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Boots or bust? City tries various ways to measure ad campaign's success

By Gabe Semenza
Feb. 19, 2011 at 8:04 p.m.
Updated Feb. 18, 2011 at 8:19 p.m.

A magazine ad displays Victoria's marketing slogan "Bring  your boots!" in an effort to attract more attention and visitors to town.

MONEY SOURCE

The Victoria tourism bureau operates on a $750,000 yearly budget, money that comes from hotel-motel occupancy taxes.

By state law, the city must spend that money on tourism-related projects. The city can't use it, for example, to fix roads, lower tax rates or on other non tourism-related projects.

Victoria tourism bureau planners and supporters say they won't know for a year or two whether its ad campaign is a success.

The "Bring Your Boots" branding effort needs time to resonate with outsiders, to lure them and their wallets to the city, they say.

Whether you like the campaign or not, you likely wonder if the city will get bang for its buck.

What is the Victoria Convention and Visitors Bureau doing to attract guests? How does it measure success? Do these processes compare well to industry standards?

To better understand how such a campaign works, the Advocate examined these and other questions.

WHAT WAS DONE?

Bridgette Bise, director of the Victoria tourism bureau, unveiled early this month the 2011 "Bring Your Boots" campaign ads. The campaign is in its second year, as is Bise's office.

The boots campaign largely targets residents in the Diamond Corridor - from Corpus Christi to San Antonio and Houston. It aims to tell the story of Victoria via the iconic Texas image and lure overnight visitors here, Bise said.

A 2008 branding survey showed many residents in the corridor and as far away as North Texas knew little about Victoria, what it offers or even where it's located.

"We want the boot campaign to connect the city with something," said Janell McPhail, who owns Jet Marketing and Advertising, the tourism bureau's Cuero-based ad agency. "When people say Cuero, you say Gobblers. When people say San Antonio, you say Alamo. When people say Victoria, we want them to say boots."

To create this connection, the tourism bureau advertised in Texas Monthly and other print publications, on billboards, the radio and elsewhere. It created tour packages, shopping brochures, golf and museum guides, a jingle and a website: www.VisitVictoriaTexas.com.

The ultimate goal is to grow hotel-motel occupancy taxes and create positive economic affects in the city's business sector.

DOES IT WORK?

To determine if the marketing works, Bise measures success by several metrics.

In addition to measuring online visits, hotel-motel occupancy taxes and the number of visitor-request packets fulfilled, Bise also measures:

Visitor guide replenishments at visitor centers, hotels and other locations

Local businesses and groups that use the boot concept in promotions. This signals civic pride and participation.

Coupons redeemed at local retailers, who are included in a promotional book

Ad retention. Victoria's Texas Monthly ads were the magazine's most highly retained ads by readers last year.

Phone call and e-mail request counts

DOES IT MAKE SENSE?

To better understand how other tourism bureaus market and track success, the Advocate contacted an Amarillo tourism agency, the state and even Canada.

All three have used boots to attract visitors, and each represents a different market: Local, state and national. A look at this cross-section shows standardized efforts across broad areas.

Representatives from all three say Victoria's tourism bureau is dead on in marketing and success tracking.

"The smaller the convention and visitors bureau, the tougher it is to do all these things," Eric Miller, director of communications for the Amarillo Convention and Visitors Council, said. "Still, it sounds like she has a good plan."

Bise is at least temporarily a one-woman shop. Her annual budget is $750,000.

By comparison, the other agencies contacted dwarf her office size and budget - understandably so since they serve a greater number of taxpayers.

The value in showing the following numbers lies in this: Bise largely uses the same marketing tactics and success metrics the big boys do.

Amarillo has a $1.9 million yearly budget and 10 employees.

Texas has a $31.9 million budget and 12 employees.

Travel Alberta has $53.4 million budget and 60 employees.

Despite big budgets, the industry seems to lack a true scientific means to measure ad efficacy. Tourism officials can review dozens of measurements, but even those can mislead.

Take hotel-motel occupancy taxes, for example. On one hand, events unrelated to tourism ads might draw visitors to the city. On the other hand, ads might lure visitors to town who opt to stay outside a hotel - with family, in an RV park - or leave the same day.

"Tourism promotion is a complex field," said Don Boynton, an executive director at Travel Alberta, a public-funded tourism bureau in Alberta, Canada. "We're bringing more science to how we do it, but even we have our growing pains."

THE FUTURE

April marks the first anniversary of the Victoria campaign. Bise will report to the city council, updating members about progress.

So, what will she do this year? In addition to ongoing plans, Bise said she will implement other success-tracking tools.

She will employ software that helps her to differentiate between weekday, business guests from weekend travelers.

The tool, which she will introduce to Victoria hoteliers, will help her track whether the ads lure guests.

Bise said she will also:

Launch social media campaigns.

Survey Diamond Corridor residents to learn if they know about Victoria and associate the city with boots.

Measure sales bus tours, golf and fishing packages, and other getaway packages, which she plans to heavily promote.

Push to double the bureau's online traffic, which is about 1,100 visitors per month.

Gauge local participation in the campaign.

"My goal in the next two years is to have motel-hotel occupancy rates at 75 percent," Bise said. "Now, we are in the mid 50 percent range. The oil boom will not always last. We're using our time now to make hay while the sun is still shining."

A key component to the campaign is Bootfest, a yearly event to kickoff later this year. Bise will track attendance, another key metric in campaign success, she said.

Mayor Will Armstrong said the event should draw thousands of guests and become an economic engine over time.

Victoria City Councilman Gabriel Soliz voted against funding for Bise's office, but he said he's willing to give her efforts time.

"There are just so many variables to know whether we're getting a return on investment," he said. "Even so, I'm willing to give it three years. We've never done anything like this before."

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