McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

January 11, 2013

Custom-made

COUNCIL: Market Alliance, of Mississippi, preps city for tourism

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — The city of McAlester has been doing things all wrong when it comes to promoting tourism in the city — but there’s a way to do it right.

That’s basically the conclusion of the Mississippi-based Market Alliance consulting company, which had been contracted to present a new marketing and branding plan for the city, along with a city logo.

Marketing Alliance President John Abbate and Strategic Planner David Goswell presented the company’s findings to the McAlester City Council during the council’s regular Tuesday night meeting at City Hall.

Shari Cooper, executive director of MPower Economic Development, accompanied the Marketing Alliance representatives to the meeting. She said the council needs to decide whether the city wants to keep doing things the same way, or try something new.

During the meeting, the councilors were shown the new logo design which they were told gained the most support. It consists of the word “McAlester” atop what appears to be a waving banner, with “The Great American Experience” written on it.

Abbate said there should be concept behind the city’s tourism marketing plan.

“The concept is guiding and managing tourists to come visit McAlester, Oklahoma, from outside McAlester, Oklahoma,” he said.

Abatte said the city averages approximately $500,000 a year from its hotel and motel tax. Marketing Alliance set up a proposed tourism budget, using all of the $500,000.

Working with the budget for the 2011-2012 Fiscal Year, the group shows that $448,265 went ttofor Pride in McAlester, Main Street, advertising and promotions, the Sunbelt Classic Tournament sponsorship and the July 4 “concert and fireworks.”

Referring to advertisements the city ran in places such as Oklahoma Today, the Marketing Alliance representatives said the ads failed the “WIFFM test” — a reference to “What’s in it for me?”

Speaking of what the area has to offer, the company listed 23 hotels and hotels, including many highly rated chain hotels, approximately 81 restaurants, shopping, nearness to Lake Eufaula and Robbers Cave State Park, as well as historic buildings, an antique district, sports complexes, including Great Balls Of Fire, the Winery, the Choctaw casino and local festivals.

Goswell spoke of the city’s perception of itself, based on surveys he said were conducted.

“The town kind of thinks of itself as a ‘drive through,’ not a drive to’ destination,” he said.

Referring again to money collected from the hotel/motel tax, Goswell said “Where does the money go? Eighty five percent goes directly to Expo support.”

“We’re unclear if a plan exists,” he said, referring to the way the city has been doing things.

Goswell also said the Expo Center is “poorly located,” since it’s outside the city.

He also referred to inquiries regarding brochures about McAlester, primarily through the Oklahoma State Department of Tourism.

“The greatest preponderance seems to be from the major metropolitan areas, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Dallas,” he said.

While there is a lot of interest in McAlester from the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas, those cities also compete with McAlester for tourists, said Goswell.

“Our greatest competition is Oklahoma city and Tulsa,” Goswell said, adding that Dallas should be included.

Goswell outlined a number of objectives and strategies for the city, designed to increase its tourism effectiveness.

Among them: a suggestion to create a charter-driven convention and visitors bureau, concerned only with tourism development.

Another suggestion: set aside funds for acquisitions.

“The only way to have money to meet that goal is to create a fund and then fund it,” Goswell said.

Another suggestion was to promote a variety of activities that keeps McAlester continuously in front of potential travelers, “rather than putting all of our eggs in one promotional basket.”

Returning to the idea of a convention and visitors bureau, referred to as CVB, Goswell suggested hiring and paying a director a salary of $50,000 a year, along with another $30,000 for staff.

The rest of the budget would bring the total to $144,550.

Referring to a budget for development, Goswell said if the city would set aside $100,000 for 10 years, the fund would grow to $1 million.

Other suggestions included spending $2,500 to join the Oklahoma Travel Industry Association, $500 for the Oklahoma Chapter of Meeting Planners International, $1,000 for the American Bus Association and $650 for the National Tour Association.

In the end, the matter didn’t call for a vote of the council Tuesday night. The agenda had called only for the presentation of the marketing plan ad logo/branding package, but did not require any action.

“It seems what we’re doing is not very effective,” said Ward 1 Councilor Weldon Smith. “Of course, the elephant in the room is the Expo.”

Ultimately, the councilors appeared to agree on one suggestion which came from the council’s own ranks — call a workshop soon to address the Southeast Expo Center.

It may take more than one workshop, said Ward 6 Councilor Sam Mason.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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