It was ten years ago that I delivered our analysis and recommendations following a Destination Assessment to a room full of Quad Cities community leaders.
Imagine my surprise in seeing my "Tourism is like Rodney Dangerfield...No Respect" quote as the lead of a Dispatch-Argus editorial over the weekend urging Davenport to reconsider a proposed reduction in the investment that City makes in Visit Quad Cities, the regional CVB.
While I don't use the quote as much as I used to (it has, to be sure, gotten a little better), it still holds true in many locales across the land.
Thanks for the memory, Dispatch-Argus. That was a great project...and we've been excited at the resulting developments your destination has made in the ensuing decade. Here's hoping the City of Davenport realizes one doesn't have the luxury to coast in today's competitive tourism environment.
While he'll likely suffer the slings and arrows of pissed off special interests, angry that one of their revenue streams could go dry, it's a bold move that makes a lot of sense.
Now, let's be clear. I have no idea what kind of visitation can be expected from a 5K that is asking for $619 or the $3,000 being requested for the FrostyCross. But, on the surface, they don't sound like events that will generate a lot of ROI.
Instead, wouldn't it make more sense for the DMO there to pledge to market these events on their behalf? The DMO buys more media than any of these events so, it would reason, it could get $1000 of media for $619 if the DMO placed the buy rather than a one-off event.
The Destination Marketing sector reacted with shock last week as a Committee of the Florida House of Representatives voted 10-5 to eliminate Visit Florida. And, as we offered last Thursday, the legislators' minds were made up before they entered the hearing chambers. Nothing the tourism industry would say would have made any difference.
But, that doesn't mean we don't continue to search for new ways to say it. To go beyond the numbers. To connect the dots to tell a human story.
As did Amy Lukasik (VP of the Flagler County Tourism Development Office) when she testified: “Following Hurricane Matthew, within days, Visit Florida...made it a priority to visit with us. They viewed our damage and they had conversations on how they could help us overcome the national attention we received saying our destination was closed for business. At Visit Florida’s expense, they hired a video production company and, through the assistance of our office, produced four videos with two more committed. In rapid fire, they were posted by paid advertisement on the Google network display and all of their Social Media platforms. Collectively, over 3.2 million people viewed the video within one month’s span...and it’s growing. On our behalf (and also at their expense), Visit Florida pitched a culinary trail feature of our destination with a focus on Flagler County and provided us with additional co-op programs at a rate that we could never afford on our own. The effort has shown dividends to our small business owners. In just one month, our (bed tax) collections rose 16 percent over the previous years. This would have never happened without the support of Visit Florida.”
These are the stories that resonate. Stories of how an agency came to the aid of destinations and small businesspeople in a time of need. Stories of fighting back against a media that was unfairly painting them as closed for business.
Florida lawmakers can bicker over the size of Visit Florida's budget...but putting an agency like this out of business? Shameful.
Oh, yeah...with a dash of the same hubris in play today in Florida (everyone knows how cool were are).
Clearly, Washington has recognized the folly of its ways and is moving to develop a public-private State DMO that looks a lot like the model currently being used in Florida. Is the Florida Senate smart enough to realize what Colorado, Connecticut and other States that have re-started their destination marketing offices have?
There was a time in the not too distant past in which music aficionados discovered new music (and, more importantly, new artists) on MySpace (I know...how quaint). And, that's where I found the Scottish band Driveblind, a group fronted by a voice named Terry McDermott that burned white hot for moment and then disintegrated.
But, not before recording an album that shuffled forward the other day as I was driving from point A to point B. And, I reveled in the sound.
So, as is my wont, I went searching for whatever happened to that band...and that voice. Imagine my surprise to learn that Terry McDermott went on to be runner-up on Season 3 of The Voice, qualifying with "Baba O'Reilly" and finishing with "I Want to Know What Love Is."
I never made the connection. But, it's certainly there.
They had already decided before they walked into the room.
With thousands of constituent communiques and hundreds of people in the Hearing Room ready to express their opposition to the proposed draconian exorcism of Visit Florida and the State's Economic Development agency, the Committee on nothing that has anything to do with tourism and economic development voted to move the bill forward.
But, here's where it gets weird. Representative Mike La Rosa suggested that local Bed Tax collections could be re-allocated to fund the State Tourism effort.
I mean, really, WTF?
Hey, Mike? How will the towns you represent attract the visitors that they need to drive the economy of your constituency without the local room tax revenues you authorize. Hint: They won't.
But even better was his question of whether the State would have authority over the "new" locally funded Visit Florida.
Honestly? It's not your money, yet you want control?
The most aggressive (and public) attack to date on Destination Marketing in America begins this afternoon in Tallahassee. The House Careers & Competition Subcommittee (how ironic) will hear testimony on a bill to eliminate Visit Florida.
What started as a vigilante crusade to punish the agency for paying Pitbull a million bucks to promote the State is now spiraling out of control to include all local Floridian Destination Marketing organizations.
What makes absolutely no sense is that this is a Republican bill; the party that is supposed to be pro-business. And yet, the elimination of Visit Florida would:
·Cost the State of Florida tax revenue and jobs – just a 5 percent drop in visitors means a loss of $5.5 billion in revenue, $563 million in taxes AND 70,000 jobs, substantially increasing Florida’s unemployment rate.
• In the absence of the State and local taxes generated by tourism, each Florida household would need to pay $1,535 to maintain the current level of government services.
• Hurt the 84% of travel businesses that are small businesses.
I would say "the whole world's watching," but they're not. Nobody outside of America would ever do what a handful of Florida legislators want to do...because it's just plain stoopid.
So...instead, "the whole nation's watching." Florida's competitors in rapt anticipation that they might actually gain market share. The rest of us terrified that our elected officials could be just as unsophisticatedly boneheaded.
I was in Peoria a couple years ago when Caterpillar announced it would move its corporate presence downtown. For a proud community with a struggling urban core, it was sweet news. But, it never happened.
As logical as the "global hub" reason sounds, let's be clear...this is about the talent. Talent that won't be satisfied with the limited cultural, dining and entertainment options that currently exist in Peoria. While Chicago doesn't offer carp hunting (at least not yet), today's top talent is able to demand a more diverse lifestyle from its employer.
Which is why it's time for Economic Development agencies to start focusing on business acquisition that enhances quality of life rather than job creation. Not unlike Destination Marketing Organizations, where hotel stays are the result (not the prime directive), EDCs should look at job creation as the result.
And, those jobs will arrive based upon the cultural, culinary, retail, entertainment and recreational assets of the community.
As Apple famously said, it's time to "Think Different."