story by Jamie Smith
Heads on pillows and full bellies are not the usual goal for many publicly-funded budgets, but for Advertising and Promotions commissions in Northwest Arkansas and the Fort Smith area, that’s just what they’re after.
A&P commissions are designed to literally advertise and promote the region they represent in hopes of bringing more tourists to the area and to let those who already live in the area know what opportunities are available. The more people who visit an area, the more money those travelers spend in the community, thus infusing dollars into an economy without creating much financial cost for local residents.
“Tourism is a clean industry. They come here, spend money and leave,” said Allyson Twiggs Dyer of the Rogers Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “They don’t tax the infrastructure a lot.”
Each A&P commission relies on sales tax on hotel rooms and in some cases such as Fayetteville and Bentonville, there is also a tax on prepared food. Some commissions also contract with their host cities to be the advertising arm for the city government, providing the commissions with revenue from those contracts. Generally the purpose for those contracts is to help entice more conventions to an area.
“It’s a quality of life issue,” Twiggs Dyer said. “When 1,000 people buy gas and go to restaurants, it’s good for our residents. It provides sales tax money to build roads.”
LOOKING TO 2013
As 2013 rapidly approaches, area A&P commissions are approving their budgets and initiatives for the new year.
“Our goal each year is to put more heads in beds. In 2012 our goal was to book 12,500 room nights and we booked 14,771,” Twiggs Dyer continued. “For 2013 our goal is to book 15,500 room nights. We also had a goal in 2012 to book 40 conventions/sporting events and we met that goal, next year our goal is to book 45 conventions/sporting events.”
Rogers is opening a new sporting facility that has six baseball and softball fields early in 2013. The new park already has at least one tournament scheduled.
While not every A&P commission cites goals as specific as what Twiggs Dyer mentioned, each aims to find ways to specifically support the cause of bringing more people to their respective areas.
In Fayetteville, the A&P is responsible for operating the Fayetteville Town Center, one of the city’s most popular event venues. A&P Executive Director Marilyn Heifner said the A&P’s 2013 budget includes several ongoing expenses including advertising and brochures, operating the Clinton House Museum and paying the Town Center bonds.
The Town Center operations are not part of the A&P annual budget as it is a standalone, break even operation of about $425,000. A similar operation is found at the Visitor Center store, which is about a $60,000 budget.
Several special expenses were added to the A&P 2013 budget including $500,000 for the University of Arkansas Performing Hall, $182,269 for special project funding and $140,000 for “signage and wayfinding.”
“In cooperation with the city and the Northwest Arkansas Council, we will install directional signage throughout the town,” she said. “Groups seeking special project funding were considered in October and will be considered again in April for new tourism projects. Funding for the UA Performing Hall was just adopted at the December meeting.”
The signage will help tourists find their way around town, thus making it an experience they are more likely to repeat, thus becoming return visitors.
“We’ve been looking at ways to efficiently move people to their desired destinations for several years,” Heifner said. “With the City and the A&P cooperating on the funding and a match from the NWA Council through the Walton Family Foundation, we’ll be able to get all the signs and have a better directional system. It’s a win- win for the visitor, the Commission and the City.”
The UA, as a major economic tourism generator is adding a new product, a 600-seat performing arts venue on campus, she said.
“The facility will host multiple events which can be enjoyed by visitors and locals alike. When visitors attend, we’re counting on them staying in hotels and eating in our restaurants, which will boost the HMR tax,” Heifner said.
In Bentonville, the plans continue to attract more business travel, but in 2013 there is an additional focus for the $1.5 million budget.
“This is the first year that we’ve focused on leisure,” said A&P Executive Director Kalene Griffith. “Before, the focus was the business traveler and sports, but now leisure and group travel is included.”
Last year, the A&P relied mostly on editorial and advertising related to the new Crystal Bridges to attract the leisure travel but now that it is clear how much new business that leisure will bring, the Commission plans to have a special focus on attracting more leisure travelers for both Crystal Bridges and other amenities in the area. Crystal Bridges anticipated 250,000 in its first year but instead had more than 600,000 visitors.
The advertising focus will be national and international.
A portion of most A&P Commission budgets is to support special events that bring people to the region. This is usually done through helping advertise the event, several commission directors agreed.
Perry Webb, president and CEO of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, said the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, the region’s professional baseball team, is hosting the Texas League All-Star game and it will be the first time at Arvest Ballpark.
“We’ll have a fully day of activities,” he said. “We’re helping with advertising and promotional costs.”
The rest of the $300,000 budget will be used to advertise in meeting planner guides, increase online advertising and to help other individual events advertise.
In Eureka Springs, the budget is scheduled to be approved in January and is expected to be $1.2 million, said Mike Maloney, executive director.
“We will focus more heavily on lifestyle tourism,” he said.” It’s one of the more interesting products that the town can provide. Eureka Springs is rich with amenities. We are event driven. We become a busy place that always has something going on.”
Maloney said they plan on “reaching out to the food market this year.” There were two food-related events last year that were successful and they want to repeat that success, he said.
Maloney also said it won’t be clear until about July or later as to how much the Passion Play closing impacts the budget.
Some of the A&P commissions are re-evaluating their “egg,” namely where they advertise. The term egg refers to the shape of area that is marked on a map as a target audience. Some A&P commissions are growing the egg, but others like Van Buren are focusing a little closer to home.
“Because of the economy, we’ve had to re-evaluate where our leisure travel is coming from,” said Maryl Koeth. “We’ve tightened down on the area where we advertise to mostly Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Missouri.”
Tightening the proverbial egg seems to be working, as the numbers of the year are up by about 5.5%, she said.
“We need to continue those changes because they are working,” she explained.