CVB plans to beef up marketing in ’11

The Garden of the Gods is a big draw among leisure travelers, as well as conventioneers.

The Garden of the Gods is a big draw among leisure travelers, as well as conventioneers.

Targeting tourists, conventioneers

After struggling through deep budget cuts last year, the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau has put its marketing efforts into high gear.

To pull it off, the CVB increased its marketing budget by 32 percent, from $895,606 to $1.18 million. It was able to do so because its share of the lodging tax was restored by the city this year.

The CVB plans to spend those dollars in a number of ways, some traditional, some new.

For instance, the bureau has hired a firm to help it develop a smart-phone application with a geo-locating feature, information about its members and more.

More conventionally, it plans to heavily promote Bighorn Sheep Day later this month, Pikes Peak Western Heritage Days, the U.S. Women’s Open in July, and the Quizno’s Pro Challenge statewide cycling race in August, which is a new event and is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of fans to Colorado.

The renewed marketing push comes amid a leadership change at the CVB; the new CEO, Doug Price, started in his role last month. Since his arrival, the organization also has been in the process of developing a three-year marketing plan.

With the effects of the recession still influencing travel decisions, much is at stake for the CVB, as well as the region. Tourism provides thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in taxes to local government.

The U.S. Travel Association expects the travel market to increase this year by 7.7 percent, on the heels of last year’s 6.2 percent recovery. In 2009, the recession had caused the market to fall 9 percent nationally.

In hoping to attract even more business, the CVB this year plans to target cities that have direct flights to the Springs such as Dallas, San Francisco and Chicago. It also will spend promotion dollars targeting Washington, D.C., because of the many ties between its military and defense industry and the Pikes Peak region’s.

Two of its primary leisure demographics are families and outdoor enthusiasts. If it’s able to find the dollars, it also hopes to target two other demographics, known in the industry as affluents” and “matures.”

Also, as reported on these pages last month, the CVB, along with the Economic Development Corp., has launched a branding campaign to develop a tagline that can be used to promote the region.

This effort, it is hoped, will increase not only leisure travel, but group business, as well.

The CVB’s recent accreditation might also help. In Colorado, there are now only two Destination Marketing Association International-accredited bureaus – Colorado Springs and Denver. This accreditation helps the CVB market the region because it can assure visitors and groups that it is held to the highest professional standards and criteria.

Internationally, the CVB has marketed primarily to Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Japan and Mexico. For the last two years or so, Germany has replaced the U.K. as the top generator of overseas leisure business to the region. Next month, Floy Kennedy, the CVB’s international sales manager, will visit the U.K. in hopes of recovering some of the business lost in the financial downturn.

Closer to home, the Springs has been a popular destination for national associations that hold their annual conferences. The Pikes Peak region appeals to attendees who come before or stay after the conferences and bring their families. This tends to increase attendance at conferences, which is vital to growth for associations, as they rely on fees and dues for funding, said Kathy Reak, director of convention sales for the CVB.

To attract more of this type of business, the bureau will advertise in more national trade association publications, Reak said.

It also will partner with the Colorado Tourism Office and Pikes Peak Country Attractions Association in placing some ads. For example, this year, the CVB has a two-page ad planned in the Colorado visitor guide.

In April, it will have a full-page black-and-white ad in USA Today’s Midwest editions. The value is $52,000 but the CVB bid for the ad at an auction, paying $10,000.

The money it spends, CVB officials say, yields good returns.

In 2010, the CVB booked group or convention business that had more than $93 million in direct economic impact. Leisure travel brought in by CVB marketing efforts had a direct impact of more than $94 million.

Tourism is the third-largest industry in the Pikes Peak region, generating $1.2 billion in annual revenue. The CVB calculates that its return on investment in 2009 was $4.25 in local taxes collected for every $1 invested.

Cutting tourism promotion, experts agree, is risky, and market share can take years to recover. That’s why CVB officials scrambled last year to continue marketing as much as possible after their budget was slashed.

To prevent loss of market share, the bureau took a number of steps in 2010 to cut expenses. Among them, they hand-carried their booths to trade shows, rather than shipping them, and saved thousands of dollars in postage by increasing the number of visitor guides sent electronically, rather than via postal service.

The CVB remembers all too well what happened in Colorado in the 1990s.

The state unwittingly became a test-case for the effects of cutting tourism promotion. In an effort to trim the budget, the state cut all tourism funding from 1993 to 1997. As a result, Colorado’s overnight leisure travel dropped 30 percent by 1997, according to an IHS Global Insight report.

In addition, the state dropped from No. 1 in summer resort travel to No. 17. During that four-year period, visitor expenditures dropped by $2.4 billion.

Former CVB CEO Terry Sullivan spearheaded a statewide effort to use private funding to reopen Colorado’s tourism phone lines in 1997.

Tourism immediately improved, but the effects of pulling advertising over that four-year span lingered. Between 1998 and 2001, the state’s leisure visits increased 17 percent. During the same time period, however, the state’s competitors saw an increase of 28.4 percent, leaving Colorado far behind.

The state continued to under-perform until 2005. Three years later, the recession kicked in, curtailing travel, as well as promotion spending.

That all changes this year. Or so the industry hopes.