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McClatchy-Tribune  02/08/2014 12:01 AM ET
Uptown Columbus, whitewater video aims to lure visitors [Columbus Ledger-Enquirer :: ]

Feb. 08--A video that shows whitewater enthusiasts splashing and floating through the Chattahoochee River, mixed with scenes of people enjoying downtown and its food and music, could be a key element of the city's tourism push this year.

Set to a bouncy musical beat -- ala Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty -- its images show Broadway teaming with visitors walking Broadway, sipping coffee leisurely at patio tables, and listening to musicians jam. Friendly family pets also are wagging their tongues and tails.

Aerial shots cut back and forth from the cityscape to the exploding rapids, with rafters being lifted high into the air before splashing back into the river. Other water-goers, clad in helmets and life vests, paddle on their backs in more serene sections of the 'Hooch.

Visual slogans are pitched throughout the nearly three-minute video: Mild to wild fun. Discover live music, great food, good times. Stay and play. Outdoor adventure meets city style.

"It's an eye opener or a show stopper," Peter Bowden, president and chief executive officer of the Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Friday. "It not only talks about whitewater, but it really shows Columbus as a vibrant community."

The video -- in essence a commercial for the area of the city known as Uptown -- was shot last year by Columbus-based Visual Plow Media and uploaded to YouTube in October, where it currently has just over 5,200 views. Visual Plow owner D.J. Johnson said he worked with Uptown Columbus and Media, Marketing and More!, a Columbus firm, to come up with right approach and feel for the piece.

"They actually put a lot of creative control in my hands," Johnson said. "They just wanted to showcase two things -- show how exciting Uptown is, and also show the proximity to Uptown and whitewater ... how you could come and have coffee, shop and have a good Saturday at the market, and then do whitewater."

Bowden said the CVB has been posting the video on its social media sites and taking it to trade shows in the city's ongoing efforts to attract both casual visitors and organized groups and reunions. Bureau staff recently attended a AAA Travel show and are headed this weekend to a large show geared toward military reunion planners.

The video actually was unveiled last fall during the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce-led intercity visit to the other Columbus in Ohio. But it also is being promoted as a possible job creator for the Columbus back here in Georgia.

"We put it on DVD and sent it to all the large companies in Columbus, because we did think it's a great recruitment tool in showing how hip Columbus is," said Marquette McKnight, president of Media, Marketing and More!

Bowden and others in the community hope the polished video will have an impact as the city gears up for its second season of recreation on the river, with the city boasting itself as home of the world's longest stretch of urban whitewater.

"We have pretty much finalized our marketing strategy for this coming season," said Uptown Columbus President Richard Bishop. "A lot of it will start coming out in late March, and we'll start pushing that in the Atlanta market, here in the local market, and the Montgomery-Birmingham areas."

The whitewater fun is only a piece of the pie, said Bishop, with various events and activities resuming in the spring and running through the fall. One of the more popular ones is the spring Friday-night concert series that begins April 4 with the band DSOS.

Columbus drew 1.7 million visitors in fiscal year 2013, generating an economic impact of $318 million, said Bowden. That compares to 1.3 million in 2012 and an impact of $316 million. The impact figures include spending at hotels, restaurants, retail stores and gas stations.

"We think Columbus is still working it's way through the recession and travel is now starting to rebound," the CVB chief said.

Dan Gilbert, owner of Atlanta-based Whitewater Express, the sole authorized river outfitter in Columbus, said he is very optimistic the river recreation will push those visitation numbers higher in 2014. The whitewater course opened in May last year, with the outfitter serving more than 16,000 paying customers.

Gilbert said the target this year is to reach 25,000 customers, with hopes that his crew might reach 30,000 before the season begins to slow in September and October as college football season kicks back in.

"What we're trying to do is get the word out," he said. "You would think with all the publicity we had last year people would know about it. But it's just a matter of letting people know what we have in Columbus, and they will come."

Whitewater Express is already booking reservations in March, a month that can see a chilly day followed by a warm one, he said. There also are plans to add a zip line and introduce a new flotation device called a "bellyak," which is a hybrid of sorts between a kayak and a surfboard.

Gilbert has seen the video produced for Uptown Columbus and he thinks it and other factors -- including word-of-mouth from those who have experienced the convenience of downtown and the river -- will help grow visitation from those seeking something different.

"There's nothing wrong with being isolated in the mountains. There's a plus in that. It's beautiful and everything," he said of traditional rafting trips. "But we have a unique site in town. You can go enjoy the whitewater and then walk over to Broadway and get a beer or a really good meal, and maybe go listen to a great band. If you have a family, you can do the river and have lunch and then go down to the (National) Infantry Museum. This is just different."

Of his 16,000 customers that took to the Chattahoochee last year, Gilbert said 75 percent of them chose the milder "classic" trip. The more adventurous opted for the big water that includes the beast known as "Cut Bait."


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