The Eureka Springs City Advertising & Promotion Commission met for a special workshop March 6 at the Inn of the Ozarks to discuss suggestions for the skills, experience and personality they seek in the next Executive Director following the resignation of Mike Maloney. Forty-five citizens and heard 11 speakers in the hour-long meeting.. Commissioners James DeVito and Greg Moon were absent.
Chair Carol Wright facilitated the meeting and began by stating it was Lent and she is going to “give up the past.”
“We have an opportunity to start anew,” Wright said emphasizing she would like to address problems that may have occurred in the past in order to prevent them in the future. “The mission of the CAPC is to contribute to the economic growth of our area by developing and promoting Eureka Springs as a destination for leisure travel, meetings, conventions and events while enhancing our visitors’ experiences,” she said.
- Damon Henke of Ozark Mountain Vacation Rentals emphasized the importance of organized special events, and usage of the city’s Auditorium. He said he speaks for others who believe the new director should be the primary contact for state officials, active in communicating with local businesses and organizations, have an inclusive attitude, and willing to hold regular public workshops to ensure destination cohesion. He asked commissioners to consider whether or not the director will 1) hire an outside ad agency, 2) handle digital media in-house or contract out, and 3) be directly responsible for the Auditorium and special events, saying that will help determine responsibility and salary.
- Bob Jasinski of Angel at Rose Hall Bed & Breakfast, said the focus of the CAPC should not be on hiring an executive director but on contracting a professional advertising agency. For example the CJRW ad agency in Little Rock provides professional advertising services for Arkansas Parks and Tourism.
Jasinski said the reason the city needs a professional advertising agency is primarily due to the significant decline in weddings, noting “…the number of weddings in Washington and Benton counties continues to rise while they continue to fall unabated in Eureka Springs.”
He said the CAPC hasn’t done anything to promote Eureka as an affordable wedding destination, “We need somebody that knows about the importance of bringing in weddings.” He said that during the recession of 2011-12 they held 250 weddings a year, each bringing at least 20 people to town. He said his wedding business now is but a sliver of that.
- Mike Seals of Eureka Blue Consulting and Development said, “The world is changing so fast that we need to reinvent our approach to be relevant and effective now and in days to come.”
Seals suggested the CAPC hire an interim director while a three- to four-month review process takes place. He recommended the CAPC consider a rotating annual primary market focus strategy which could provide a better return on the tax dollars collected compared to the current strategy. He added that he would encourage the CAPC to move their office to a more user-friendly location.
- Jacqueline Wolven of Main Street Eureka Springs said the downtown shopping and entertainment district is one of the primary attractions for Eureka Springs, which is a main driver of the economy, and she would like to promote Eureka as a viable shopping destination during Christmas. She said “a more impactful effort” would be to collaborate, meet regularly, and develop concepts together.
- Dr. Doug Hausler of Keels Creek Winery said he and his wife have been in business since 2006, and that “seeking input from the stakeholders is a good approach as long as the input is critically evaluated and honestly provided – which I think we can do.” Hausler stated tourism in Eureka should be gauged on more than just tax collections, and if business in town is down, “There should have been a red-flag within the commission that there are issues that we have to deal with.”
He suggested that the internal workings of the CAPC should be examined as much as outside recommendations. Hausler recommended before the hiring of a new director the CAPC should look at the analytics of the past two years of not only tourism-tax collectors but also non-collectors. He recommended the CAPC institute a cooperative ad campaign that allows smaller businesses to participate.
- General Manager of the Crescent Hotel and Basin Park Hotel Jack Moyer Moyer asked the CAPC to consider scale and scope comparisons where Eureka’s tourism-tax collections are at $1.4 million compared to Branson at $13.5 million and Hot Springs at $6 million annually.
Moyer encouraged the CAPC “to find somebody willing to run a small organization, because that’s what we are.” He said the next director needs to be opportunistic and cooperative while seeking emerging markets and relying heavily on public relations. Moyer also asked commissioners if this director is going to be asked to run the advertising, organize the special events, promote the Auditorium, and also represent the community.
In order to compensate for a smaller salary compared to its competitors, Moyer recommended reducing the scope of the director by contracting for some services and reassessing the director’s roles.
- Charles Mowrey of Escape Room 13 said he hopes the CAPC will be more inclusive and cooperate with businesses to “champion for a healthy Eureka.” Mowrey listed a variety of organizations in support of the community, and reminded the CAPC of all the tourist attractions in and around town that need to be considered when spending tax dollars.
“We cannot afford to lose a single demographic,” he said. “We don’t have enough people coming to town.” He mentioned markets the CAPC has not promoted such as the mountain-biking activities and family-oriented events. He also asked the CAPC to think more inclusively at all the organizations in Eureka Springs – not just those that collect the tourism-tax.
- Bill Ott, marketing director of the Crescent and Basin Park Hotels said the CAPC should require the director to provide an annual plan which outlines key target markets. Further, the CAPC should hold the director accountable for that approved plan and base the director’s success not on if tax collections went up or down, but on whether or not the director fulfilled their agreement that should include promotion of all of Eureka.
- Michelle Frey of Tall Pines Inn focused on discussing the millennial target group. “Most of the folks getting married right now are probably going to be a millennial,” she said, insisting this target group is looking for different amenities and experiences than their older generation. “I just think marketing to that group is something we can look at.”
- Ruth Hager of Sparky’s Roadhouse Café made a quick comment, “We are a whole community that has to be represented – we are not just [tax] collectors. Whomever we hire needs to understand what Eureka is… [and this] will help them sell us to the world,” she said.
Wright said her immediate takeaway from listening was, “Slow down, plan, and hire a person who can follow that plan. Listen to everyone in town, not just the tax collectors.”