For Spokane, what’s in a name is money and tourism
It’s branding time again.
The Spokane Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau needs a new moniker, President Harry Sladich says. Too many people see the organization’s name and stop reading or thinking beyond “Convention,” even though “Visitors” put more heads in beds than do herds of conventioneers.
And those who do not look behind the “&” may be disinclined to pursue relationships that might enrich the community economically and culturally, he says.
The CVB, for example, is working with area tribes and the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture to increase awareness of the area’s Native American heritage. Europeans are fascinated by that facet of American history, Sladich says.
The organization also hopes to land an interpretive center for a proposed Ice Age Floods National Geological Trail that would link roads following the cataclysms from their headwaters in Montana across the scarred lands of Eastern Washington and down to the Columbia Gorge.
Great stuff for visitors. A stretch for conventioneers.
Sladich says many cities have shed the CVB label. TravelPortland, for one. Tourism Vancouver, for another.
And two years ago, the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce and Spokane Area Economic Development Council coalesced into Greater Spokane Inc.
GSI President Rich Hadley says the new name had less to do with branding and more to do with creating awareness and excitement around the re-energized “greater” organization.
That said, Hadley adds that three other Washington cities have recently inquired about GSI’s effectiveness in promoting Spokane.
Something must be working.
At the CVB’s annual meeting last week, tourism officials from Seattle and Phoenix spoke enviously of Spokane’s success keeping room occupancy losses in the single digits while their markets and many others suffered declines of 20 percent or more.
Steve Moore, president of the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau – 70 percent of its business is group meetings – says the industry has been sullied by the “AIG effect”: outrageously plush gatherings of executives who would be out on the streets but for the taxpayers.
The focus on places like Las Vegas was having the counterproductive effect of redirecting meetings to San Francisco and other cities where room rates and air fares are higher. The industry, by way of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, in July finally elicited from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel a July 14 letter saying the government was not putting certain cities off-limits.
“The test of government travel is what will be accomplished by that travel and whether the cost to the government is reasonable as opposed to other options,” Emanuel wrote.
Moore says it will take much more, and more time, to get the industry back on its feet. Recovery from the Sept. 11 swoon took 30 months, he says, and this downturn is much worse.
He credits the CVB for counterattacking with a March “Meetings Mean Business” rally that alerted the Spokane community to the economic importance of the hospitality industry. More than 40 cities have copied Spokane’s example.
Sladich foresees a blockbuster 2010, lead off by the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and continuing with three major conventions. With the prospects for 2011 less promising, attracting families and other tourists will be all the more important. By then, maybe the CVB and the Spokane community will have come up with a name “Near Nature, Near Perfect.”