Thousands of people from around the world visited Sandpoint during a highly touted promotion in September and October. But not a one of them strolled down First Avenue or sniffed the autumn breezes at Schweitzer Mountain.
The visitors came in cyberspace to a fast-developing community site on the World Wide Web, called Sandpoint Online. And while their "visit" to Sandpoint was accomplished purely via the Internet, the hope of groups like the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce, Schweitzer and Sandpoint Unlimited is that the people discovering Sandpoint on the Web will want to vacation or do business here.
Sandpoint Online is the World Wide Web version of Sandpoint Magazine, both of which are produced by the local firm Keokee Co. Publishing. Sandpoint Online was launched last December.
"We've put all the stories from the last three issues of Sandpoint Magazine on our Web site, but that's almost the least of it now," says publisher Chris Bessler. "As we post home pages for more businesses and groups, there's tons more information online then we can get into the magazine." More than a dozen local groups and businesses had home pages as of October, and two or three more are coming online each month.
It's proving a fun tool for economic development, too. The promotion that brought so many people to Sandpoint Online this autumn was a Halloween-themed contest called "TRICKnetTREAT," held by The USA CityLink Project. The contest incorporated trivia questions from cities around the country; Sandpoint participated and provided one of the contest's three grand prizes, a four-day ski vacation here.
The contest boosted "hits," or requests for information to Sandpoint Online from about 2,000 per month to more than 13,000 a week.
"We are reaching way beyond the usual audience we get with tourism promotions," said Jonathan Coe, the Sandpoint Chamber's executive director. "This is a terribly cheap and creative way to do that."
The site includes extensive business listings on a "Made in Sandpoint" page and the Chamber members' page - making it possible for someone anywhere in the world to easily locate products or services in Sandpoint.
There are also weekly and long-range event calendars and extensive information for tourists in a "Tour Guide" section that includes maps, photos and guides to recreation, the arts and dining.
People visiting the Web pages can interact with e-mail queries. In the offing are "mail-to" forms that will allow people to post questions and comments to a bulletin board area; also on tap in the next year are daily news updates, video clips and more contests. ·
To visit Sandpoint Online on the Web, go to: http://www.sandpointonline.com
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