Survey reveals reasons visitors come to downtown Cape Girardeau

Wednesday, September 24, 2008
CHUCK WU ~ cwu@semissourian.com Holly Schermann is seen out shopping with her friends for hand bags and purses at the Renaissance on Main Street.

Visitors to Cape Girardeau most often venture to the downtown area for shopping, special events, dining and the night life, according to a 2007 survey conducted in collaboration with the Downtown Revitalization and Economic Assistance for Missouri, or DREAM, Initiative.

Gov. Matt Blunt named Cape Girardeau in 2006 as one of the first DREAM cities.

The survey included 181 participants, randomly selected and excluding those living within Cape Girardeau, and asked a series of questions regarding their priorities and interests when visiting the city.

Of the participants, 72 percent listed Missouri ZIP codes, giving DREAM coordinators an overview of the type of tourists commonly referred to as "daytrippers," those traveling a few hours and leaving the same day, said Chuck Martin, executive director of the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"I think the survey gives a very good snapshot of those visitors," Martin said.

In the survey, 85.9 percent of those asked selected a special event as their planned activity, while 64 percent chose dining and 47 percent said they were visiting downtown Cape Girardeau for the shopping.

"It tells us that people really look for all kinds of dining options downtown," said Marla Mills, executive director of Old Town Cape Inc.

Mills said the survey represents part of an endeavor on behalf of the DREAM Initiative meant to collect as much data as possible to create an accurate portrait of what both residents and visitors want to see happen in Cape Girardeau.

Several surveys, including one meant for Cape Girardeau residents, and focus groups have been performed in recent months in collaboration with the revitalization effort, Mills said.

"We did it as a way of gathering information to get the bigger picture," Mills said of the visitors' survey.

The majority of respondents said they found parking, business hours and getting around in the downtown area to be relatively convenient.

About security, 60.8 percent of visitors said they feel "very safe" in the downtown area during the day, and 31 percent at night. Only 4.7 percent said they did not feel safe at all after dark, and less than 1 percent didn't feel safe during the day.

"Sometimes it's just a perception," Mills said.

Mills said she would have liked to see the answers to the safety questions separated by some sort of age or gender demographic so those working with the DREAM initiative could know what groups have safety concerns.

Mills said a new parking lot being built on the north side of the downtown area will have excellent lighting to help address those concerns.

Excluding lodging costs, 49.1 percent of those surveyed said they planned on spending less than $50 while in downtown Cape Girardeau during their visit. Another 24.3 percent said they would likely spend between $50 and $99, and 10.1 percent saw themselves shelling out more than $200.

Mills said she was excited to see the numbers and that now the focus needs to be offering visitors what they want to get them spending more.

"The numbers tell me they don't just come and look, they come and spend money," Mills said.

Martin cautioned that those numbers may not be reliable because 28.6 percent of respondents did not provide the their income level.

People tend to be close-mouthed about spending habits and personal income, even in surveys, Martin said.

Averages compiled in 2006 by the Convention and Visitors Bureau said people visiting a town for the day spent about $75, factoring in $30 for food, $20 in shopping, $15 in other expenses and $10 in gas. With gas prices spiking, those numbers are likely to be higher today.

When asked what physical improvements might make downtown Cape Girardeau more appealing, 44.1 percent of visitors said they'd like to see more renovations done on historic buildings.

"It's an important component, keeping the uniqueness of our history," Mills said.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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