Friday, March 30, 2007

Bodies...The Exhibition

Marketing doesn't resonate with everyone. Many people prefer to think they came up with an idea themselves than to accept that they learned about it through marketing and communications. Reminds me of a comment by a homebuilder a few years ago who could only accept that people bought houses because he built them vs. he built them because people wanted houses.

But now and then an organization comes along that truly understands and appreciates the DCVB's role in marketing Durham to visitors. Premier Exhibitions has selected Durham over many other excellent venues--Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh etc.--to host Bodies...The Exhibition, a world-class, four-month (and maybe longer) event that has been in Amsterdam, NYC, Miami, Seattle, Atlanta, Las Vegas and now Durham.

DCVB helped facilitate the decision, but more importantly, the synapses have been firing like rocket launchers between Premier's marketing and DCVB in deployment of marketing strategies. Premier understands that, no matter how outstanding the exhibition is, it requires huge amounts of marketing to be profitable and successful. You see, Premier is a for-profit outfit, and it understands that “build it and they will come” is fiction.

Bodies...The Exhibition opens April 5 at The Streets at Southpoint and Main Street.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Giving Accurate Locations

I feel sorry for travelers including meeting planners when they are given the misimpression there is such a place called Raleigh-Durham, NC. I say given, because when we track down the origin of the misinformation, they were most often misled by someone from this general area but not from Durham. It goes like this: The planner books a meeting in Durham, but an acquaintance in Raleigh, hearing about it, says, “Oh, you’re meeting in Raleigh?” If the planner clarifies by saying, “No, I’m meeting in Durham or Research Triangle Park,” the acquaintance goes “Oh, Raleigh-Durham.”

Seems innocent enough unless you’re attending the conference. If the attendee searches for information or directions to the hotel using Raleigh-Durham, NC, it will almost always come up that this doesn’t match any locations (because there simply is no such place as Raleigh-Durham--it’s the name of an airport). If the attendee then puts in Raleigh, which would be logical, it will give directions to the address but in Raleigh, where no hotel is located.

It is rare they will put in “Durham,” if the location reads Raleigh-Durham.

Of course if DCVB steps in to give the planner a heads-up that the location they’ve selected is in Durham, NC, the planner may feel stupid and thus angry for having been misled by the acquaintance in the first place, or the acquaintance will be livid for being busted. Either way, they’re both likely to take it out on the messenger. We’ll usually get called un-regional or worse, e.g., condescending or unworthy of being world-class. Okay, people get mean when they feel dumb… that’s human, kinda.

But through it all, a CVB needs to keep focused on the needs of the customer and the integrity of the community’s brand. If we say nothing, just imagine how “dumb” the travelers feel when they discover Raleigh-Durham is an airport and, upon exiting, find two arrows pointing in opposite directions. “Oh, oh, which one do I take?” Worse yet, they have equal odds of overnighting in a community different than where the meeting is held… and commuting I-40 in traffic.

We know how dumb they feel because they hammer the Durham CVB for not helping the planner get the location right. So year after year, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

I guess using a term like the airport name, “Raleigh-Durham,” would work if the Triangle was centric or centered around a dominant city. But the Triangle is polycentric, and none of us will be truly world-class until residents in any part of this family of communities accept that giving the specific location, both community and address, to a traveler is just being courteous. Giving anything else borders on malicious. In fact regionalism has nothing to do with embracing ambiguous terms.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Closing the Gap

As a visitor destination, Durham has been exceeding the benchmarks for its peer group but for one area. Until now, having 1/4th to 1/3rd the number of guest rooms Downtown has been a drawback.

Now that issue has reached the proverbial “Tipping Point” to use a Malcolm Gladwell term. The Durham Marriott has stood adjacent to the Durham Civic Center for 18 years. Being next to the Durham Civic Center, Carolina Theater, and Brightleaf District would seem enough to guarantee success, but it hasn’t. Now all that begins to change with the announcement by Greenfire Development and Lifestyle Hospitality for a 110-room boutique hotel in the historic Hill Building, formerly CCB, then SunTrust, just across the CCB Square from the Durham Marriott and the Durham Civic Center.

Hotels are like fast-food joints and convenience stores (almost wrote “service stations,” a blast from the past). They work best in clusters. That creates synergy. Even if the current wave of redevelopment Downtown had never blossomed, more guest rooms in that area would have generated success. It’s just that much better now.

