Can Evansville draw tourists?

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012
— Evansville needs to finds its unique points of difference from similar communities to attract tourism and tell its story differently than other cities competing for the same visitors, a state tourism official says.

"What you'll really need to work on is how you'll tell that story, how you make that story so compelling that people are going to want to come here versus anywhere else," said Sarah Klavas, bureau director of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

Klavas and a colleague presented the results of a Destination Assessment report to members of the Evansville Tourism Committee and other city leaders Tuesday night at Creekside Place. The report, she said, gives the city a leg up on how to put together a marketing plan, which is the next project for the committee.

City leaders worked with the Department of Tourism officials as one of the first cities to complete the report as part of a new state program aimed at meeting the tourism needs of smaller communities.

The report found:

-- Evansville's strengths are strong community spirit; tree, bird and historic register designations; artisans; easy access to Madison; small town values and charm; access to lakes, parks and trails; and agriculture.

-- Development priorities are more or revitalized events; dining and lodging experiences; continued downtown revitalization; development of itineraries and tours; and collaborative and cooperative marketing.

The city has about $14,000 annually from its room tax to spend on tourism, Mayor Sandy Decker said after the meeting. Over the next two years, the city plans to spend about $5,500 on two efforts: a two-year extension of a contract with Discover Mediaworks and a partnership with the city of Janesville to feature the Ice Age Trail during a portion of a half-hour Discover Wisconsin TV show.

How do you get visitors to return?

They must be treated well and feel the hospitality and small-town charm, Klavas said.

When Klavas came into Evansville, she heard the rumble from her tires on the brick Main Street and saw the beautiful façade of downtown, she said.

"It's very, very special," she said. "But, it's really important you as residents feel that way about your downtown and use it with the same passion that you want your visitors to use it. Because if you don't believe in your downtown, how can you expect other people to believe in it?"

The state tourism department offers customer service training for people on the front lines—from gas station clerks to hotel front desk staff—to be the city's own best ambassadors, she said.

The city next could take advantage of that training, Decker said.

Klavas also advised the group to consider tourism expert Roger Brooks' 10-10-10 rule. It recommends that in a three-block stretch, a city should have 10 places that serve food, 10 destination retail specialty shops and 10 places open after 6 p.m.

Last updated: 8:40 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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