For much of the past year, Visit Spokane, the regional convention and visitors bureau, and several partnering organizations have been involved in an ongoing study to determine what specifically draws visitors to the Inland Northwest.
Jeanna Hofmeister, vice president and director of destination marketing with Visit Spokane, says that once that study wraps up in May, the resulting data report will be vital to that agency as well as to other groups that hope to boost tourism-related activity and spending here.
"We are looking at what is driving visitors to this destination," Hofmeister says. "This study has many components to it to really give us a good sense of the voice of the visitor ... We already have a good sense of what people do while they're herethat is the easy part."
She adds, "Even though people may go to the museum while they're here, is that what drives them to come here? Once we know what drives them here, we can increase that and increase visitor spending."
The study is being conducted by Mooresville, N.C.-based Randall Travel Marketing Inc., she says, and other organizations and companies that have teamed up to fund the analysis include the Spokane Public Facilities District, Spokane Regional Sports Commission, Downtown Spokane Partnership, and Avista Corp.
Hofmeister declines to disclose the value of Randall Travel Marketing's contract. She says Visit Spokane executives and representatives of the other organizations investing in the study selected that company as the study leader based on its response to a request for proposals that was advertised nationally. Randall Travel Marketing has completed similar travel study reports for tourism groups across the U.S., Hofmeister says.
She says the data gathered during the yearlong study, which started last May, will be presented on May 24 to the Spokane business community and any other industries here that are impacted by tourism. That presentation is to be held at the Red Lion Hotel at the Park, at 303 W. North River Drive, from 2 to 4 p.m.
"We want a broad spectrum of stakeholders to hear the information," she says.
Hofmeister says Randall Travel Marketing has used several methods to gather information related to the reasons people are coming to the greater Spokane area, including surveying people at various events, conventions, attractions, hotels, and other travel destinations here.
She says the travel study agency hires people here and also brings in its own contract employees to perform such surveys, and those surveyors are referred to as interceptors.
"They have gone all overinto North Idaho, south of Spokane, to Greenbluff, etc.," Hofmeister says.
Other areas the interceptors went to and sought visitors willing to provide survey responses included parks, wineries, and entertainment venues.
Hofmeister says some of the questions those interceptors asked visitors included where they were staying, what brought them to the Spokane area, how large their travel party was, and what things would they like to see different or improved if they were to return.
"It was a 15-minute survey, and we got hundreds and hundreds of people to do it," she says.
At larger events, such as conventions, Hofmeister says a table often would be set up, and to entice people to approach and willingly answer questions, there would be some kind of giveaway or drawing. On one occasion, for example, interceptors offered a dollar-off voucher for garage parking at River Park Square to people who took the survey.
Aside from surveying people who came here for a vacation or specific event, Hofmeister says the study also looked at hotel stay trends, such as breakdowns of business versus leisure stays, and room nights associated with specific events.
She says another main component of the tourism study was to determine specific attractions that people are coming here to see or to do.
"We want to know what are those top attractions that are part of that driving reason," Hofmeister says. "Those attractions could be anything from Riverfront Park and Silverwood (Theme Park), to less expected things like the Finch Arboretum, Riverside State Park, and the Best of Broadway series."
Hofmeister says that since Visit Spokane was one of the lead agencies here involved in overseeing the study, she and Cheryl Kilday, the organization's president and CEO, helped develop the questions that were included in the visitor surveys.
She says the Spokane-area tourism agency also compiled lists of which events and locations the interceptors should go to to look for people to survey.
"We worked with Randall Travel on how to best glean the most complete information to get a really good market profile so as we move forward we are making wise decisions about marketing expenditures," Hofmeister says.
"What it's going to help all of us do is to be laser focused on the highest-yield potential visitors so that we can build what's already a really solid economic driver," she adds.
She says the average annual economic impact of out-of-town visitors to the Spokane area is $800 million, and visitors pay about $56 million in state and local taxes each year, taking some of the burden off of local residents.
For more information on Visit Spokane's recently completed annual tourism economic-impact study, see page B11 of this issue.
Says Hofmeister, "Our hope is that this study will really help us in focusing our marketing messages geographically, psychologically, and spiritually."
"You can't offer the same thing in the box over and overyou have to develop new and exciting things, and think proactively about the future and what visitors are looking for in terms of experiences to continue to be a viable market."
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