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Galax revamps tourism Web site

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By April Wright, Reporter

Coinciding with Galax’s downtown revitalization project, the city is improving not just buildings, but also other aspects, like its upgraded Galax tourism Web site and online events calendar.

The rebuilt site has been up and running since Jan. 4.

“I’m excited to be launching this new tool for tourists and the community to use,” said Galax Tourism Director Chuck Riedhammer, who has been working with Professional Networks — a local information technology firm — for the past six months to recreate the site. “It gives a balance for those people who are visiting Galax and people who want to move here.”

Riedhammer said the city’s Web site — www.visitgalax.com — had not been updated in several years. And as a result, the site needed to be upgraded from its clutter to a simpler, user-friendly, easily readable and visually appealing Web destination.

The new site provides more information and segregated, hassle-free dropdown menus, rather than the muddle of links it used to have. With the dropdown menus, people can easily view lodging, dining, recreation, businesses, events and government information. Also, whether people are locals, visitors or moving to the area, people can view everything from government functions and school information to festivals and recreational activities.

Visitors can also submit community events, and merchants, with the click of the mouse, can take advantage of advertising their business on the site free of charge. Riedhammer said most sites charge a fee for that kind of advertisement. Businesses can submit photos of their shops, which will revolve on and off the homepage.

“I want the community to know that this is their Web site,” said Riedhammer. The site, he said, is a community effort and he encourages people to participate in uploading and sharing local events and business information.

Highlighting some local hotspots, Riedhammer said he really wanted the site to focus a little more on local outdoor and recreational assets, such as trails and the Galax Municipal Golf Course, which are usually overlooked.

Similar to the old site, visitors can still get a free glimpse of Galax’s visitors’ guide, check out The Rex Theater or be taken to “Things To Do In Galax." People can also sign up for the community’s monthly newsletter, “Galax Adventurer,” which tells about events and meetings in the area.

To add to the visuals of the layout, community pictures, the city’s new logo and shades of green and blue embellish the new site — a step up from the old site’s lackluster, tan-colored homepage. Community pictures rotate on and off the Web site, and because of the upgraded server, people can now view videos.

The site plays a tremendous role in bringing visitors and money into the community. Riedhammer said that 80 percent of travel planning is now done online, which is why it’s important to have a visually enticing site.

In fact, the site received as many as 555,521 hits in June 2007 and 527,691 in July, and the calendar received as many as 105,732 hits in August 2007. Also, Riedhammer receives more than 100 inquiries each month from people wanting additional information about the city.

“All of the information is right here,” said Riedhammer.

"I think we're off to the right track [by redesigning the new site]," said Galax City Manger Keith Holland. "It's obvious that people are out there finding out about Galax."

In addition, people can view all of the local events in one site. Riedhammer said he called a meeting with several organizations and government officials, such as WBRF Radio, the Blue Ridge Music Center, the City of Galax and the Twin County Regional Chamber of Commerce, to come up with an efficient way of viewing all events in the community.

Whereas people could already access the events calendar from different organizations’ Web sites, those calendars catered to those particular organizations and local governments. But now, the new site compiles all local events, with the new drop-down menu. People can also narrow their search down to view the events of a particular locality or organization.

Riedhammer said the process of upgrading and transferring information will be a continuing process for a while — as with most brand-new sites. However, the site has most information people will need to make a trip to the area.

“I hope it gets other businesses looking at their sites,” said Riedhammer. “This is a good merger of community development.”

It already has the city reevaluating the government Web site. Galax is already making plans to upgrade it, but to make sure the site is thoroughly produced and organized, the city will not begin working on it until the middle of 2009.

Holland said the city will work with a firm to conduct an information technology study on the Web site, and he hopes this will result in significant improvements to the site.