By ERIC X. VICCARO
The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has affected virtually every facet of life during 2020.
Local tourism was no different.
The city of Ste. Genevieve took advantage of a Show-Me Strong grant, administered by the Missouri Division of Tourism, using federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. (CARES) Act money for COVID-19 related expenses.
Ste. Genevieve tourism director Toby Carrig reported his department was able to spend nearly double the money on marketing this year.
“It’s been interesting,” Carrig said. “The pandemic has impacted people traveling, and how far people are willing to travel.”
Carrig said during typical years there’s between $32,000-$35,000 in the budget for marketing, but the CARES Act provided $57,914.13.
Carrig told the Herald the money went toward four hand sanitizing stations at the Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park Welcome Center.
All of the sanitizing stations are portable, and two were moved to Jean-Baptiste Valle House and Lions Park for recent special events.
Carrig reported some money also was spent on 500 masks, with some supply still available for employees.
The marketing campaign stemming from the Show-Me Strong grant was diverse — ranging from digital billboards to radio advertising to social media.
The city purchased digital billboard time through Robinson Outdoor, with locations in nearby Chester, Illinois, Perryville, Sikeston and Cape Girardeau.
Madden Media managed the social media campaign, which resulted in more than 4.835-million total impressions.
The VisitSteGen Facebook page has grown from 2,857 likes to 3,190 on Dec. 7, 2020, an increase of 11.66 percent.
VisitSteGen’s website traffic was 20,293 for October 2020, followed by 14,921 in November 2020.
In his monthly report to the board of aldermen, Carrig’s department compiled a subscription list for a newsletter based on that Facebook lead generation campaign.
From Nov. 1 to Dec. 7, there were 994 visitors to the Welcome Center, which was recently transferred from the city to the National Park Service as part of the designation process.
Carrig said the tourism department will soon apply for another marketing grant through the Missouri Division of Tourism.
Small Business Saturday on Nov. 28 and the Holiday Festival on Dec. 5-6 were strong days for
“All things considered, it went extremely well,” Carrig said of the holiday festival. “The weather was helpful (with high temperatures in the 50s), and the parade helped keep people in downtown.
Ste. Genevieve city administrator Happy Welch said the ongoing pandemic has helped foster collaboration.
Welch said monthly meetings with local National Park Service personnel, the Chamber of Commerce, Foundation for Restoration of Ste. Genevieve and other county groups became think tanks for drawing crowds downtown.
The administrator credited Chris Collins, superintendent of the Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park, for spearheading the initiative.
This has also been a year of change in the tourism department.
Carrig replaced former director Sandra Cabot on June 24, 2020. Cabot left her position in November 2019, after serving in the capacity for several years.
PART OF THE TREND
Ste. Genevieve hasn’t been the only place impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Carrig shared some telling numbers in that board report.
Here are some statistics.
• In data compiled by the United States Travel Association, road use for the Thanksgiving holiday period was down 35 percent — the worst performance for a holiday since the beginning of the pandemic.
• Hotel occupancy was down 38 percent in comparison to the period of October and November 2019.
• Openness to traveling has declined since Oct. 18, with just 41 percent of Americans excited about any sort of excursion in the near term.
• National Park visitation also has declined 50 percent for the period from mid-September to the end of November.
This past Thursday, the Foundation for Restoration presented Missouri U.S. Senator Roy Blunt with an award to recognize his efforts on supporting the establishment of a national park here.
The event was a Zoom teleconference in the Welcome Center’s gallery/video room.
“He helped move the process along more quickly,” Carrig said.
Legislation was passed in early 2019, creating the formation of Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park.
The Tourism Tax Commission and Tourism Advisory Committee meetings originally scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 15, were canceled – partially out of concern for COVID-19.
Carrig said regular meetings will return on Jan. 19, 2020.