Part three in a five-part series addressing Camden County's most pressing needs ahead of the August 2014 primary election.
It’s no secret: the Lake of the Ozarks is a major tourism area. Not only do thousands of people visit here for weekend getaways or extended vacations, but thousands are second homeowners who contribute to the local economies through sales taxes and property taxes.
Despite that windfall of visitors, the lake competes with the likes of Branson, Kansas City, St. Louis, Eureka Springs and other popular Midwestern destinations for tourists. Newspapers, the Internet, magazines and billboards across the state are rife with enticements to get you to visit.
It seems everybody’s slice of paradise is the best.
But what do local economic development officials serving the lake do to capture the attention — and ultimately the presence — of people to our lake?
Generally, it’s a collective effort with the Tri-County Lodging Association (TCLA) and the Convention and Visitor Bureau (CVB) leading the charge. But counties and communities are beginning to realize the benefit of a cooperative marketing effort as they juggle their budgets to include funds for marketing and promotion.
The TCLA is primarily involved in advertising and promoting the lake. It advertises in magazines, newspapers and on television and uses several avenues of social media including Google, Bing, Yahoo and Facebook. It financially supports special events and festivals, engages the services of a public relations firm, is active legislatively, conducts research, develops educational workshops and supports a two-person group sales staff.
The CVB attends sport and travel shows, produces the advertising creative messages for all TCLA advertising buys, prints, distributes and sends out a vacation guide, provides information to potential visitors, coordinates special events and festivals, manages 150,000 FUNLAKE social media followers and maintains the FUNLAKE.com website.
To support the endeavors of the TCLA and CVB, a lodging tax is collected in Camden, Miller and Morgan counties.
“The trend in lodging tax has remained relatively flat in the $1.5 to $1.53 million range over the past five years,” TCLA Executive Director Jim Divincen said. “At the same time, the available lodging units have decreased.”
Camden County generates the bulk of the lodging tax revenue at 85.6 percent. Miller County collects 11.5 percent and Morgan County collects 3 percent.
The lodging tax rates in Camden and Morgan counties is 3 percent, and the rate in Morgan County is 5 percent.
The TCLA relies on lodging tax to promote and advertise the lake area, and the CVB generates revenue through memberships, its publication advertising revenue, the FUNLAKE.com income and other revenue streams. A portion of the CVB budget is subsidized by the TCLA.
“In essence, the more visitors staying at our lodging facilities, the more funding the Advisory Board has to invest in advertising and promotional efforts,” Divincen said. “It’s important to note that the TCLA’s efforts to bring more visitors into the business districts generate revenues for all or almost all lake-area businesses.”
The TCLA also promotes events and festivals. Divincen “conservatively” estimates that visitors in a 50-mile radius who attend events spend somewhere around $60 per person, per day, and those who live outside that radius spend about $80 per day.
“The special events and festivals that TCLA and CVB support conservatively generate tens of millions of dollars in economic impact to lake-area businesses,” Divincen explained.
But is it all worth it?
The Missouri Division of Tourism conducts research on 17 tourism-related revenue generators (SIC codes) in the three-county area. In fiscal year 2013, those codes in Camden County generated $146,605,443, Miller County $28,740,290 and Morgan County $18,308,164, all totaling $193,653,897.
Divincen theorized that the SIC codes are only a partial measurement of the TCLA’s efforts since many visitors decide to buy second homes and/or become full-time residents at the lake.
One of the most visible marketing efforts for the TCLA/CVB is participation in a Division of Tourism billboard campaign in the Kansas City area.
The promotion started July 7 with both Lamar Billboard and CBS Billboard in Kansas City on I-35.
The city of Osage Beach and the Camden County and Miller County commissions and Tri-County Lodging Association developed an advertising partnership earlier this year to further promote the Lake of the Ozarks. Osage Beach contributed $2,000 contribution to the TCLA as part of a matching funds Promote Missouri Fund Program grant application. Miller County contributed $1,000 and Camden County gave $2,500.
