CVB looks for best return on spending

Friday, May 28, 2004

By John Mehner

In Sunday's Southeast Missourian, local businessman Steve Robertson criticized the mission and efforts of the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau. Several points he makes are based on false assumptions.

Robertson's claim is that the CVB spends far too much time and money on river-related activities and conventions and not nearly enough on interstate travelers. His real concern is a lack of billboard advertising. He also believes the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce shouldn't operate the CVB and that we should prepare annual plans for goals, objectives and expenditures as they relate to the CVB and advertising. Let me address each of these issues.

We fully understand the importance of the interstate and the new Mississippi River bridge. In fact, the CVB spends thousands of dollars annually advertising Cape Girardeau to these travelers. This is done through publications, the Internet, personal calls, direct mail and our visitors' guide distributed at many locations throughout this and other states (including along Interstate 55). When compared to the amount of money we spend to bring the boats to town (which is zero -- that's right, zero!) we agree with Robertson and are backing it up with our money and our efforts.

That is not to say the boats aren't important, because they are very important to an overall plan. But, yes, we understand the importance of the interstate and the leisure traveler.

Robertson also suggests that the CVB has no plans to promote the new RV Park. In fact, it is already in our visitors' guide and being promoted regularly right along with local shopping opportunities, including antiques.

As for the validity of billboard advertising, while the CVB does not currently pay for any billboards, increased interstate signage is in the business plan for fiscal year 2005, including some rather innovative ideas.

In terms of accountability, I respect Robertson's opinion that the CVB should be a city-operated organization. That is what it was for the 10 years prior to the last 18 months. The reason management responsibilities were shifted to the chamber was because people were dissatisfied with the results and because the possible synergies with the chamber were acclaimed. Rest assured, we are annually audited, prepare annual business plans, budgets, goals and objectives and have offered performance measures for the city council's approval.

It is important to point out that we are experiencing success with this approach. We have received more visitor inquiries for the first quarter of this calendar year than we received during all of calendar 2003. Hotel/motel and restaurant revenue is up over 5 percent so far in the current fiscal year, and overall sales-tax revenue is up over 4 percent in the same period.

One real challenge and opportunity with operating the CVB is dealing with highly passionate issue-oriented individuals who have differing visions for what needs to be done. Robertson is passionate about billboard advertising. Others are equally convinced the answers lie in conventions, the Glenn House, the air festival, Libertyfest, the Red House interpretive center, murals, ArtsCape, the City of Roses Music Festival, Westfield Shopping Town West Park, Cape West Business Park, Center Junction -- and the list goes on.

Don't get me wrong. Passion is a great thing. It gets things accomplished. That is why we have a very talented chamber task force that looks at all these things and helps decide the best return on investment. I thank them for their wise counsel.

Indeed, one of the best things about the chamber operating the CVB is that any chamber member may serve on the CVB task force. Steve, if you would like to join our organization, you too can help make these decisions.

John Mehner is president and CEO of the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce.

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