We're live at the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau board meeting. We're in the CVB building in downtown Tupelo.
Disclaimer: I'm typing as people are talking. There may be typos. People also have a tendency to talk at the same time, so I can't always hear everything.
And, I'm not typing every word. Think of this more as the highlights of the meeting.
Something doesn't make sense? Corrections? Have questions? Ask.
Chairman Neal McCoy calls the meeting order at 2:03 p.m.
Financial report from Kim Hanna:
These are the financials from April. They are really good. Couldn't be more pleased to present them to you.
$294,000 revenue over expenditures for the first months of the fiscal year.
$374,800 for April - tourism revenue dollars for April. Don't know of a single month that it's been that high. You've set a new bar for yourself. This is February activity - Valentine's Day & Beta Club events.
You are on budget on your expenditures.
This past weekend was a busy weekend in Tupelo. Dudie's Burger Festival, Blue Suede Cruise, dog park opening, Wounded Warrior's softball tournament.
Thank you to Outback. They hosted Wounded Warriors and got a standing ovation. BBQ by Jim and Buffalo Wild Wings also fed them. Thank you. First game had about 500 people there.
Most profound moment for me - soldier who lost his arm challenged a firefighter to a pushup contest. Man with one arm one.
There's a lot going on in Tupelo. If someone says to you they can't find something to do, hit them over the head with a hammer because they are wrong.
Berkeley Young from Young Strategies is here. We're making time for him so we're skipping staff reports today.
Berkeley Young of Young Strategies:
This is is like graduation day. We've been at this for a year. Big moment for this organization. This is most comprehensive info you have to form future plans on.
It's "here we are in 2012" and how we look to 2020. If we'd done a strategic plan in 2000, it wouldn't have included the changes from 9/11. The data now is more current. As we get closer to 2020, travel will change. It becomes a constant cycle of revisiting your goals and how you want to get there.
The research confirms that you've been on the right track. Everything you've done so far has been really smart. You'd have the right plans in place - downtown, Gloster, Elvis.
(He's showing the first draft of the final report. The exec summary will be handed out today. It's about 10 pages.)
-- Methodology ---
Started with an in-depth look into your lodging industry - who's staying and how much they are paying, etc.
Also looked into what the CVB staff is doing and where they spend their time.
Surveyed visitors while they were here and when they got home.
We want more overnight visitors. They spend twice as much as daytrippers.
We have close to 700 visitors who were here. Very good number.
Also surveyed meeting planners, sports planners and group tour planners. These are so similar that it doesn't take a lot of survey responses to get idea.
Want you to change your vocab - use "travel" instead of "tourism." When you use "tourism," civic leaders think "we're not the Gulf Coast. We don't have fun in the sun." But you have a big "travel" industry.
$232 million in total travel spending in Lee County in FY2011. That comes out to $229.75 per resident in tax relief every year. That's money that residents don't have to pay in because travelers are spending that instead.
This is the one place where you can spend more tax revenue for a community without raising a tax rate.
Travel industry gives you a way to raise money without raising taxes.
In Tupelo, there are 29 hotel/motel properties collecting lodging tax. Last year, there were 27 hotel/motel properties.
10 properties participated in our survey.
40 percent of the rooms in the city have been built since 2000. Biz travelers like new hotels. There's a migration to newer hotels. Means most bed taxes are coming from new hotels. Newer hotels will have higher occupancy with higher rates. Older hotels have lower occupancy with lower rates.
There's only so much you can do to update a hotel.
A limited-service hotel, like Hampton Inn that just opened in Tupelo, is fancier than a Hilton that opened 10 years ago. Limited-service hotels are coming on strong in the industry.
----- People in Tupelo hotels ----
• 47 in biz traveler (males)
Industrial repair workers are driving a lot of your biz travelers.
• 35 conference groups
Team sports is strong for you. Even though government is cutting back nationally, you should be OK because you are small enough to escape under the radar.
Group tours/motorcoaches is really small for you (1.8 percent). Thought it would be a lot bigger. But, you have the coaches who come to the birthplace and then spend the night in Memphis because they are a lot more fun than you.
• 15 individual leisure
• 3 percent other (medical related)
---- Sales priorities recommended from lodging properties ----
• Groups in order: corporate, government, sports, association, SMERF, group tours
--- Lodging occupancy ----
You kind of took it on the chin with occupancy and the economy. But you wound up with a really good 2011. Had FEMA activity here from tornado-related activies.
Sunday night is still under 40 percent occupancy. If you bring a hotel a group for Sunday night, they'll deal. Don't need big groups during the week because they can sell those at full price to biz travelers.
2008 was peak year. Had two down years after that. Now getting back to that.
---- Ages and spending ----
About half of your day trippers are Gen X and Baby Boomers. But your younger Gen X (40-year-olds) are not sleeping here. They are saying that there's not enough here.
