Conversation about the Convention & Visitor's Bureau
Stemming off the “road diet” discussion at the annual Strategic Planning Session Saturday, and with the City Council saying they’d like to see more advertising driving people into Crookston, came a conversation about the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau led by new Ward 5 Council Member Joe Kresl. Being the “new guy”, Kresl said he’s trying to catch up on some of the more recent topics discussed including the CVB agreement and what people think about the CVB.
First, Kresl said, the Visit Crookston website, shared by the CVB and Chamber of Commerce, needs to be updated if they’re expecting people wanting to visit Crookston to get accurate information. He pointed out there are businesses listed that have been closed for years, there is missing information or inaccurate information for some current businesses, and other items that need to be addressed.
Second, Kresl told the council he reached out to the hotel owners to get a feel on their take of the city’s lodging tax and the CVB, and provided Saturday’s group with a list of their recorded responses. Kresl said he asked three main questions of the hotels and a variety of concerns stemmed off the original topics.
When asked about the hotels' overall opinion of the CVB and if they thought the CVB was effective in encouraging overnight stays and recruiting events, conventions and tourism, the hotels said:
• “The CVB is not effective the way it is now”
• “There needs to be a shared calendar with all venues to help build events where there are none at times”
• “The website is outdated and my hotel’s information is incorrect and no member-to-member deals are ever listed”
• “Crookston is not promoted through billboards or to get Canadian traffic”
• “The mission of the CVB used to be heads-on-beds which is the only thing that will help us the hotels”
• “Only events that give us overnight stays should be funded by CVB grants”
• “Events that return year after year should be funded if they promote overnight stays (dart tournaments vs. Chalk It Up)”
• “The lodging tax comes from our customers yet the Chamber director comes around looking for money to promote events; Our money has already been paid and we should not be asked to give more”
• “The Chamber website is primarily used to promote the Chamber and the CVB has very little presence; We should have two different websites although a link between the two should be on each”
• “If you are not a Chamber member, you do not get promoted from that office”
• “The (CVB) meetings are not well run, disorganized, and frankly not worth going to. Suggestions are not taken and there is a lot of time spent meeting and having it go nowhere. I have spoken to other hoteliers and they feel they are a waste of time as well; They lack leadership.”
• “Bags are not ready to give at events like they used to; They should include coupons, discounts and flyers for upcoming events like Ox Cart Days, bird watching, skating shows, etc.”
When asked if the hotels have seen any promoting or advertising for their place of business or have they been or visited by the CVB (not Chamber) for suggestions or input, three hotels said no and one said yes.
When asked if the hotels felt the CVB is relevant and effective, or would they like to see the lodging tax discontinued, the hotels said:
• “The lodging tax and the concept should stay, but be separate from the Chamber”
• “The two should not be under the same umbrella; We are not getting the attention we deserve and certainly not our money’s worth”
• “The Chamber is using the tax money to run the Chamber office; 60% to 70% going to salaries is criminal and has been going on for a long period of time”
• “Absolutely we should not be paying the large percentage we are for salaries”
• “The CVB should be run from someone’s house without all of the overhead we pay to the Chamber and the director”
• “The Chamber should be a volunteer committee with a paid webmaster who keeps it updated”
• “Had the Council approved the 25%, all of the hotels would be on board with getting rid of the lodging tax and the CVB; That said, this is still way too much money going to salaries instead of promotions”
• “The TVs from the city are good, but not updated enough and we would like to see all Crookston events promoted on them; Ads for hotels should not be on them as they are already here, but restaurants, shopping and amenities should be.”
Ward 4 Council Member Don Cavalier asked Kresl if he asked the hotels about the Chamber and Kresl replied that he hadn’t, just the CVB, but Kresl did say there was some confusion over the Chamber and CVB connection and hotels thought the pair should be separated more.
“When you have all those shared resources, most of the money is going into administration and not a lot into marketing,” added Ward 1 Council Member Jake Fee, who is also on the CVB board. “All of that should go with the CVB; They’re getting picky on CVB grants too, not a lot of money there.”
Kresl thought a deeper conversation should be had to see if the CVB is getting the value for what they’re getting out of the shared office. Mayor Dale Stainbrook agreed saying the CVB should go back to grant dollars and the original mission was “heads on beds.” He added that it used to be said that once grant recipients were “well-established” that their grants would get lower and then they “fly solo.” Stainbrook said he wasn’t “dissing” events that have good attendance, but some are getting grant dollars when there aren’t hotel stays.
Fee added that the CVB should be checking in with the hotels to see which events do provide overnight stays and that it should be just an easy phone call especially with the high administration costs they should be capable of doing that. He continued, saying later that someone could basically “sit at home” and “do what they’re doing.”
Crookston Housing & Economic Development Authority Director Craig Hoiseth said every event should have the opportunity to grow and those additional grant dollars could make them more successful. He added that he has sat on the CVB board as an ex-officio for the last five directors and if the council had voted on the 25% admin fee for the Chamber that the hotels would have been “out”, and that he feels the “mission is gone” and they need to go back to it.