Drawing more to the Garden State than just ratings

NJBIZ STAFF//May 23, 2011//

Drawing more to the Garden State than just ratings

NJBIZ STAFF//May 23, 2011//

Listen to this article

Grace Hanlon has a $9 million budget and a goal of besting last year’s mark of 67.7 million tourist visits to the Garden State. 

Hanlon, executive director of the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism, plans to spend nearly one-third of that budget — $2.8 million — on the department’s spring marketing campaign. “The theme is to really highlight the real New Jersey,” she said, with an emphasis on the “real.”
The cornerstone of that effort, a new television campaign, debuted May 17, with beautiful cinematography highlighting the state’s beaches, arts and other amenities, all with an upbeat tone.
The ads show the state of New Jersey residents and visitors know and love, Hanlon said — “as opposed to what the perception might be due to a certain television program.”

The marketing campaign is important, not just because it might counter cartoonish perceptions of the state, but also because big tourism can mean big money. Those 67.7 million visits to the Garden State in 2010 translated into $35.5 billion in total expenditures, according to the New Jersey Department of State.
Bill Siegel, chairman and CEO of Longwoods International, a Toronto-based market research consultancy, said tourism marketing has a proven record of posting solid returns on investment.

Siegel recently studied the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp.’s “With Love, Philadelphia XOXO” campaign. He found the campaign generated $100 in direct visitor spending for every dollar spent on the campaign. It also generated $11 in local and state taxes per marketing dollar.
Siegel said returns on investment can vary, depending on the strength of a campaign and the mix of media used. But, he said, there’s a simple bottom line with taxpayer-funded marketing efforts: “Anything over a 1-to-1 ratio on tax dollars … is a win.”
Still, finding the right mix of media to maximize a campaign’s effectiveness can be tricky.

Diane F. Wieland, director of the Cape May County Department of Tourism, said she looks for traditional media buys — print, radio and TV — that are paired with an online component. The department also uses e-mail blasts and social networking to attract visitors to the area.
“For us, what’s most effective is print, because we can measure it,” she said.
Wieland knows an ad was successful when the ad’s “for more information” response cards fill her mailbox.
“We know television is probably the most effective, but when we ask people ‘How do you hear about us?’ they rarely say television,” she said.
Siegel said while television is expensive, it is best in some instances, such as campaigns designed to rebrand a destination.

That’s exactly the task ahead of Atlantic City, said Israel Posner, director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. He said the key will be getting tourists to think of Atlantic City itself as the attraction, rather than its individual casinos.
“People say they’re going to Vegas,” Posner said. “Rarely do you hear they’re going to Atlantic City. They might be going to the Borgata, or to Harrah’s, but rarely do they say they’re going to Atlantic City.”

That effort will be undertaken by a public-private partnership between Atlantic City’s new tourism district and the privately funded Atlantic City Alliance. The latter will be funded by the city’s tourism industry and have an estimated budget of $30 million.

Susan Ney Thompson, interim director of the Casino Reinvestment and Development Authority, said the city’s business community sees the value of promoting the city.
“The industry leadership has fully recognized that while they all have very great visitor experiences for people who come to their resorts … they recognize that the key for Atlantic City to sharpen its competitive edge is diversifying the visitor experience,” she said. “That’s a positive thing for the city.”

Thompson said the test of the tourism district’s success will be whether visitors start to think of Atlantic City as a “great city” rather than a “casino city.”
CRDA is still in transition mode, and Thompson said the new marketing campaign hasn’t yet taken shape. In the interim, she said efforts already are under way to clean up the city and improve the tourist experience. That could help the city’s reputation, though Thompson said positive word-of-mouth publicity alone won’t be enough.

Ed Dombroskas agrees. He heads Connecticut’s Eastern Region Tourism District, a region that’s become a competitor to Atlantic City thanks to its trio of casinos. Dombroskas said he and most of his competitor tourism agencies have faced funding cuts, and those cuts have had consequences.

“We know that if you’re not in front of the people’s minds when they’re choosing destinations for leisure travel — even business travel — you’re going to lose market share,” he said. “That’s been the case in Connecticut.”

Siegel, who on multiple occasions has been hauled in front of state legislatures to testify on the effectiveness of funding tourism marketing, said theoretically, there’s a point at which tourism marketing reaches a point of saturation and loses its effectiveness. But he hasn’t seen it yet.
“The problem isn’t how much is enough,” he said. “The problem is there isn’t enough.”

E-mail to: [email protected]