Joint meeting focuses on improving ES economy
A much-anticipated meeting to discuss tourism and boosting the Eureka Springs economy was held Friday, Sept. 12, at Inn of the Ozarks. Members of the City Council, City Advertising and Promotions Commission (CAPC) and the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce, along with others, presented introductions about their responsibilities, goals and strategies to promote Eureka Springs.
Aldermen Dee Purkeypile and David Mitchell moderated the roundtable discussion. Purkeypile set the expectations for the meeting by introducing the participants, urging only constructive comments and creating a tone that would lend itself to further workshops and meetings.
CAPC Director Mike Maloney outlined five strategies that guide the CAPC's actions and decisions:
* Protect and maintain existing markets with television and print ads. Those markets include Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Springfield/Branson, Dallas/Fort Worth, Kansas City, Little Rock and the Interstate 49 corridor.
* Reach new people. Maloney said 75 percent of web traffic is brand-new unique hits. He said that the CAPC uses Geofencing, a technique that allows Smartphones and iPads users in specific ares to receive banner and print ads. The CAPC is currently targeting Branson, Mo.
* Expand segment and seasonal coverage to drive year-round visitation.
"We owe it to our industry, and we owe it to the people of Eureka Springs that we remain a full-time tourist venue," Maloney said.
* Deepen efforts in new markets such as northwest Louisiana, Memphis, Austin and Houston.
* Increase the city's reach with social media.
CAPC Chairman Charles Ragsdell began his presentation with optimistic data. After a slow start to 2014, the city has rebounded in terms of sales tax collections, and has now exceeded year-to-date sales tax collections above 2013,
Ragsdell said. Ragsdell said Eureka Springs is too dependent on tourism and to maintain a healthy year-round economy, some new businesses need to relocate here with jobs available. He mentioned small technology firm and cell-phone repair centers and suggested the old high school site could be repurposed as a business center. "We need an ambassador to go around the country using tax incentives and property tax rebates," Ragsdell said.
Scott Smith, chairman of the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber represents 435 businesses in Eureka Springs, with 85 percent of those businesses geared toward tourism. He said 92 percent of CAPC lodging businesses are chamber members as well as 85 percent of restaurants.
Mike Bishop, president and CEO of the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce, called the meeting "a great day for Eureka Springs." He said that increased revenue should mean increased tourism, and that increasing the length of stay per visitor will play a major role in future growth. Bishop said the average cost for a room in Eureka Springs is $62 per night and that the average stay is 2.5 days, according to Booking.com.
Bishop laid out his goals for the Chamber of Commerce and the city:
* Get back 100,000 annual visitors that he says have been lost since 2008.
* Increase the length of stay to three days.
* Increase Sunday through Thursday visitor spending.
* Target wealthier visitors.
If these goals can be met, Bishop said, it would add $1,560,762 to city revenues that could be used on infrastructure projects such as repurposing the old high school property.
Mayor-elect Butch Berry addressed the meeting by first saying,"We all have one thing in common -- we all love Eureka Springs and by coming together like we are today we move forward in a positive way."
"We each need to boost our 'hospitality mentality.' " Berry said, "Misplaced comments by store clerks or front-desk managers can send visitors away with a bad memory which will mean we've lost that visitor."
Berry said he will represent the city to legislative subcommittees and try to strengthen the city's relationship with state officials. He said he's already working with state Sen. Bryan King and state Rep. Bob Ballinger to bring non-tourist businesses to town and interest colleges in looking at Eureka Springs.
Bruce Levine, director of the Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Department, said adventure tourism and parks are sometimes overlooked in the big picture.
"What's good for residents will also be good for tourism", Levine said. The city has 10 to 12 miles of trails inside the city and another 25 miles at Lake Leatherwood.
Additional meetings and workshops will be scheduled targeting more specific goals.