On February 27th, 2015, the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) hosted its very first Tourism Town Hall, bringing together the area’s elected officials, industry people, and civic members to discuss the value of tourism in our region. Al Hutchinson, President and CEO of the Mobile Bay CVB, invited six of the nation’s leading experts in tourism and travel to speak with local stakeholders about current trends, challenges and opportunities facing the industry as a whole. The panel of experts consisted of:
- David Dubois – President and CEO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE)
- Michael Gehrisch – President and CEO of the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI)
- John Graham – President and CEO of American Society of Association Executives
- Thomas Foley – Professional Convection Management Association (PCMA)
- Peter Pantuso – President and CEO of the American Bus Association
- Paul Van Deventer – President and CEO of Meeting Professionals International (MPI))
The town hall meeting began with a brief welcome from Mayor Sandy Stimpson of the City of Mobile, Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl and Mr. Hutchinson. Mayor Stimpson articulated that “we need a more consistent and concise branding for Mobile” and would like to see five million visitors annually in area within the next few years. Mr. Hutchinson presented findings from a recent survey regarding tourism and highlighted that nearly 20% said that Mobile is their top second/third tier Southeastern Meeting Destination. The study also indicated that the majority of those surveyed have never visited Mobile for either personal or business reasons. This indicates what Mr. Graham accurately stated later in the meeting: “this is a great place but in many ways it is a secret.”
In order to give the audience a true understanding of travel and tourism’s impact on the nation, Mr. Dubois presented the results of a recent economic significance study. The study found that 1.83 million corporate and business meetings, trade shows, conventions, congresses, incentive events and other meetings take place in the United States each year. This results in $280 billion in direct spending, 1.78 million jobs, $115 billion contribution to GDP, and $28 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue. These numbers showcase the importance of the industry and challenges our region to find ways to expand tourism and convention business in our area.
During the panel discussion, the main take-away message was the need for Coastal Alabama to work together to promote tourism and expand the industry throughout the region. “You have to look beyond your own borders” said Mr. Pantuso. People are traveling differently than in previous generations and it is key to work together in order to become and stay competitive. The panel talked about the importance of developing partnerships with those within your community, your region, and even beyond into other states in order to attract visitors effectively. “City lines don’t mean anything” said Mr. Pantuso in referring to how travelers pick and enjoy a destination. Visitors are more concerned about the overall experience than boundaries and municipalities need to do a better job of partnering with each other in order to get visitors here.
Following a few questions from the audience, the town hall concluded with a few final remarks from Mr. Hutchinson. “We have to figure out as a community how we tell our story” said Mr. Hutchinson. To successfully answer this question, the city and the Coastal Alabama region will be formulizing a brand and marketing strategy to promote the area over the next year.
As Mr. Pantuso put perfectly, “what you’ve got here is so unique, you need to show what is unique about it to others.”