Story by Stephen Foutes | Feb 24, 2016
Benefits of enjoying the Show-Me State reach deep and wide.
Although it might not be a foremost notion for many, tourism is a big business in Missouri. Groups, such as the Missouri Division of Tourism and local convention and business bureaus, offer insights into why vacationing locally is good for a lot of reasons.
“The business of tourism is, in some ways, the business of selling fun,” says Dan Lennon, director of the Missouri Division of Tourism (MDT). “As a collective, the tourism industry takes that fun very seriously because we know how important travel and visitor spending are for economic development. Tourism creates jobs for Missourians, and tourism spending generates revenue that benefits local economies.”
Lennon says the Missouri tourism industry is a major economic force powered by out-of-state visitors and Missourians who travel 50 miles or more to enjoy attractions, dine at restaurants, shop at retail outlets and stay at lodging establishments.
Tourism-related spending in Missouri topped $12 billion in fiscal year 2015 (July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015) when the state hosted more than 40 million travelers. That spending supported more than 297,000 Missouri jobs and generated more than $524 million in state revenue, Lennon says. “Being a smaller community, tourism plays an important role in our city,” says Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) Director Diane Gillespie. “We don’t have a major league team or a beach, but we are the state capital and our central location is host to many state association and government events throughout the year.”
Gillespie says corporate and business travel accounts for about 10 percent of the tourism market in Jefferson City. However, that alone is not enough to sustain the city’s economy. That’s where attractions, such as the Capitol, the historic Missouri State Penitentiary, Runge Nature Center, Central Dairy and award-winning downtown, come into play, which helps bring hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city each year.
“These visitors are staying at hotels, purchasing gas at local stations, eating at our restaurants and frequenting our shops and businesses,” Gillespie adds. “They are also blogging, tweeting, posting and talking about their trips to Jefferson City, which creates even more interest and helping us grow as a desirable tourist destination.”
Amy Schneider, director of the Columbia CVB, says tourism provided about 11,000 jobs and brought more than $368 million into the Columbia and Boone County economies in fiscal year 2014. Tourism is a top-five industry in Missouri’s third largest city, Springfield, which hosts about 3 million visitors annually. In 2015 the city saw more than $100 million in room sales at overnight lodging establishments, according to Laura Whisler, vice president of the Springfield CVB. “Visitors generate significant amounts of revenue for the city,” she adds.
The Missouri Division of Tourism works to promote Missouri as a top-of-mind travel destination through a comprehensive and diverse marketing program that employs television, online, social media, outdoor and print advertising.
Nearly 85 percent of MDT’s budget is spent on marketing activities, including a matching grant program that helps support the efforts of certified county-level tourism marketing organizations.
The Missouri Division of Tourism’s advertising is designed to drive traffic to its website, VisitMO.com, where visitors find helpful planning tools, such as trip ideas, articles and coupons to attractions, along with detailed listings for businesses and events.
“We do a lot of homework when putting together our marketing plans,” Lennon says. “We use a variety of research tools and rely on the expertise of our advertising agency of record, H&L Partners in St. Louis, to help us make decisions — where we market, who we market to and when we market.”
Overall, MDT’s paid media campaign reached 24 out-of-state markets in 2015. Public relations and cooperative marketing programs with more than 40 statewide, regional and national destination marketing organizations also provided avenues for Missouri tourism messages.
“As a result of these initiatives and the efforts of our strategic partners, Missouri enjoyed a record number of visitors in FY15,” Lennon says.
Destination marketing organizations (DMOs in tourism lingo) in Missouri’s cities employ a variety of marketing techniques, including television ads and billboards along major highways, to connect with consumers.
In recent years, destinations across the country have seen a dramatic shift in how they reach potential visitors thanks to consumers’ increasing reliance on all forms of digital media and the marketing tools available in the digital space.
Schneider says options such as geo-fencing (delivering ads based on a smart phone user’s location) and targeted ads led the Columbia CVB to re-think its advertising strategies. Although Columbia still uses a mix of advertising methods — print, digital and outdoor — about 50 percent of the destination’s ad buys are for digital mediums. Just a few years ago, print received the lion’s share.