The total project equals $255,000 and the Missouri Division of Tourism matched that amount for a total advertising campaign of $510,000.
The total billboard buy is $37,500 in the Kansas City market area, which includes two digital billboards; however, only one billboard is part of the matching funds program. Camden and Miller counties did not specify how their funds were to be used.
The Lake of the Ozarks Golf Council is also partnering with TCLA for specific advertising for the Golf Council.
This is the first time TCLA is engaging a digital billboard campaign in the Kansas City and the Johnson County, Kansas, market areas. Divincen said the digital billboard strategy provides an efficient and cost effective method of changing the TCLA’s creative message without paying to develop and install new vinyl on the boards.
The billboard approach is the result of applying TCLA's most recent Advertising Effectiveness Research Study, which stated that compared to other major travel destinations in Missouri, the Lake of the Ozarks’ primary attractions are water activities, scenic beauty and the best destination to relax.
The three City of Osage Beach creative messages enhance TCLA's Lake of the Ozarks messages with "Shop, Dine and Unwind, Relax and Unwind and Girls Getaway," Divincen said. TCLA has also developed creative digital messages for several major special events and festivals at the Lake, which may occur during the billboard campaign period. These include BikeFest, the Camdenton Airshow and the Camdenton Dogwood Festival. Others may be developed also.
Divincen said that “in the spirit of creating even a broader partnership” the TCLA has also offered to promote the major special events and festivals conducted by the five lake-area Chambers of Commerce at no cost to them.
Lake-area communities are beginning to realize the potential impact of developing marketing programs, or at the minimum setting aside funds for promotion. Bringing people to the lake translates into sales tax revenue, the lifeblood of most lake-area communities.
Osage Beach jumped into the billboard market about a year ago when it bought space on billboards at the Grand Glaize Bridge. These promote community events including the Fall Festival and Citywide Garage Sale, the latter of which draws people from an 11-state area. The billboards also tout shopping, eating and staying within the community.
The City Park is becoming a destination for numerous softball tournaments and soccer camps. Parks Director Brian Willey said recently the number of tournaments has doubled from a year ago.
For the development side, Osage Beach has a packet of information it provides when people come to City Hall and are interested in possibly opening a business. In addition, City Administrator Nancy Viselli and City Planner Cary Patterson receive numerous calls on development.
“If it is not something that is available in Osage Beach, I make contacts through LOREDC to keep interested parties at least in the lake area,” she explained.
In Lake Ozark, there has been discussion about charging a Special Event Permit fee with part of those funds used to establish a marketing program. The board of aldermen recently agreed to help subsidize fireworks on the Strip during the monthly Hot Summer Nights event.
While most of us think of promoting the lake by attracting more tourists, there’s another aspect to the concept economic development.
According to the Lake of the Ozarks Regional Economic Development Council, its vision is set in a different direction. LORDEC says “a closer look reveals a strong lakefront economy ... poised to help the long-term growth of business.” It says the lake is an ideal location for industry, manufacturing, retail, entrepreneurial endeavors, tourism and retirement.
LORDEC’s goal is to make a business’s or industry’s site search as easy as possible and to provide information and resources needed to consider the lake community during a site search.
Expanding the business and industry base of the lake brings more employees, who need more housing and employees who shop locally.
Corey ten Bensel, president of LORDEC, said the group has talked about a familiarization tour to bring in potential developers and recruiters from around the country. LORDEC coordinates with Missouri Partnerships to attract manufacturing and business prospects.
ten Bensel, who is also director of lake operations for Co-Mo Electric, said a LORDEC subcommittee uses social media to promote economic development at the lake. He said the all-volunteer group would be visiting about a joint housing study.
“In terms of ad dollars, we have not been involved with marketing the lake,” he explained. “We’ve been more involved with compiling data for communities to encourage people who want to create an economic presence here.”
As the Lake of the Ozarks continues to carve its niche in the tourism world, the trend is to form a lake-wide coalition. Most communities and chambers are on board either individually or collectively.