I remember learning this principle of supply and demand many years ago. Airlines were regulated. CVBs and their cities had to bid to the Federal Government to get additional carriers or routes for carriers. An executive with the “first” Frontier Airlines told me that, when a second carrier is added to a route between two cities, the number of travelers will increase, even though the existing carrier had a lot of empty seats.

I predict several more hotels will develop Downtown in the next few years, and this is both a blessing and a challenge for DCVB. It’s a blessing because it adds a dimension to our ability to draw interest from both leisure travelers and conventions. It’s a challenge because every one of these new hotels will come out of the “box” empty. Not only that but, different than even spec official building, which can rely on long-term leases, at the beginning of every year, Durham starts at “0” for visitors and has to not only exceed the prior year but make up the entire gap.

That’s what so much fun about destination marketing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Subsidizing Groups

I’ve always been puzzled, if not amused, when “business” and/or “local government” officials, not to mention CVBs, propose subsiding groups in order to draw group visitor business like conventions, meetings or sports groups. Yes, it’s truly “buying activity at the expense of the bottom line.”

With a straight face a friend of mine recently rationalized that, in order to draw a national convention of business-related associations, his community would have to come up with $60,000 cash. Our own N.C. League of Municipalities does something similar.

Why is it amusing? Because ironically, the reason a community hosts these groups is to fuel the business climate and generate local tax revenue. So the group in question will generate $30,000 in local tax revenue. That means this community will spend twice what the group is worth in yield, essentially going into the red.

No one in their right mind would make such a business deal, or every business and local government would be broke.

What drives this insanity? Communities build convention centers and sports facilities that aren’t feasible. So to generate the “impression” of activity, they subsidize groups as basically a cover-up for a crazy decision to build something that wasn’t sustainable in the first place. Then to cover that up, often they cook the economic impact numbers.

What’s ironic about the group in question? They are supposed to be generating economic development for communities, so the first thing they do is insist their own convention is a losing proposition for the host community?

So why doesn’t the news media get wind? Unless they are like ours, they are often complicit in the initial decision via boosterism and therefore reticent to question.

I’m proud that Durham doesn’t go after subsidized business. Although we’re not immune from building things we can’t sustain.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Toady, My Bulldog, Understands Happiness

My English Bulldog, Toady, seems to be living life in reverse. She’s eight, which is getting up there for her breed. She has the typical age-related issues and gets a little pill for pain in the hips and a little pill to help her airways open up. She no longer jumps in the Jeep, preferring to climb up part way and then get a little boost from me to get the rest of the way. She’ll pass me in people-years this month.

But she’s as playful and energetic as she has ever been. She was timid as a pup, not too adventuresome. Took her two years before I heard her bark. Actually, it’s more a deep woof. She didn’t even eat that much as a pup, sometimes going once a day.

The secret to her acting like a pup when she’s an old lady is that, in her mind, she thinks she’s a little dog, maybe schnoodle size, maybe 15-20 pounds vs. a stocky, muscular (still svelte and beautiful) 50 pounds. She loves where we live now because there are dogs of all sizes out in the courtyard at any given time. That’s how I can tell she thinks she’s a small dog. She even prefers small places, so when I move next month, it will be to a house that will still be the size she prefers.

So I guess it’s how you view yourself that determines happiness… not how others view you. Well that and “greenies.” Smart pup.

Friday, March 02, 2007

RTP to Become More Like the Rest of Durham

When I moved to Durham in 1989, an elderly gentleman who has since passed on gave me a tour of the community. I remember two things he prophesied: (1) Durham would become more like RTP and (2) South Square was the new Downtown.

Prophesy is a dangerous business, but I recalled this conversation recently while reading a futurist document identifying themes that will impact RTP’s future. It appears that dedicated research parks may become a thing of the past, and they will evolve into mixed-use developments with lifestyle amenities clustered around lab facilities. Hmmm… sounds to me like what’s already happening four miles away in Downtown Durham.

South Square never did become Durham’s Downtown. The mall was torn down to make way for another type of shopping center, and Downtown is in a spectacular renaissance. But as part of that renaissance, a couple of developers have lab space mixed right in next to restaurants and living spaces and shopping. Similar things are planned for Erwin along Duke University to the Ninth Street District and in a mixed-use development planned adjacent to the Park.

So we can see the future today, but it’s the RTP part of Durham that will evolve to look more like other parts of Durham. It all ties in nicely with Richard Florida’s findings after studying the correlation between economic development and the creative class. Researchers are members of that group, and it also makes sense then that the Durham, NC, MSA ranks first in proportion of workforce composed of creative class workers.