You might have heard about the tourism market research study the Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau commissioned this year. Judy Randall, President and CEO of Randall Travel Marketing, completed an incredibly in-depth, six-month analysis of what we have that's good, what we have that's not so good, and what we need to do to get people to pull off the highway to spend some money.
I'd like to share just a few things we can do as a community to help encourage additional outside spending from visitors.
- Tell folks where to find the stuff we already have.
If you're not from here, sometimes it's just plain hard to find things. Several of our roads change names with little or no warning (e.g., Owens to Cox to Gibbs Road). The research showed that if folks asked for directions, our friendly Columbia County residents were very helpful. However, we need to work together to study signage and "wayfinding" to help visitors find the great places we have where they can spend money. A lot of us aren't from here originally and have experienced the "I'm new to the area, can you help me find _____ scenario. If you have ideas to help with this initiative, please call us.
- Define the CVB's mission.
The CVB's job, according to Randall, is really quite simple: "Put heads in beds and make cash registers ring." Every dollar the organization spends should be in production of something that will encourage people not just to pull off Exits 183, 190 or 194 to fill their gas tanks, but also to find a hotel, somewhere to eat, somewhere to shop, or somewhere to relax - all while spending money! Randall's report showed us that for every $1 invested in the CVB, the county earns $75 in taxes paid by visitors.
How can you help? We hope we've made it easy to do. The CVB has a new initiative called "Pay To Play." If your business is a hotel, restaurant, retail store, spa, golf course or other facility where you want to make more money from visitors, you can participate. For a $100 annual investment, your business is featured in the Visitors Guide, the Visitor Map and on the choosecolumbiacounty.com Web site.
This is not a membership program; our partners at the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce serve the business community incredibly well. That $100 for a year's exposure is an incredible value and is the CVB's marketing strategy to get people from the highway to your business. Call us before July 1 to "play."
- Go after business we can get.
The report showed us that folks currently visiting are from market segments that weren't a big surprise. During the week, the hotels are filled with business travelers and military folks. The future for us will be hitting the leisure travel market in a more significant way. We are very interested in networking with any Columbia County resident or business owner who:
- Is connected to or allied with organizations for hobby enthusiasts, social/fraternal clubs, or business-affiliated membership associations;
- Is planning a wedding, a family reunion, a reunion for colleagues (i.e., military, high school, college, etc.); or,
- Is making plans for family to visit for an upcoming graduation, christening, birthday or any celebration.
Your family parties, connections, interests and hobbies can actually help us bring more people to Columbia County to spend the night. Please contact our office for assistance.
- Help in development of new products likely to drive economic impact.
"Holy cow," you're thinking, "how does she expect us to help with that?" This is the easiest and biggest thing you can do: Support Columbia County stores. If you want more retail options in Columbia County, then shop, dine and play in Columbia County. When big retailers are investigating locations to open new stores, they look at reports just like the one we received from Randall Travel Marketing. The reports provide lots of statistics, including population, the number of rooftops and the spending patterns of our residents.
The more we support regional retailers, the greater number of stores that we'll see open in other parts of the region. That doesn't help provide us with any tax relief. The Randall report showed that the current visitor-generated tax relief is approximately $200 annually per household in Columbia County. Think how much higher that would be if we had more options for shopping, dining and entertainment for our visitors (and it wouldn't hurt our residents, either). We'll be working with our partners from the Columbia County Development Authority to do whatever we can to bring new retail options to the County, but you have a significant role: When it's an option, please choose to buy goods and services in Columbia County.
The Columbia County CVB is delighted to offer the significant amount of information included in this report to the community. Our organization was also very fortunate to have Randall facilitate a strategic planning effort. She didn't tell us everything was "peachy," but gave us the hard facts and walked us through a very detailed plan of work that our board of directors will focus on for the next year or two.
We'd sincerely appreciate your help in facilitating the overall mission of increasing economic development for Columbia County. Our community will be better for it.
I look forward to hearing from you!
(Beda Johnson is executive director of the Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau. For information on CVB programs, call 706-447-7677.)
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