“I’m a firm believer in the impact of print ads and think they will always play an important part in marketing, but I am very excited about all of the new possibilities and the reach they give to us through digital efforts,” Schneider adds.
Whisler says Springfield did very little paid digital advertising five to seven years ago. This year, she says, about 60 percent of the CVB’s paid media budget is in digital.
“We used to be limited by only targeting by demographics such as gender, age and location,” Whisler says. “Now, we can target ads to peoples’ likes, behaviors and preferences in addition to the traditional methods.”
Jefferson City has also increased its reliance on digital marketing, Gillespie says, and notes that outdoor continues to be a strong performer, especially when it comes to promoting historic Missouri State Penitentiary tours.
“Word of mouth is still our biggest asset, and we have put a lot more [of our budget] toward event sponsorships as well,” Gillespie says. “Print still plays an important role in our marketing approach; however, we have been narrowing it down to publications including ‘Missouri’ sections or those that provide us with leads.”
Along with paid advertising, DMOs are often adept at finding different avenues for showcasing their destinations with Jefferson City as a prime example. The historic Missouri State Penitentiary has drawn national attention with appearances on TV shows such as SyFy Channel’s “Ghost Hunters,” History Channel’s “American Pickers” and TLC Network’s “Who Do You Think You Are?”
Almost 26,000 people toured the prison in 2015, which was up from about 22,600 in 2014 and 14,581 in 2013.
THE MESSAGE: IT’S ALL HERE
For MDT, the Show-Me State’s variety is its chief selling point. After all, no other state boasts attractions such as the country’s tallest national monument (the Gateway Arch), Harry S. Truman’s Presidential Library and Museum (in Independence), the country’s best recreational lake (Lake of the Ozarks, as voted by USA Today 10Best Readers in 2015).
Additionally, the state’s outdoor trails are among the finest in the country, which is why Missouri was named the Best Trails State by American Trails in 2013.
“We want people to enjoy and appreciate all the experiences Missouri offers,” Lennon says. “Our marketing campaigns shine a spotlight on the state’s variety by depicting everything from outdoor adventure and families enjoying theme parks to sightseeing along Route 66.”
Route 66 is one of the things for which Springfield is famous. It was at a meeting there in 1926 that the famed highway was officially named. Route 66 continues to be a part of Springfield’s charm. In fact, the CVB’s offices are on St. Louis Street, which once was part of the highway.
Along with celebrating Route 66 — a major draw for international visitors who yearn to experience Americana — the Springfield CVB touts things that make the city unique: the renowned Bass Pro Shop’s Outdoor World and small businesses, such as Askinosie Chocolate, which is situated on what locals dub “C-Street,” an area with several popular shops and businesses.
Jefferson City has several historic attractions and museums offering a glimpse into Missouri and the city’s past. The CVB’s tagline, “You’ll Feel the History,” pays homage to its past with an eye toward its modern amenities, including hotels, restaurants and retail shops.
In 2013, Rand McNally named Jefferson City “America’s Most Beautiful Small Town” in the Best of the Road Competition. “This recognition has helped us increase our marketing efforts while showcasing the many beautiful historic landmarks our city has to offer,” Gillespie adds.
Schneider says Columbia highlights local, can’t-do-them-anywhere-else experiences the city offers. “Our tagline is, ‘What You Unexpect,’ and we feel it absolutely captures the response we receive from those who visit Columbia,” she adds. “We focus on everything from our parks and trails to our local restaurants, art, entertainment and shopping.”
As the summer 2016 travel season approaches, Missouri’s DMOs are gearing up for campaigns to entice visitors for summer travel – June through August traditionally are Missouri’s peak months for visitation.
The Missouri Division of Tourism is primed for the summer season and will unveil a new advertising campaign featuring real families, couples and friends enjoying a variety of activities in Missouri.
“We know Missouri’s variety continues to inspire and surprise visitors,” Lennon says. “Since its launch in 2013, our brand has continued to connect with those qualities. As our brand invites people to ‘Enjoy the Show,’ we’re encouraging them to experience the variety – or, the show – that is the entire Show-Me State.”