Cape poised to reach next level of tourism

Each year, millions of Americans go to huge theme parks, and many of them wind up wet on a hot summer day after taking a ride on a park's whitewater-rafting ride. And millions more go to whitewater rivers for the real thing. What makes some people prefer a theme park's artificial river over an actual river in an area with stunning natural scenery?

There are, of course, lots of reasons. But much of it has to do with how well a theme park is marketed to all those parents and youngsters looking for something to do. Operators of guided rafting on most whitewater rivers rely on the beauty of the surroundings and the challenge of the ride to sell the experience. Marketers for theme parks sell the experience too but throw in stomach-churning air drops, enough food outlets to feed a small nation and tame activities for youngsters who prefer simple fun over heart-stopping action.

The folks who are in the business of selling a community to visitors face many of the challenges of theme-park operators and whitewater rafting operations. If you don't happen to have a mountain stream running through your town, you have to make what you have sound just as exciting and worth seeing.

These are just some of the challenges of Cape Girardeau's Convention and Visitors Bureau. In addition to marketing the city's history, shopping, antique outlets, dining and river lore, the CVB also is on the front line making Cape Girardeau the site of regional and statewide conventions, meetings and gatherings.

In the 12-month period that ended in June, the city's tourism-related sales increased $4 million over the previous 12 months -- in spite of the fact that the CVB has had its share of internal turmoil. The city was without a director for five months and minus a sales and marketing coordinator even longer.

Now both positions have been filled with professionals with solid track records. And the city has contracted with the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce to administer the CVB, a partnership that matches up well with the chamber's aims and priorities.

Under new director Chuck Martin and new sales and marketing coordinator Angie Bender, the CVB is poised to take the city to the next level of tourism and conventions. Cape Girardeau is blessed with outstanding meeting facilities, hotel-motel accommodations and dining facilities. It has a good base for taking care of visitors who come to the city and for making the experience good enough to convince folks to return.

But the CVB recognizes the need for a balance of marketing and destination development. This is a good dynamic, one that should result in more reasons to visit Cape Girardeau and better results in reaching those most likely to spend some time here. Most of them would be from closer to Cape Girardeau than from faraway states.

Cape Girardeau's biggest natural asset is the Mississippi River, but there is limited access to the river and not much to do when you get there. When it comes to destination development, this would make an excellent place to start.