On a lesser scale but just as impressive is the rebound engineered by Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The local CVB saw a decline in business, but luckily, it was only a one-year blip on the radar screen.
“We felt the biggest hit, a 12 percent drop, in fiscal year 2010,” said Chuck Martin, the CVB’s executive director.
The CVB responded by concentrating on luring groups from its primary markets, a 200-mile radius that includes St. Louis, Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee, and shied away from some of its secondary, more distant markets, said Martin.
“Fortunately, for us, the challenge was relatively short. We were back up in fiscal year 2011. For fiscal year 2012, which just ended, we had the highest numbers ever, regaining everything from that down period. For us, it was a yearlong adjustment period. Things are very good now in Cape Girardeau.”
Martin said the rebound has given the CVB flexibility to put more effort into those secondary markets that took a back seat during the worst of the recession. There’s an old adage that says the worst time to stop advertising is in an economic downturn. But Martin believes you’ve got to stay competitive even in lean times.
“There are so many communities and CVBs fighting to be on the minds of consumers who are deciding where their travel plans will take them. You have to be in the mix. We made sure we were in magazines, had a Web presence and were on radio. That really helped reach those primary markets and kept our name in front of the consumers.”
Some bright news for Cape Girardeau: A $125 million casino project is coming in November. Several new and affordable family venues have arrived, such as Cape Splash, a family aquatic center; Discovery Playhouse, a children’s museum; and Lazy L Safari Park, a walk-through zoo.
“It really helped us sell people on the fact that this is a great destination, at an affordable price, with an easy drive from major markets,” Martin concluded.
Kristen Adamo, vice president marketing and communications for the Providence/Warwick, Rhode Island, Convention and Visitors Bureau, says her CVB has done fairly well by personalizing each tour it arranges rather than having a blanket itinerary for them. “Because the market is so competitive, you have to work directly with the planner and know your resources and focus on what they are looking for. You really have to listen,” Adamo said.
“Across the board in tourism in 2008-2009, you had to look closely at everything you were doing. Most CVBs are funded through hotel tax dollars, so you worked with less money. You have to access what you have and work smarter.”
With the ebb and flow of tax dollars determining its budget, the Providence/Warwick CVB has “been slowly but surely climbing up,” Adamo said. “You go from there.”
A bright spot for Providence is that it is becoming a charming culinary destination. The group tour market is responsible for this trend. Federal Hill is the city’s so-called Little Italy. There is also a culinary museum there.
Adamo wants group tour travelers and other fun-seekers to know that her area has good proximity, being just an hour from Boston; less than an hour from Newport, Rhode Island; and three hours from New York City — a good “hub and spoke” destination, as Adamo puts it.
Since the recession hit Florida — and much of the state was hit hard by it — one area, in the northeast panhandle, did some decent convention and tourism business.
“Because we’re the state capital, we had a consistency of business during the recession. We’ve stayed pretty steady,” explained Katie Kole, marketing and communications director for Visit Tallahassee. “We’re also a college town and are busy during the football season. Our numbers have been good and are on the rise. A lot of that is because of our marketing efforts. The many beautiful nature sites around Tallahassee are also a big draw. Many people are surprised at how green and lush the area is.”
The city’s CVB staff tweaked its marketing plan in many ways.
“I think we’re moving toward a lot of online and digital advertising with banner ads and so on,” said Kole. “We became more strategic in how and where we place them. Since the recession, we’ve had to take a hard look to make sure we got a bang for our buck.”
Kole’s best tip for CVBs: “Think outside the box in promoting some seasons that are not as busy. That’s proven to be successful for us.”
Through the recession, convention and visitors bureaus proudly proclaimed their status as the official tourism organizations for their cities. Often operating with tight budgets, they worked to strengthen the local economy by promoting the area for group leisure travel and sporting events through sales and marketing.
A full economic recovery is still in progress, and in some areas of the country, it’s a painfully slow process. However, CVBs will continue to diligently promote their cities through good times and lean budgets, all while satisfying those ever-more-demanding customers.