Bragging Rights & News

What the HECK is a Visitors Bureau?

| December 13, 2017

Q: What is a Visitors Bureau?

A: The Fond du Lac Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (FACVB) is what the Travel Industry refers to as a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO); we are essentially a marketing company and the product that we market is the destination of FdL and the Lake Winnebago Region.  We also staff a Visitors Center that, while intended to serve visitors coming into the community, actually primarily serves as an information channel for locals on a very wide range of topics.

Q: What is the goal of the FACVB?

A: The FACVB works to convince more people to visit FdL, get them to come here more frequently, entice them to stay longer and to encourage folks to visit during “need periods” as well as the traditionally busy times.  An example of a “need period” would be February.  An example of a busy period would be in July during the EAA festival.

Q: How is the FACVB funded?

A: The Bureau’s singular revenue stream is what is called a Room Tax also known as Bed Tax. FdL hotels impose an 8% room tax, this is the state’s legal limit unless a community has a publicly funded convention center, and then that community is allowed to impose up to 10% in room tax.  The City of FdL collects these taxes from the hotels along with data pertaining to occupancy and room rates. A very small portion of these bed tax funds, as well as a small processing fee, is held back by the city.

In December 2016 the FACVB struck up a formal relationship with the community of Waupun wherein the FACVB began serving as Waupun’s official Tourism Entity at the beginning of 2017.

The “regionalism” approach will likely be expanded in the coming years. By expanding our Region we improve our product by offering more assets and at the same time, we offer destination marketing services to communities that could not otherwise afford their own visitors bureaus. Ultimately the Regionalism approach benefits all those involved – as the saying goes there is strength in numbers.

There is a state statute that determines who can collect bed tax revenue and how it is to be used.

Q: How does the FACVB influence economic development?

A: The FACVB creates economic development in two primary ways 1) by growing our GROUP BUSINESS in the area hotels and 2) by increasing our TOURISM traffic in the community (more on the definition of Group Business and Tourism below).  Given that 75% of a visitor’s money is spent outside of their host hotel it is clear that tourist’s dollars support or help to support a wide variety of businesses in many business sectors throughout the region. 

Q: How are FACVB efforts measured?

A: The Bureau uses several metrics to track our efforts. We analyze the information accumulated by the Department of Tourism, which yearly tracks Direct and Indirect Spending in the Tourism Sector in all of Wisconsin’s Counties.  In 2015 and 2016 Fond du Lac County had the largest increase in the percentage of money spent in the Tourism sector in the entire state (largest direct and indirect spend increase in 2015 and largest direct spend increase 2016). Tourist traffic is also measured by the Room Tax – a growing room tax in the aggregate indicates more rooms being booked (Average Daily Occupancy – ADO) or higher room rates (Average Daily Rate – ADR) or a combination of the two factors.  Group Sales are monitored primarily through the tracking of Group Leads delivered to the lodging community. Although a group customer is looking for something a little different than a tourism customer, when they make a purchasing decision regarding choosing a community to visit, it is often said in the DMO industry that unless there is a viable tourism product, group sales will be limited.  In other words, the tourism business and group business segments are symbiotic – to be appealing to a GROUP business customer you really must have strong TOURISM product as well. When we solicit business from a group meeting planner we present to them aspects of our community such as meeting space and number of hotel rooms but we also know that the end user – the actual meeting attendee – will be interested in what can be found in the community after the meeting at the hotel is over.  Once the business is complete the meeting attendee, essentially becomes a tourist.

Q: How does the FACVB go about selling Fond du Lac, and what is the difference between Group Business and Tourism?

A: 1) Developing GROUP business is usually a function of one-on-one sales backed by marketing. The FACVB has two full-time Direct Salespeople. Generally speaking, the Bureau solicits group business from a number of vertical market segments including:

  • ASSOCIATIONS (e.g. annual meetings, trade shows, board meetings)
  • BUSINESSES (e.g. corporate retreats, sales meetings, training meetings)
  • GROUP TRAVEL (e.g. motorcoach groups and affinity travel groups)

2) Growing TOURIST business is done through a variety of marketing efforts and very little one-on-one sales. DMO’s think of “tourists” as people that come to our community not because they have to come here with a group but because they want to come here to experience some of the destination’s attributes and take part in some of the region’s activities and attractions. The creation and promotion of festivals is one technique for growing tourism traffic.

