WESLACO — A regional marketing idea regarded by proponents as a “one-stop shop” for revealing the Rio Grande Valley’s attractions is finally making headway.
Explore RGV has been ramping up for about a year, thanks to a federal Economic Development Administration grant of $350,000.
Now the website, www.goexplorergv.com, is taking shape.
The new website, unveiled Wednesday at the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council board meeting, has 33 featured destinations and has just added a new birding component, which consists of links to 44 birdwatching sites in the Valley from Port Mansfield to Sullivan City.
The site offers a downloadable birding guide, too.
“This project was actually born as a concept from the Large Cities Coalition, which is one of our advisory committees,” said Ron Garza, executive director of the LRGVDC. “And the reason I say that is, about two-and-a-half or three years ago, they wanted to do a regional marketing campaign.
“So they explored this idea of why don’t we all contribute together, since when there are visitors here, everybody benefits,” he added. “So the idea was, ‘Why don’t we all get together and contribute some dollars and do a regional marketing campaign?’”
The 15 partner cities in the Explore RGV marketing concept are Alamo, Brownsville, Edinburg, Elsa, Harlingen, Los Fresnos, Lyford, McAllen, Mission, Palm Valley, Pharr, San Benito, South Padre Island, Sullivan City and Weslaco.
“We started moving in that direction but we found there really wasn’t that platform where people could go,” Garza said. “There wasn’t that one source of information. So even if we did a regional marketing campaign three years ago, people would still have to go to every individual city or every individual chamber.”
The website, which is operating under the umbrella of the LRGVDC, has a few videos posted now. Photo galleries and an events calendar are in the works. The site currently offers an interactive map which links visitors to hundreds of attractions, consisting of entertainment, museums and culture, outdoor and recreation and shopping.
The site also links to local chambers of commerce, convention and visitors bureaus, transportation options like Valley Metro and airports, and higher education institutions. Users can download free Explore RGV mobile apps on both iOS and Android.
So why birding for the initial marketing push?
“Primarily because it’s one of the largest economic drivers,” Garza said. “We have a lot of external visitors, and that’s the one thing (we found) as we talked to a lot of the key stakeholders. Birding happens more among people who live externally from the Valley.
“All the stakeholders definitely said, ‘Start with birding,’” he added. “We wanted to strategically unveil it at this time because I know Harlingen in the first part of November is going to have their birding festival, so we wanted to piggyback on that activity.”
Garza said the scope of the new marketing effort also has value for Valley residents. He said officials in stakeholder cities believe locals, too, can benefit from having regional data and events just a mouse-click or a finger-swipe away.
“A part of this project is to promote our own natural beauty to people who live here,” he said. “So these adventure guides, to somebody like myself, who has never birded and knows nothing about birding, I can kind of go A-to-Z by just taking that adventure guide. As a gateway into that type of recreation, I can do it.
“We wanted to give somebody a simple, one-stop shop,” he added.