By Dan Dickson
Convention and visitors bureaus are not-for-profit organizations that represent their regions and help them with their long-term development through travel, tourism, conventions and meetings. Probably all CVBs were affected by the recent feeble economy. Some struggled mightily; some just kept their heads above water. But many others emerged tougher and stronger than ever before.
Regardless of their circumstances, all CVBs had to adjust their marketing strategies and execution plans for luring groups and events to their parts of the country. All are to be commended for hanging tough as business slowly improves.
The funding formulas for most CVBs include revenue from some sort of local lodging tax. When fewer people traveled, local hotel-tax revenue shrank, and revenue streams to CVBs began to dry up. Obviously, it came as quite a shock to administrators of those CVBs, big and small.
“In 2009, our budget was pretty much slashed in half. When the recession hit in 2008, tax revenues declined. We’ve been in survival mode and still are,” said Destination Toledo tourism director Cathy Miller. “Our staff is smaller. We’re trying to get by on less. We don’t have the marketing dollars of five years ago. I can’t say we’re doing anything big and glamorous, but we keep it going,” Miller added.
On a positive note, Toledo’s overnight stays have improved. The city is promoting its strengths. One is sports, indoors and outdoors. With expansive waterways, scenic parks, and exciting attractions, Toledo is ideal for sporting events, the CVB says. The University of Toledo offers facilities for most outdoor sporting tournaments like baseball, softball and soccer. Indoor facilities are available for competitive swimming and diving, and volleyball and basketball competitions. The SeaGate Convention Centre and the Huntington Center welcome large sporting groups. The Sylvania Tam-O-Shanter Sports and Exhibition Center has two NHL-style ice arenas.
The city urges groups to hold family, class or military reunions in Toledo. The CVB also encourages groups to let accomplished receptive tour operators show them the best of Toledo. Tour operators will design a customized exploration of the city that includes making lunch and dinner reservations, organizing transportation and obtaining good rates for services and activities for travel groups.
“We hired a marketing company to garner more sales. Maybe that’s our story over the last few years,” said Miller. The CVB executive says group sales generate more taxes for the community.
Toledo has a new downtown sports and entertainment venue that includes Hollywood Casino Toledo. Miller expects a few more new hotels to arrive in coming years.
Another lesson learned during the recession: “If you can somehow have a reserve to rely on, I would recommend it. We were fortunate to have those funds to help us through the rough times,” she concluded.
Another CVB saw painful reductions in operating capital. Bakershed California’s CVB is under the supervision of local government, so it is essentially one more city service feeling the pinch.
“They cut our marketing budget, so we did co-op advertising, going in with hotels and other partners and splitting the cost,” reported Misty Glasco, marketing and events specialist. “That’s one way to get around not having the same budget as before.” Glasco and her team do a more in-depth marketing plan now. “We have to be strict these days.”
There are two outstanding group tour selling points for this city. One is the famed Bakersfield Sound made famous by musicians Buck Owens and Merl Haggard. Owens built a huge restaurant and museum. Many groups come to see the collection and enjoy a meal.
The city is also known for its Basque food, usually seafood dishes. Basque is an ethnic group that primarily inhabits an area that straddles parts of north-central Spain and southwestern France. Thousands of Basque natives settled in Bakersfield years ago.
“We have many of the original Basque food settings here,” said Glasco.
CVB staff also tapped their creativity to spark new ideas. Leap Day (Feb. 29) became “One More Day To Explore” in Bakersfield. “We know that with the economy up and down lately, we provided more promotions and discounts,” added Glasco.
In the past decade, New Orleans has had to survive one of the most devastating hurricanes in U.S. history, a terrible oil spill in the Gulf and the stubborn recession. How could a convention and visitors bureau overcome that, let alone prosper? The New Orleans CVB did and in a spectacular way.
The city is reporting record-breaking numbers of visitors, which seems to indicate that its post-Katrina, post-oil spill and post-recession tourism strategies are working. A survey commissioned by the New Orleans CVB indicates that 73 percent of travelers younger than 35 years old and 68 percent of travelers ages 35 and older say that New Orleans has become more appealing to them during the past five to 10 years.
“Tourism, especially after a catastrophic hurricane that made headlines globally, doesn’t just happen. It’s the result of aggressive sales and marketing strategies,” said New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Stephen Perry. “Visitors won’t come to a destination with a negative reputation and won’t return to a place where they had a negative experience, which is why our work has been so vital,” Perry added.
New Orleans has reported that it has more restaurants than before Katrina. Sports group travel has been strong in 2012, with the BCS National Championship, the NCAA Men’s Final Four and the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament, and could be again in 2013, with the NCAA Women’s Final Four and Super Bowl XLVII, not to mention the excitement of Mardi Gras. The hospitality industry is the glue that binds the New Orleans economy, providing 74,000 jobs, making it the city’s largest employer.