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November 08. 2012 11:41PM

Conference tells North Country businesses that social media's good but snow is better


Colebrook Academy students gather around the fire at the AMC Highland Center during a break at the third annual Northern New Hampshire Tourism Conference. (SARA YOUNG-KNOX/Union Leader Correspondent)

BRETTON WOODS - It was snowing Thursday at the top of Crawford Notch, as the third annual Northern New Hampshire Tourism Conference, Live Free and Prosper, took place at the Appalachian Mountain Club Highland Center.

The flakes drifted down, touching the ground without piling up much, but many of those inside the Thayer Hall were hoping the snow was a harbinger of the season to come. That's because winter didn't involve much snow last year and snow is profitable.

The talk inside was not about the weather, though, as a day-long schedule of speakers and seminars kicked off with Judi Window of Granite State Ambassadors reminding the more than 60 conference participants that the old-fashioned practice of greeting your customers and engaging them in conversation still works pretty well.

Window said business people often are busy with tasks and sometimes overlook customers. Noting that the Division of Travel and Tourism has taken over operation of the state's visitor centers from the state Department of Transportation, Window said the ambassador program has trained those manning the centers, giving them tools to be more effective greeters.

One visitor center worker, she recounted, said one of his first tasks in the morning was putting the flags up, and that people often stood around to watch. He picked up on a suggestion that he try to engage those observers more, so he learned about the protocol for raising the flag, and now passes this knowledge on to his morning audience.

In one of the midmorning sessions, Veronica Frances of NotchNet gave an introduction to new media, explaining the advantages of social media, and how each could be used most effectively to capture the attention of customers and potential customers. While she gave examples of successful YouTube videos, Window conducted a new media session for more advanced practitioners.

Phoebe Backler of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail said the conference was put together to make sessions with high-profile professionals more accessible to those in the northern reaches of the state. It can be difficult, she said, for business owners and employees to get to the annual Governor's Tourism Conference. That accessibility made a difference for five students from Colebrook Academy, who had a ride just under 90 minutes to the Highland Center.

The students, all seniors, make up the school's 21st Century Business class, a full-year course with five units: hospitality and tourism; business law; customer service; marketing; and entrepreneurship.

Student Leah Gottlch said she got an idea for her senior presentation from the keynote talk given by Nancie Freitas, former chief marketing officer of Constant Contact. Freitas outlined an effort by merchants in Warren, R.I., which, through hard work and new ideas, brought in more customers.

It's the first year of the business class, but the school already has a connection to the Highland Center. Teacher Ginette White said one of the academy's graduates, Jesse Bunnell, works at the front desk of the establishment, a position he was hired for after an internship there arranged by the school.

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Sara Young-Knox may be reached at syoungknox@newstote.com.



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