GUEST COMMENTARY: Destination marketing requires new savvy today

2013-05-21T00:05:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Destination marketing requires new savvy todayBy Bill Geist nwitimes.com
May 21, 2013 12:05 am  • 

There’s a news story circulating in the destination marketing organization world this month that involves drama and Indiana in the same sentence — and my friends in the industry reach out to me and ask, “Speros, right?”

Yes, Speros Batistatos, CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, is a force of nature. He has a personality that can light up a room — and can set rival gangs on war footing. Nobody is ambivalent about Batistatos. You love the guy — or hate him.

But nobody can honestly deny his passion for destination marketing, economic development and enhancing the quality of life on the South Shore. All of the South Shore.

And, despite the fact that much of the drama is about style, regional opinion leaders are beginning to side with Speros on this one.

The latest dust-up in Northwest Indiana concerns a destination marketing organization director in an adjacent county requesting a legal opinion on whether the South Shore CVA can “do business” in his county. He’s miffed that the South Shore CVA has hotels and attractions in his county that have invested partnership revenues into their neighboring destination marketing organization. He says it confuses clients.

Except these hotels and attractions wouldn’t be investing in the South Shore CVA if they didn’t see a value. The days of “for the good of the community” membership are over. Indeed, the South Shore CVA reports they booked more hotel room nights into the adjacent county than its own destination marketing organization generated last year. These businesses see value to their bottom line and they are willing to pay for it.

If the offended tourism bureau is serious about this “infringement” concept, it should be suing TripAdvisor or Yelp or Google, because they are all providing visitor information about his county, too. Just like the South Shore CVA, they’re “meddling” in the affairs of the tourism bureau by providing broader and richer content than he does.

Or course, that’s insane. But, it doesn’t stop him from trying to prevent the South Shore CVA from bringing business into the region that benefits his county’s economy.

Here’s the deal: Any attorney or judge who reads Indiana code to mean that a destination marketing organization cannot use locally derived room or casino tax to place business in another county (when such action will also positively impact the home county) is either an idiot or focused on political power over constituent needs.

Because, if such an opinion is rendered (and if it becomes precedent), there will be no more Super Bowls or Final Fours in Indianapolis — because Visit Indy will be blocked from pursuing events that require hotel rooms outside Marion County to land the business. And big events always do.

Really? Is this how short-sighted some have become?

Visitors (and clients) don’t give a damn about geopolitical boundaries. And those who still view the world through those glasses need to sit down, shut up and leave destination marketing to those of us that understand today’s competitive realities.

This is an excerpt from Madison, Wis.-based Zeitgeist Consulting President Bill Geist's remarks first published in his company's newsletter for the destination marketing industry. The opinions are the writer's.

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