Over half book their trip within 30 days.
Elvis and shopping are primary leisure attractors.
Ads lead to online planning. You can't go all digital. Need to have some print.
This is a drive market. 90 percent of people drive themselves home. Loss of Delta air service will have more impact on your biz travelers than on leisure travelrs.
Your hooks - Elvis, shopping, downtown, museums and parkway.
Your biggest problem - Y'all pull up the streets at 6 o'clock. You have a lack of evening activities. Your biz travelers will be at the hotels and then they go walk the mall and they wind up going home thinking there's nothing to do here.
Biz travelers are bored. They spend the most. They go shopping at the mall because there's nothing to do.
Youth girl sports spend the most out of team sports groups.
Per trips - Day trippers spend about $220. Overnight spends $587. Biz travelers $601. Conference attendee spends $544. Team sports spend $488.
--- Your inquiry survey (223 respondents) ---
76 percent are female and average age is 51.
70 percent have been here before. Way too high!
Mississippians come here for your mall.
70 percent plan within 1 month.
Day trippers are 45 percent. Overnight avg - 1.46 nights. We have to give them something to do.
Travel parties - 73 percent are adults only.
You primarily are an adult-destination, except for certain times during the summer.
Highest visited - downtown, birthplace, parkway, Tupelo Hardware and auto museum
50.5 percent of people who got visitor guide packets we sent them came to Tupelo
Just from mailing out your visitor guides in 2011, you had visitor spending of $2,407,040.
That is a solid return. That is an A for the CVB.
Means $30,000 to general fund just for the fulfilment program.
---- Meeting planner survey (46 respondents) ----
The general visitor receives you pretty well. The place they knock you is evening activities and things to do.
Meeting planners are super critical.
Issues with you:
• you are one of the most inconvenient places in the state for their meeting.
• You also fall off the cliff when itn comes to evening entertainment.
• quality of lodging
• Quality of meeting/event venues
• proximity of lodging to event venues
Comment from board member Bruce Patel: We have to extend our alcohol sales. We need to extend our bar/restaurant hours.
Young: I don't want you to think that evening entertainment is nothing but wild parties and alcohol. In Hilton Head, they have a sing-along for families as night-time entertainment.
What about Taylor Grocery by Oxford? It's a dive. There's graffiti on the wall, but there's always somebody picking a banjo. It doesn't have to be anything big, but it has to be something for people do do.
In this case, build it and they will come. Be authentic with it. Go with your true experience - Shake Rag. Build it and they will come and spend money with you.
--- Sports planners (19 respondents) -----
More men. 26 percent had been here.
Y'all host a lot of youth tournaments.
Perception of Tupelo as a sports destination - if they've been here, they rated you highly. If they haven't been here, they weren't so sure. That tells us that we need to pay the money to bring the planners here if they haven't been here.
If they've already been here, 60 percent said they were likely to come back. Those who hadn't been here, 39 percent said they were likely to come.
We need to show them.
--- Group tour planners (14 respondents) ---
60 percent had been here with a group.
They plan about a year to 2 out.
56 percent had stopped here as part of a Memphis trip.
78 percent did not spend the night in Tupelo.
The lodging industry wants smaller conferences and groups - 15 to 20 people. We can accommodate those better than 40 people.
They find you appealing with restaurants and attractions. But they clobber you with evening entertainment.
The CVB is putting the message out, but until you can give them something to do at night, you aren't going to get the overnight.
What can we do to entertain you?
• live theatre - 86 percent
• working farm tour
• night-time entertainment district -57 percent
--- CVB summary ---
Structure is sound. Spending is good. You have a talented, experienced staff that is good.
New economy demands change to grow.
Funding is adequate to accomplish task.
You need to back-fill rooms at hotels. You have 40 percent of rooms to fill because rest is full of biz travelers.
Better public relations. Need media to do more stories about you.
We have to create nightly entertainment. It hurts you in every single segment. Doesn't have to be wild parties. Just needs to have something to do.
Focus o your core downtown to benefit everyone. You are doing a good job and keep it up. If it is a great place for your local citizens, it's a good place for travelers.
Civic partnership is critical. You have good partnerships, but you can't afford to have overlap because there is too much work to do.
--- OVERALL RECOMMENDATIONS ---
1. Acknowledge success: CVB is doing a good job. You are on the right path.
2. Maintain a 365-night-a-year focus. Get more heads-in-beds. Evaluate your programs and ads. Focus on when you need the business and focus on those. You must focus on need periods when lodging rooms are available. Busiest nights in Tupelo are Tues/Wed. Need to pursue small groups that will come on Sunday. Festival and events are critical. They are the pep rally for a town. CVB must avoid over-emphasis of a few events that don't drive room nights. Don't let that focus be the detriment of other nights of the year.
