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By MARK EVANS
STE. GENEVIEVE HERALD
After a lengthy discussion, the Ste. Genevieve Board of Aldermen seemed to reach a consensus during a Thursday night work session that another tourism director should be hired.
The work session, following last Thursday evening’s regular board meeting, saw the idea considered of farming out marketing decisions to a marketing firm, rather than hiring another tourism/marketing director.
The city has gone through four tourism directors since November 2019.
City Administrator Happy Welch said that one of the advantages of going with a marketing agency is that such a firm would have individuals available with specialized talents, such as making videos, taking photos, etc.
The downside to doing that, he noted, was that the city would cease to be a Designated Marketing Organization (DMO) without a full-time tourism director. This would cost the city eligibility for various matching grants. This year Welch said, the city $35,000 in these grants, which it had to match with $35,000 of its own money.
“The issue is that we’ve had a number of people that we’ve had committees look at and talk to and hire, and they’ve not been successful,” Welch said. “If we’re going to move forward with hiring, I’m not going to do a committee. I’m going to do it in-house. I may ask the mayor and the assistant city administrator. But if we hire someone, we’re going to make sure they can mix with our team. I don’t think there was enough support for the last person to mix with our group. That, I think, made it difficult in understanding how this community operates, how we function as a city.”
He noted that for someone used to working for a private firm, “It’s difficult to understand how that process works.”
Welch said the money that would be saved on the salary of a tourism director and a potential assistant, along with money already designated for marketing, could be used to pay a marketing firm to craft a marketing plan.
If a tourism director is hired, he warned, the position needs to be a manageable one for the individual.
“Is this a job you cannot succeed at because there are so many requests and so many interested parties that there’s no way for that person to succeed?” Welch asked.
This leaves the individual “trying to satisfy too many people,” he said.
“Our job is to advertise the city, as a whole, as a destination,” Welch said. “We have a lot of things to do. We are also advertising for the county because the wineries are attractive. You’ve got the Family Fun Farm up north; you’ve got various restaurants that are out and about. You just have the overall country feel if you come down for a weekend. So we want to attract into the city that benefits us. But it also benefits the county. Being in the county can benefit us as well, if we can bring people into town.”
He said that even with a tourism director and assistant, some specialized talent would still have to be hired for certain tasks, including “to create the content to be put out there on social media.”
“How professional do you want to look?” he asked.
“I think hiring somebody every six months is beginning to get tiring” Welch said. “It’s inconsistent. We’ve been inconsistent with our advertising and I think that’s reflected with the amount of visitors we’ve had the past few years. We’ve got the national park, we’ve got the state park, we’ve got all these houses, the national historic registry of facilities that we can attract people to … we’re not doing what the community wants us to do.”
Ward 2 Alderman Bob Donovan asked what experience the city has had with outside firms. Welch said that Madden Communications has done some search engine marketing work for the city.
His fellow Ward 2 Alderman Eric Bennett said he would like to see some figures on how much a firm would charge, compared to what has been paid in salaries.
SUPPORT FOR A DIRECTOR
“I’m just wondering why the state thinks it’s so important to have a DMO,” Ward 3 Alderman Joe Steiger later asked, “and why they make it a requirement for us to receive these matching grants. So, I think the state has a lot of experience in working in the tourism field.”
His other concern was how much of Welch’ time would be taken up by directing a firm to do the needed work.
“I really don’t want to put this on your plate,” he said. “I think it’s too much to ask of you. There are a lot of things that need to be done on a day-to-day basis. I really don’t think there’s going to be a cost savings. We’re losing control of it; we don’t have that personal touch; they won’t be building relationships. You talk about how you have to go out and meet all these people and meet all these requirements and answer to all these bosses. Well, the firm is going to have to do that as well. So it really kind of scares me that we would out-source this to a firm that really has no clue of what all those requirements or goals that we have for all the different departments are. So, it really scares me that we would try to outsource this.”
He said he thought the city could get “a bigger bang for the buck” by keeping it “in-house.”
Donovan argued that “This is what they do” and that some things would have to be outsourced even if an individual were hired,
“It just sees like since we gave up control of the Welcome Center, it’s hard to keep somebody staffed there.” He agreed that it has been “a revolving door.”
Welch said, while it might not be feasible currently, would be a Convention and Visitors Bureau, “a group effort between the city, the county and the chamber, because those are the people that want people to come to town.”
A separate oversight board would also be in place.
That would give enough funds to pay someone $75,000-$80,000,
“That, I would be for the future,” he said.
Steiger said he had spoken to the county commission about extending the 2% “bed tax” in the city, making it county-wide. He said he thinks there is “more of an appetite for that now.”
He argued that this would allow the county to play a bigger part, without having to allocate more funds. He also touched on how having a bigger budget would relieve some stress from future tourism directors.
“One of the biggest problems we have now is with our tourism director is they have a lot of bosses, a lot of goals to accomplish and a lot of things pushed upon them and not a lot of budget to get it done,” he said. “So, you’ve got everybody screaming that they want print media and they want billboards, they want radio, they want social media and that person has very little staff and very little money to get it all done.”
Bennett asked who these “bosses” are.
“They get a lot of pressure from different entities” Steiger later responded. “Sometimes it’s a single business owner, sometimes it’s from the tourism committee, sometimes it’s from city hall, sometimes it’s from entities out of town.”
He noted that “It’s a tough job,” and that there are “a lot of people pulling at that person.”
Steiger added that these issues were another reason why a marketing firm might not work.
Donovan agreed that the “joint venture” of a CVB would be a good idea.
Later on, Kara Burt, former leader of Downtown Ste. Genevieve, weighed in on the subject of tourism director versus marketing firm.
“There are things like group tours and if we don’t have a person here who does that fall on?” she asked. “We missed the boat with the American Queen that would always dock and Chester and bus over. While they were only in town a few hours, they usually had a big impact on shopping and touring the historic houses.”
She said “a lot of details that fall to the wayside” without a tourism director.
Geoff Giglierano executive director of French Colonial America and a chairman of the join tourism group, stressed the uniqueness of Ste. Genevieve’s appeal.
“What we have here is something really remarkable and it should be competing better than it is because the story is wonderful, the environment is remarkable, it’s special, and there’s something for everybody,” he said. “There’s no reason why tour groups can’t be staying for a while.”
He argued that “the key job” that whomever is tasked with overseeing the marketing must be “creating greater awareness of this package, this remarkable package that we have here to offer people outside of the immediate area.”
Dena Kreitler, executive director of the Ste. Genevieve Chamber of Commerce then weighed in, in favor of a tourism director.
“Years ago, maybe 2009 or 2010, we hired a marketing firm to do the branding of Ste. Genevieve,” she said. “It started out very … $10,000, $12,000, and by the time it was all said and done 13 or 14 months later, we were upwards of $25,000 to $30,000 … Those dollars are going to increase and increase for every event, for every promotion, whatever you’re doing. They’re going to keep tacking onto it.”
She warned that a marketing firm would start the city off with “a fluff number.” but quickly add onto it with additional charges.
“I’ve witnessed it,” she said. “It was not fun.”
The board also looked at a request by Jim Beckerman to grant him a quitclaim deed on the 40-by-40-feet site on his property where an old water tower stood. Although concerns were expressed about possible contamination from chipped lead paint from the former tower, the board had no issues with granting it. City Attorney Mark Bishop will draw up the paperwork.
The board also looked at a second draft of the proposed 2024 budget. It will be further addressed this Thursday during a special budget work session at 6 p.m.