Marketing techniques for the group and tourism markets include engaging in social media, participating in trade shows, hosting media events, engaging in Public Relations, print advertising, E-marketing, participating in state and regional marketing cooperatives and creating festivals & events. The DMO has four primary means of “pushing out” our marketing message these are typically referred to as “Distribution Channels”

Paid: print ads, radio ads, etc. …

Earned: favorable news stories/radio broadcasts/articles touting the community.  This earned media is typically achieved through purposeful efforts such as hosting travel writers in our community…

Social: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. …

Owned: Area Guide, website, signage…

 

The rule of thumb is that the Wisconsin Department of Tourism attracts folks to the State, a visitor’s bureau attracts people to a destination or region and the individual hotels sell the property. 

Q: Geographically what is the target market for FACVB’s sales and marketing efforts?

A: for most vertical markets, we feel that our “sweet spot” is from about an hour out of FdL (Madison and Milwaukee) to about 2-3 hours out (Rockford and the greater Chicagoland).  On the geographic extreme, our market extends perhaps from Dubuque to the west and Indianapolis to the east.

Q: Demographically who is the tourist target market?

A: FdL’s product for tourists is probably most appealing to a young Genexer/older Millennial dual income family. If a mom and dad with 2.5 kids are looking for a quick inexpensive getaway, Fond du Lac offers great hiking, biking, kayaking opportunities. The Downtown District is starting to evolve to the point that more arts & entertainment activity can be found in the heart of the city – think about Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts and the several great art galleries that can be found.  The FACVB staff feels strongly that the area’s hunting & fishing opportunities represent a very strong feature as well. The rural areas have a fantastic “Agritourism” product such as wineries, orchards and cheese and dairy operations which are open to the public to explore, shop at, and enjoy – think about Kelly Country Creamery, LaClare Family Creamery and Vines and Rushes Winery.

Q: From a group sales standpoint who is the ideal client?

A: Group business is frequently driven by the need for organizations to hold meetings. TheFACVB targets small associations and departments within corporations for group business. Most of our meetings clients are from in-state.

Q: What are the top three influencers of overnight stays in Fond du Lac other than Group business?

A: Our top three draws are: EAA in Oshkosh; Road America in Elkhart Lake; Blue Line Family Ice Center in the Fairgrounds District. Other popular attractions are the Horicon Marsh, the Ice Age Trails of the Kettle Moraine, the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Winnebago.  The FACVB team believes that visitors do not care about city or county lines thus we are happy to talk about all the great things in the “Lake Winnebago Region.”

Q: Why did the FACVB spearhead a Destination Branding Initiative in 2011?

A: Though 2011 saw FdL with the largest percentage increase in tourism spending in Wisconsin, our community’s yearly hotel occupancy had for many years been below 50%.  In 2011 tourism spending was over $100 million in FdL County. This sounds great but it was a million dollars below Oshkosh.  Additionally, it was incumbent upon the community to do a better job marketing itself if it was ever going to realize the development of new product in FdL (in this context “product” refers to hotels, this was prior to the opening of the Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn Express).  New limited service properties and/or a higher-end hotel with modern meeting space is a lot more likely to come on-line if a developer sees community-wide occupancy percentages at least in the high 50’s. In 2011, the FACVB Board and Staff determined that the foundation of all good sales and marketing campaigns is a solid and consistent brand.  In January of 2012, the Bureau revealed the C’mon in Brand.

 

The Brand Pillars

  • Central Location;  we are one hour from 70% of the state’s  population and 2.5 hours from  Chicago’s northern suburbs…
  • Position at the Foot of Lake Winnebago one of the country’s largest inland lakes; Lake Winnebago, specifically in conjunction with Horicon Marsh,  presents a real, unique and tangible asset for the folks that visit and live in Fond du Lac…
  • Activities & Attractions;  active/outdoor lifestyle opportunities such as hiking, hunting, fishing, baseball, and biking are limitless, at the same time we have a growing arts & entertainment product, a huge number of the classic Wisconsin supper-clubs and a vibrant Agritourism community…
  • Real Value; this is an inexpensive place for tourist and residents alike…

Q: What is the FACVB’s role in Festivals?

