and StarKist.
Hampton emphasized the importance of social media, noting one post can reach 70,000 people. The marketing campaign for the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad last July resulted in all the rides on the railroad being sold out that month.
She also believes in the power of printed material, including annual brochures that highlight the activities of the various members of the bureau.
She said the employees all work as a team and there is no “I am the boss” attitude. She said she could not do her job without the support of the staff. She makes decisions all day long and the staff works to see that the decisions she made are implemented.
“I love coming to work,” she said, noting the employees are also friends.
She works with motorcycle groups, AAA for motor tours and other tourist agencies in promoting Crawford County and all of its assets — and she knows there are many.
Hampton also has been active on boards of various agencies that deal with tourist business, such as the Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park, Crawford County Historical Society, Oil Region Alliance and the Railroad and Tooling Center, among others.
When she first started she didn’t even have a computer and used the old “cut and paste” method of creating brochures. It’s a far cry from today’s computer-generated design brochures done by the staff.
Now the brochure has 48 pages, including maps of various welcome centers and tourist attractions in Ohio and Pennsylvania along the interstate highways.
Hampton said the staff works with businesses to plan events and other tourist-related programs to promote the members’ businesses as well as the area.
She said there are 3,000 people employed in tourist-related businesses in Crawford County — from all walks of life — and it can be a challenge to serve everyone.
“I feel very fortunate to have this job,” she said.
She noted it’s not just the job she loves, it’s also working with the staff who make the job easier for her while working together to promote the area.