By MARK EVANS
Many opinions were expressed on which way Ste. Genevieve tourism should go during a board of aldermen work session last Thursday night.
There seemed to be a consensus that hiring a local tourism director would be better than entrusting the direction of local tourism with an out of town marketing firm.
It was also agreed that the Tourism Advisory Council (TAC) and Tourism Tax Commission (TTC) should be brought into the picture to play a bigger role in making decisions, along with the county.
During the session, several different community members spoke on the topic.
The situation has been in flux since Jeff Wix’s resignation as tourism director earlier this month – following a prolonged absence. Wix and his predecessor Toby Carrig had each stayed about one year.
City Administrator Happy Welch’s written staff report for the session noted the rapid turnover in the position and said that, “my concern is that we will continue that trend with no consistency in our advertising regimen.”
He also noted that he wanted to “tamp down expectations,” as to what the city can provide for tourism.
“We don’t have the staff, funds, time, or talent to be the end all for tourism within the community,” the report said.
“We’re trying to make changes,” Welch told the board Thursday. “We’re making changes, what I believe the board wanted to do in the way of tourism.”
That includes putting part-time workers at the Welcome Center back in the budget.
“The discussion centers on what is the city’s responsibility and what is the city’s job when it comes to tourism?” Welch asked.
He added that to get the $24,000 a year the city receives from the Missouri Division of Tourism, it would have to have an employee dedicated to tourism who works at least 32 hours a week. The city has to match $16,000 to get the grant.
Welch agreed that someone “in town and accessible” is needed. However, he doesn’t want to see too much dumped onto the person.
“What I don’t want to see is somebody working 60, 70 hours a week, trying to placate – that’s kind of a nasty way to put it – but trying to work with everybody and create a marketing position for us to put out there to make it successful. We don’t have the manpower to do what everybody wants us to do. We can do a limited amount. So, if we bring somebody in there’s got to be the understanding that we can only do so much. We’ve kind of expanded what our responsibilities are. There are things like coordinating tours that we’ve had nothing but problems with up until recently when we stopped doing it.”
He added that keeping the website up to date is also a major headache.
“One way or the other, I have to do something,” he said “This just sees the opportune time to say, ‘Do you want to do something different?’ Of not I have to hire somebody. It’s going to be a six-week process.”
He said he was pleased with the large crowd that turned out for the discussions.
“We are a tourism town. The downtown survives on that and we need to keep that going,” Welch said.
Ward 4 Alderman Joe Prince said he had received letters asking why the city is promoting businesses in the county, such as wineries.
“They feel that the county should be promoting its own county entities and we only focus on what is here,” he said. Prince said that he tried to explain to the person that any visitors who come to town and then visit wineries are befitting both.
“There has been discussion in the past about working with the county on that,” he said. He asked if there had been “any movement” on the county taking a more active role.
Welch said they haven’t asked about manpower, but listed the things the county helps on financially, such as billboards.
Ashley Armbruster noted that a business (Ste. Genevieve Trolley) exists that helps merge the two together, taking visitors from the city to the wineries.
Ward 2 Alderman Bob Donovan agreed that it should be a “joint effort” with the county.
Ward 4 Alderwoman Ashley Armbruster said members of the Chamber of Commerce had said they were interested in helping more and that they “want to be present in the conversation.”
Armbruster agreed with Welch’s assertion that too much was being expected of a tourism director.
“The more we pile on, it just seems like we’re trying to build a unicorn of a position,” she said of the job description. “It’s a position that’s going to be hard to fill with somebody that can actually meet all those needs and that we could afford, if we could find that unicorn.”
She said it looks like “at least two separate positions.” Marketing and digital work is a full-time job in itself, she said.
She added that it is “not ideal in any realm” to expect someone to handle to marketing and advertising and still wait on visitors at the Welcome Center.
CITIZENS GIVE LOTS OF INPUT
Seven different audience members gave their opinions – some speaking more than once.