Lincoln City Council “drilling down” to find accountability from it’s million dollar “plus” tourism promotion budget
At a joint session of the Lincoln City City Council and the Visitors and Convention Bureau Committee, Mayor Dick Anderson said Tuesday that the department’s more than one million dollar budget appears to be getting the job done at boosting Lincoln City’s local economy, but he wondered if it couldn’t operate even more effectively if VCB staff could link dollars spent with measurable benefits among the town’s tourist businesses like hotels, motels and restaurants.
VCB Director Sandy Pfaff told the gathering that drawing direct lines between ad dollars spent and economic benefits produced is as much art as science. She said that they can track tourism activity through the amount of hotel/motel room taxes that are collected but added that the city’s lodging industry has been discounting their rates lately due to the recession, so total dollar amounts per quarter don’t compare well with pre-recession figures. However, Pfaff said, they do count cars, and use certain multiplier figures (day trippers versus over-nighters) to get a sense of the drawing power of various events. They also tally ticket sales, but for things like the Kite Festival and July 4th Fireworks and other “drop in” events, it’s much harder to say, with absolute certainty, that “this number of visitors were here due to this amount of advertising.”
It was pretty much agreed around the table that the best way to clarify the effectiveness of various events or attractions is to get a detailed compilation of how many visitors rented hotel and motel rooms over a specific period of time. Right now, those numbers are a closely guarded secret as proprietary information. Mayor Anderson and City Manager David Hawker said to get those numbers would take a vote of confidence by the lodging industry that the numbers would be used strictly for tourism effectiveness purposes and that the numbers would never be used except for that purpose.
Other suggestions to pump up Lincoln City’s tourism surround Devil’s Lake, like kayak and sailing races. Others called for better coordination of special events so they don’t collide with each other on the calendar. But Pfaff surprised the group by saying that Lincoln City probably needs fewer events but more attractions. Debate followed about whether those attractions should be provided by the public or private sectors. Pfaff also pointed out that articles written in travel magazines and in travel sections of newspapers and on TV are often more effective than standard event advertising.
In the end what seemed to stick with everyone was the idea of fewer events in favor of more attractions, getting actual hotel/motel occupancy rates (with protections for proprietary information), and heavier advertising emphasis on electronic media associated with Facebook, Twitter and tourism-driven websites. Each city councilor said they are in general agreement. They also agreed that they want to review more tourism information provided by Pfaff and to meet again soon to further engage in developing tourism promotion strategies to complement what Pfaff and City Manager David Hawker think are smart promotions to attract more visitors to Lincoln City.