Thursday, June 30, 2011

DeKalb Tourism by John Dersham

In 1953 the DeKalb County Tourist Association was formed by a group of local attractions. They joined together to form an association that would help promote their attractions to potential tourists that lived outside of DeKalb County.
Over the last 58 years tourism to DeKalb County has dramatically grown and has gained many facets not present at the beginning, such as Agri-Tourism, Eco Tourism, Festival Tourism, History and Genealogy Tourism, food and music tourism, antique and flea market tourism and artists and craftsmen related shows, businesses and events. During all of these years you had to become a member of the DeKalb County Tourist Association in order to be included in our advertising plans.
As the gamut of things visitors like to do when they travel has grown and the dollars they spend in our county has grown it became apparent to us that a more inclusive business model would help bring more business to our county and a chance to grow tourism to the next level here in DeKalb. Since we are funded by dollars collected in taxes at lodging facilities and on Alcohol sales it became important that we deliver a message about tourism that covers all the topics that a potential visitor would find appealing here in DeKalb County. As tourism grew the portion of dollars from memberships became a smaller part of our income and the larger part became the dollars coming from public spending.
Last year our board voted unanimously to become a non-member organization that would promote all entities in the county that would be a draw to the potential visitor. Beginning January 1, 2012 we will no longer have members. The conversion process began January 1 of this year when we began our transition year from a member to non member organization. Since memberships were paid on anniversary dates it required a year for all memberships to expire. Beginning next year we will add in other venues that appeal to the traveler but would typically have not drawn membership. Examples of this would be things that appeal to our tourists like food and entertainment, Agricultural events and farmers markets, sports events, flea markets and antique shopping. DeKalb Tourism promotes on TV, radio, in magazines and brochures all throughout the Southeast and Midwest. We promote beginning 50 miles away and go up to 500 miles. We are a drive to market so we do not spend ad dollars to promote longer distances. By definition, a tourist is someone visiting and spending their money 50 miles or more from where they live. DeKalb Tourism’s ad campaign is to entice people to make us their travel destination by talking about the big picture, our beautiful scenery, parks, cabins, campgrounds, B&B’s, Hotels, artists and shows, restaurants, hiking, waterfalls, relaxation, good food and music. Once the consumer is interested in us then our website and brochures help direct them to where they want to, stay, play, eat, shop, etc.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Summer Tourism Update by John Dersham

Last week I attended the annual retreat for the Alabama Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus (AACVB). AACVB consists of organizations throughout the state that are in the Destination Marketing business, just like DeKalb Tourism.
At this meeting we always have guest speakers that are experts in various parts of the destination marketing business. This year we had seminars on the latest products and services for mobile applications and internet marketing. This is an ever changing realm and our industry has to stay on the cutting edge of this technology. It is imperative that we stay up with the current trends so we know the way our potential visitors get their information. We had seminars dealing with budgets and our current political climate. The trend is to do more with less money. Many budgets have been cut. This increases the need to work smart and utilize free or low cost internet marketing as much as possible, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Blogging etc. Another seminar concerned itself with current trends in advertising, what works, what does not and what has cooled off and what is hot. The bottom line is tourism is like all other industries we have to stay up with the current trends that work or get outdated and loose market share.
Much of this years meeting dealt with the current state of tourism in Alabama, how are we doing, and what are our challenges. Most CVB’s had an opportunity to talk about their results and their marketing plans for this year. Some of the challenges for all of us are the sluggish economy, a tendency to hold on to money, high gas prices and severe weather conditions. In north Alabama and in Tuscaloosa the April 27th tornados have negatively impacted tourism. The consumer thought is much like last years oil spill in the gulf. The perception is that our area has been ruined by the tornados and we will not be a good place to visit this summer. We are currently running a TV, radio and press campaign telling our potential travelers that DeKalb County and all our tourist attractions are open and looking good...
Overall there is a downward trend in tourism for most CVB’s this year. 2010 was a greatly improved year over the prior several but this year is tending to look more like 2008 and 2009 for most of us.
DeKalb Tourism is dedicated to trying to maximize our money to spend as much of it as possible on advertising. It is critical that we track the results from each type of advertising we do. This way we know what works and what does not and how much it costs for each form of advertising. DeKalb Tourism will keep doing all we can to bring those very important tourism revenues into our area. Tourism is big business and it is especially large here when considering the small size of our population.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Summer Tourism Has Begun by John Dersham

Our official beginning of the summer tourism season began last weekend with our traditional Memorial Day Holiday. For many years school has ended just before Memorial Day and people make their first summer trips. Destinations to water and mountains are very big on Memorial Day. It is usually the first time weather is warm enough for swimming and sunbathing. Picnics and camping are big on this holiday too.

This year we have some challenges to overcome in order of having a successful summer season. We have been impacted by a consumer belief spawned by television media that north Alabama will not make a good summer destination because it was so badly damaged during the April 27th tornados. Even though all of DeKalb County's tourist attractions are open and look fantastic a perception contrary to that exists.
In order to get the word out that we are open for business, DeKalb Tourism has sent out an “Open for Business” press release of which we have already received some television and newspaper coverage. We are running a radio and television ad campaign across north and central Alabama and southern Tennessee that starts out by letting people know that despite severe damage and loss of life and property in parts of DeKalb County that our famous and beautiful tourist attractions are open. This includes all parks, museums, hotels, cabins, B&B’s, campgrounds, artist shops and sports locations. We are hoping this ad campaign will invite people to plan their summer vacations here in DeKalb. The other challenge we have is our high gas cost. This is having a nationwide impact on travel but I believe we will be ok. The fact that we are only one tank of gas away for 11 million people and we have a good interstate system coming to us should entice visitors who do not want to make a longer trip this summer.
Last year we had an excellent year in tourism. We rebounded from the economic downturn of the prior couple years. This year has been soft however beginning the year with snow storms, then ice and finally the tornados. I feel good about our recovery now and feel we will have a good summer vacation season.
I’d like to pass along a special thanks to all the wonderful people in DeKalb County that rallied to support all the people who lost loved ones, were injured or lost material property during the tornados. We really shined here in DeKalb. When the chips were down we showed just how much we care with the tremendous outpouring of physical and financial help. Thanks, everyone.