Top five priorities for CVB’s new chief

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The Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau will go through a leadership change next month when Doug Price takes over for the retiring Terry Sullivan.

The Business Journal this week surveyed key players in the hospitality industry, asking them what they think Price should do to attract more leisure and business traffic to the city. Here’s what they said, a top five wish list of sorts for the incoming CEO, who starts  his new job in January.

The question of money

First and foremost, according to the consensus opinion, Price’s No. 1 priority should be to secure more funding for the CVB.

It won’t be easy, especially in a county long known for voting down user fees and tax increases. But it’s difficult to imagine the bureau doing more with any less. There are at least two options Price can explore.

Government per-diem rates in Colorado Springs dropped $4 per night in October, which means the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for area hotels. Not only that, but lower per-diem rates also mean lower tax collections.

One obvious way, then, to increase CVB funding would be to get per-diem rates up to where they should be. Price, hospitality leaders said, should lobby the government to get the per-diems for the Springs raised.

Another option is to raise the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax, or increase the CVB’s allocation of it — or both.

In a typical year, the CVB receives two-thirds of the LART from the city of Colorado Springs. The more taxes collected from tourists and business travelers, the more funding the city and the CVB bring in for tourism.

Because the city cut the CVB’s share of the LART this year, the bureau’s budget was slashed to $2.76 million. That figure will rise to $3.2 million in 2011 after the City Council decided to restore the CVB’s funding to normal levels.

Any hoped-for increase in funding, industry insiders say, won’t happen until local and state lawmakers are educated about the value of tourism.

“Funding tourism brings a return on investment, but some El Paso County legislators don’t see it that way — they see it as corporate welfare,” said one industry executive.

Price, according to people in the hospitality trade, needs to focus on changing that perception.

Branding the city

Many in the industry complain that the Springs lacks a brand — a single, unifying identity — that can help them market the city as a destination.

“Denver is the Mile-High City; Grand Junction is wine country,” said a local hospitality executive. “We’re just a big blank piece of paper.”

“There is no brand. There’s simply nothing there, nothing to hang your hat on when marketing,” she continued. “It’s a huge challenge. It’s very difficult to get everyone — economic development, tourism, the city of Colorado Springs — on the same page with a brand.

Price, she and others said, should work with the Economic Development Corp. and the chamber of commerce to help identify a brand for the city.

Getting the word out

Once the branding question is settled, advertising should be Price’s next big job.

“The city has a ton to offer visitors,” said one hotel general manager, “but people in Denver don’t know what’s down here in the Springs. The zoo, golf, there’s a lot here. (Marketing) doesn’t have to be outside the state. We’re the second-largest city, and word needs to get out across the state.”

Doing so will mean three things:

attending more trade shows — which the CVB had to decrease after its budget was cut;

networking with hospitality professionals in cities that feed the Springs with convention and meeting business;

and increasing the CVB’s sales staff.

Foremost, however, is a desire to see more TV ads in places such as Washington, D.C., Dallas, Phoenix, Wyoming and Kansas.

“The CVB has a great marketing plan in place,” said one hotel’s vice president of marketing. “They just can’t act on it because of the funding (shortage). I’ve seen the plan; they’re just not financially capable of doing it.”

The CVB receives kudos for its social media work but feedback about its website is mixed. The site, some people said, needs better navigation tools, an improved visitors guide, better search-engine technology, and better tracking of where visitors to the site are going.

The website also needs more information for business travelers, groups and conventions. Which leads to the next item on the list.

Attracting meeting planners

“They need to lay a ground attack on meeting planners, and (show them) why they should choose Colorado Springs for their meetings,” the marketing VP said.

For starters, the Springs is not necessarily the easiest place to fly into. Thus, wooing meeting planners and exposition companies must include helping them better understand their transportation options so they don’t simply choose Denver or Phoenix.

In addition, meeting planners need to be made aware of the wide variety of independent venues and facilities in the city for conventions, parties, concerts and more.

In other words, places such as the Fine Arts Center, the atrium at Plaza of the Rockies, the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, and the square outside the Pioneers Museum can be ideal for meetings and parties, people in the industry said.

More promotion

The Pikes Peak region has an interesting history, not to mention a number of attractions that play off that history. “Heritage tourism” is a growing industry. Events such as Western Heritage Days, Founders Day, Manitou’s fruitcake toss and El Paso County’s sesquicentennial in 2011 should be promoted inside the state and out.

With the U.S. Olympic Training Center, dozens of non-governing sports organizations and a host of venues for cyclists and mountain bikers, the region can do more to become a mecca for family and competitive sporting events.

Unique and independent businesses, from arts to individual retail stores, and “things that are a little bit quirky and off the beaten path” also need to be promoted.

The bottom line for Price?

“We just need to get as much market share as possible.”