July 27, 2013 10:46:32 PM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
Seven years after then-Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau officials first discussed the possibility and potential of a strategic plan, the current board of directors has decided it's time to get serious about putting one in place.
The first step was to bring in someone with experience. Don Anderson, executive partner of Destination Consultancy Group, was brought in to speak to directors during their annual retreat last week to help them get their plan off the ground. Between now and September, when he plans to meet again with members and when the CVB holds a public community meeting to gather input, he'll be corresponding with each of the nine members to gather their input.
CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter said Anderson has worked with more than 150 convention and visitor's bureaus and communities nationwide on strategic marketing, development planning and board governance and how to strengthen those facets to better promote tourism.
"Years ago, he was told after he did this preparation the board is not interested in moving forward. We're re-energizing," Carpenter said. "The interesting thing ... is the items that were critical then as far as our needs and assessments, are still the same items that are critical."
Chief among those items is the Trotter Convention Center, whose operation may be able to be improved by implementing a long-term plan, according to board member Nadia Dale.
"We had some discussions about our convention center and how that sometimes stands in the way of us being able to attract certain tourism pockets of people," she said. "Entertainment, or even if it's just conferences, we're sometimes limited in who we can network with because of those facilities. This is an area that, through a strategic plan and working with different community organizations who have that shared interest, we'd be able to have a solid direction."
Another key part of the plan is better public outreach and community presence, Dale said.
"This to my knowledge is going to be the first time this board has ever actively sought out a plan and direction. I think it's going to be helpful to the community because you have so many people who have a vested interest in this thing," she said. "We're all paying our 2 percent tax to operate the CVB, but a lot of people don't know what we do and how the things we can influence can benefit the whole community economically."
More festivals does not necessarily equal more tourism dollars for Columbus, Anderson said. It's about the amount of planning spent on each one in terms of marketing and ensuring each event generates enough interest to keep visitors in town for the weekend, which books hotel rooms and keeps restaurants full.
"We want to make sure that, for all this effort, are we getting what we want? We need to be accountable. What were the results? Does it drive more visitors here? Are they spending more nights? More importantly, are they spending even more money?" Anderson said. "I think we even want to track our residents. Are they pleased to know what we're doing on their behalf? I bet you a lot of residents in Columbus have no idea what our budget is, what we do, and sometimes we have to sing our own song and they would be more appreciative."
The strategic plan comes first, he said, but from there, getting a feel for what visitors and residents alike want out of events that are not currently being offered in Columbus is a must.
"I really feel we want to focus on who are our target markets. Who are the types of visitors that we want based on what motivates them, what attracts them here, what's driving the business now and what our opportunities are and then coming up with those strategies and how we can influence them," Anderson said. "We want to make sure that both these plans are joined to the hip."
Board member Mark Castleberry said the bureau's willingness to follow through this time with the strategic plan will take time but eventually be very beneficial to the city.
"We've matured in a lot of ways, and I think right now we're asking the right questions. The problem is we're not experts in it. Bringing in an expert is exactly what we need. We don't have consensus on this board as to necessarily a definite direction. We certainly don't have methods to measure benefit and what we're getting out of it," he said. "We're improving, but we're not taking advantage of the expertise and the bazillion man hours that are out there in this industry."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.