Tourism bureau weighing objectives for Cape

Saturday, November 9, 2002

If you build it, they will come.

But only if you invite them.

Cape Girardeau government and business leaders have taken steps for a more aggressive approach when it comes to increasing tourism.

But what is the best way to do that?

The answer to that question is twofold, according to several individuals associated with the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the city.

First, people have to know about Cape Girardeau. Second, Cape Girardeau must have something to offer.

The marketing and inventory quagmire is a chicken-and-egg scenario. City leaders obviously want both, but there is a question of how much emphasis should be placed on each.

Now that the CVB -- after operating for five months with no director and even longer with no sales and marketing coordinator -- has a full staff, city leaders say they are ready to move forward.

The city has worked the past year to set the basis for becoming a better tourism destination.

On Oct. 1, the city council relinquished the city's managerial controls of the Convention and Visitors Bureau to the chamber of commerce in hopes that the CVB would take a new direction and bring more revenue to the city.

Obviously, there is potential for growth. Even though the council is largely dissatisfied with the CVB's results in the last few years, Cape Girardeau County, according to Missouri Division of Tourism figures, saw a $4 million increase in tourism-related sales from July 2001 to June 2002 compared to the prior year. In general, Missouri tourism is holding its own, while other states, including surrounding states, have shown drops in tourism in the last year.

The timing of the Cape Girardeau CVB switch shows the importance the council has placed on tourism. Though the concurrent vacancies of the two top positions at the CVB may have pushed up the schedule for change, the transition in jurisdiction came at a time when the council struggled over a tight budget and began the process of looking into raising taxes. It also overlapped other opportunities and issues, like the proposed River Campus and the city's first tax increment financing proposal.

CVB director Chuck Martin and sales and marketing coordinator Angie Bender, still settling into their offices at the CVB building, will no doubt play a key role in deciding that process.

For now, however, Martin and Bender are working more at establishing contacts and relationships than coming up with the details of how the CVB should move forward.

Ultimately, the direction of the CVB will be determined by the CVB task force, a committee of about 12 members, which reports to the chamber's board of directors.

The task force is subdivided into two groups of five to eight people: the sales, advertising and marketing subcommittee and the destination development subcommittee. The group sizes are fluctuating as the task force attempts to recruit new members.

Marketing push

Steve Taylor, the task force chairman, said the CVB will lean more toward destination development than marketing.

"To me, the way you have to look at it is, you have to promote the city, but you have to have something to promote," Taylor said. "Where we erred in the past, is that advertising was done in a large, almost national level when in fact the people who are coming to Cape Girardeau mostly come from a 200-mile radius. We're not going to draw national conventions. We've got a great community, but we still have got to build infrastructure to get people to want to visit."

Mayor Jay Knudtson, who is Taylor's business partner at a local bank, echoed those sentiments, but not everyone agrees that development should be placed ahead of promotion.

"I would like to see us really promote the local activities," said councilman Charlie Herbst when asked where he thought the CVB should concentrate its efforts. "I don't see us advertising in national magazines as a destination city. We're not Florida. But we should promote the music festival more. People from Kansas City won't come here for things like that, but maybe people from Paducah and Carbondale and maybe St. Louis would."

Marci Bennett, the executive director of the Missouri CVB Association, said in a perfect world, the CVB wouldn't have to help organize events or assist with efforts to build or organize tourism infrastructure.

"The ideal situation is to have the CVB being the marketing arm and have the city leaders realize the importance of product development and have those groups work together to bring attractions together. That's the traditional way that CVBs work."

However, Bennett, the CVB director at St. Joseph, Mo., said there is a trend of CVBs getting more involved in product development. Bennett said the St. Joseph CVB is heavily involved in research of activities and attractions, not so much the funding of them.

At this point, tourism ideas are coming out of the woodwork, according to chamber president John Mehner.

There's talk of the city including a family aquatic center among the major projects to be paid for out of a possible tax increase.

The idea of having a museum as part of the proposed River Campus excites Martin and others. There is also talk of a state visitors center being part of the river campus.

And there are many more projects and ideas that Mehner is not yet willing to discuss publicly.

"There's a million of them," he said.

The key to deciding which ones will be best for the city will be research, Bennett said.

"You have to do your homework and make sure what you're spending money on is working," she said. "It's a lot of hard work. You've got to work your tail off."

bmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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