3. Establish a consistent brand. Elvis! Interest will dip as Boomers die, but it won't ever completely die because he's the foundation of rock 'n' roll. Have generation coming along that needs to hear Elvis' story. Tie in Elvis to gospel to auto museum to Shake Rag to food. They all tell one story - Tupelo. Building destination brand around mid-century Americana at its best.
You want people to tour Tupelo to see the birthplace of the King and to see legendary fun. Right now it is more educational and not fun. You are not legendary fun right now. You need to get there.
4. Focus on driving overnight visitation from leisure and small groups. You want small groups, corporate meetings. Focus on Sunday nights.
5. Increase ad outreach (new markets). Focus on highway drive markets withing 6-hour drives or less.
McCoy: Legislature cut state tourism marketing dollars by more than $1 million. We're now down to $4.8M. That's critical to us because our neighboring states have $12M. Louisiana has $20M budget.
Young: That's a painful cut to you because the research shows that your biggest help comes from the state. You have a tiny, tiny budget. Cutting the advertising budget is the worst thing you can do. They eliminated the fertilizer for your crop.
Need to focus on mixed mediums for ads - traditional, digital, visitor guide, etc.
6. Promote shoulder seasons. Promote April, September, November and February. Your slowest month is December. But December is the craziest month of the year for consumers. Be very smart and strategic about not wasting your money.
Promote weekday getaways for retirees. Don't call them seniors.
Promote weekends for GenX and younger Boomers.
Create fun packages around Sunday. Think of this as a cruise ship on land. You can do it all in one place.
7. Aggressive public relations strategy.
Target the media. Get everyone blogging about Tupelo. Talk to regional newspapers.
8. Tupelo needs to look fun and be fun. Wrap a van and have it moving all around Tupelo. Have it at events to great people and connect with people. Sell your activities.
9. Partner with Memphis and Nashville.
Tupelo already is a natural add-on. Partner now and get the day trip. Will translate to overnight in a few years.
10. Shopping strategy.
We need to promote downtown at the mall. We need to promote the mall downtown. Every town I've worked in, there's animosity at both. We need to get over that.
We need to have citywide shopping events. Create a shopping passport.
11. We need night-time entertainment.
Need something to do after 5 p.m. Start small and then grow it. Have someone sing at a restaurant.
Have an event calendar posted weekly in lodging properties.
Need to have places to hear gospel. Connect it with Elvis.
Have Sunday night concerts on the lawn.
Have live music jams on Tuesday nights.
Have movie nights related to an Elvis mid-century theme. Think about a drive-in movie venue. Ties in with your Elvis theme and you have the auto museum. You could have the world's only indoor drive-in movie theatre.
I want you to get creative and think outside the box. Think about what you can do that won't cost a lot of money.
We have to connect people to the fun if we want to get the room nights.
LONG TERM RECOMMENDATIONS
1. New product development
• You have to finish Main Street. By 2020, it needs to be a fun, family-friendly entertainment district. Something every night.
• Outlet mall. Example: Unclaimed Freight store in North Alabama or Topps for Shoes.
• People want fun concerts, not serious.
• Fun public art, not high-brow art.
• Arts & antique districs. Encourage artists to live and work in Tupelo.
• Contempory and unique lodging - think funky retro that would add to the Elvis experience. Example: 50s motor court. You want a lodging property that people will drive to stay in.
Tupelo is an amazing place. You have so much great stuff but you have to lace it all together. YOu have all the pieces in place. You have great new thing, great new thing and then gaps. We have to fill the gaps and lace it all together.
You have an appealing place that people want to come to, but you have to make it fun.
Young is done. Questions?
Councilwoman Nettie Davis: Our elected officials are going to have to be open-minded about this when it comes to entertainment. I grew up in church, but we have some elected officials who that's all they think about - religious activities.
We are sitting here on a gold mine - Shake Rag. Instead of all the bonding companies being here, we should have blues joints and places where people can go and have a good time.
Downtown is really getting busy but you drive three blocks up Spring Street and there's nothing going on.
We need another hotel downtown. Conferences want to walk and we need more places for them to stay downtown. We lost the AKA conference to Memphis.
Board member & hotel owner Bruce Patel: Maybe we need to put a conference center on Gloster because that's where all the hotels are. That'd be easier.
McCoy: We're giving you this study to review and we're going to come back and talk about it at next month's meeting.
Request from Tupelo Redevelopment Agency to do a feasibility study for an entertainment component. (see our earlier post today)
TRA is requesting our help to do this for up to $30,000. Arena, CDF, Main Street and CDF all putting money into this.
You just heard from Berkeley about how important it is for us to have nightly entertainment.
Motion to fund the study up to $30,000 passes.
The tourism leadership program has its graduation tomorrow. (It's invite-only, but we'll be there covering it).
Meeting adjourned at 3:35 p.m.