Towns of the SEC website will encourage tourism outside of sports

Monday, August 6, 2012 | 4:17 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Missouri's move to the Southeastern Conference will bring the opportunity for new visitors to travel to Columbia. Most of these people may not know anything about the city, but a newly formed group, Towns of the SEC, wants to change that.

Towns of the SEC is a conference-wide tourism effort to enhance fans’ experiences in SEC cities and encourage visits to the cities outside of sporting events, Beth Mead of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau said.

Mead attended the group's July 30 meeting at the SEC headquarters in Birmingham, Ala., where Towns of the SEC was formed. Representatives from 11 of 14 cities in the SEC were present, but all 14 cities are supportive, Mead said.

The group currently has an informal structure but a unified vision. “It’s in its infancy,” Mead said.

The main priority is getting the Towns of the SEC website up and running before this fall’s football season. The website will be available through the SEC’s website and will be a landing page for each city’s tourism site, Mead said. The group will allow tourists from any town to easily access facts about the cities in the SEC — both expanded information about game days and more things to see and do outside sporting events.

When people visit Columbia's section of the website, they'll see the basic information about the game, but they can also expect information about transportation, other events happening that weekend and links to the city's social network presence, Mead said.

Users of the website can expect this kind of information from each city for each game.

“In Gainesville, there’s 92,000 people jammed into the stadium, and hours later the town looks almost normal,” Roland Loog of said. “We would like people to stay for more than the game.”

After the football season, Towns of the SEC representatives will reconvene and continue to work on the objectives they set forth at the July meeting. Greater interactivity with fans is a goal, as well as a presence at the SEC championships, Loog said.

Supervising editor is Ann Elise Taylor.

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