A:  In 1978 the FACVB created Walleye Weekend. The Visitors Bureau was also involved in creating Taste of Fond du Lac and several other minor events in the community.  At some point many years ago, the FACVB Board of Directors decided to spin off the festivals component of the operation and thus the creation of the wholly independent Fond du Lac Festivals Inc. To this day Fond du Lac Festivals Inc. is a completely separate organization and still oversees the popular Walleye Weekend and Taste of Fond du Lac events. Since spinning off the festivals operation and until relatively recently, the FACVB’s role in festivals was to serve the community as a marketing agent for the existing portfolio of festivals and events (including among others Walleye Weekend, Taste of Fond du Lac and the Downtown FdL Partnership’s  very well attended Fondue Fest).

Identifying the potential need for more festivals in our community’s calendar of events and with a desire to create a “homegrown” tourism attraction/activity to drive tourism in a need period, the FACVB in 2016 created a new and proprietary winter festival known as Sturgeon Spectacular – A Celebration of Winter and Really Big Fish.

In the fall of 2016, the FACVB Board agreed to create a new festivals and events department within the Bureau. The goal of the FACVB festivals and events department is to grow the Sturgeon Spectacular Festival as well as identify other festival and event opportunities for Fond du Lac and The Lake Winnebago Region.

 

Sturgeon Spectacular features events on the ice and off the ice, indoors, outdoors and throughout the community.  In 2018 the weekend will include live entertainment, outdoors hockey matches (featuring an SMS & Fondy High Alumni Hockey match in Lakeside Park) and a softball tournament.  Also included in the festivities are a parade, Wisconsin Snow Sculpting Championships, live theater, and much more.

Principle community partners involved in the Sturgeon Spectacular winter festival include Thelma Sadoff Center for Arts, Children’s Museum of Fond du Lac, Blue Line Family Ice Center, and the City of Fond du Lac.

 

In early June of 2017, the FACVB rolled out the second event in the Bureau’s portfolio of festivals with Art All Around a several-day-long, region-wide celebration of art, music, and crafts. In 2018 the events will run Thursday through Sunday culminating with the well-known event Art on the Island. Like Sturgeon Spectacular the idea is to take an existing event (such as  the beloved Art on the Island which in 2018 celebrates its 50th year) add to the original event  more activities and create an agenda big enough and interesting enough to convince out-of-towners it is worth a trip to and an overnight stay at Fond du Lac.

 

Art All Around activities include Gallery and Busker Night in Fond du Lac’s Downtown District as well as art events over the weekend at Gottfried Prairie, Meuer Farm, and Oven Island.

Principle community partners involved in Art All Around include the many art galleries found in Fond du Lac, Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts, Meuer Farm, and Gottfried Prairie and Arboretum.  The FACVB has intentionally structured Sturgeon Spectacular and Art All Around in a way that we work with community partners to save cost, cut down on operational elements of running a festival and primarily to create great content.  Since the FACVB is first and foremost a Destination Marketing Organization most of our resources go into marketing the events.  The FACVB essentially self-funds many aspects of these festivals, with a long-term vision of establishing a sustainable sponsorship model.

 

Q: Why did the FACVB sell the Visitors Center on Pioneer Road?

A: For the last many years the FACVB team has been tracking who was coming into the Visitors Center at 171 South Pioneer Road.  We now have seven years of data that strongly indicates this building is not serving our mission.

  • 75% of the folks that come into this building are locals
  • Of the 75% local traffic through the Visitor Center nearly 50% are folks looking for information on communities outside of Fond du Lac
  • Of the folks that are not from Fond du Lac that come into the building (the actual out-of-town visitors), 5% are not interested in information on Fond du Lac

This community collects bed tax from our hotel guests to fund Destination Marketing efforts.  Clearly, our tourism spend and bed tax metrics indicate we are heading in the right direction but, owning a bricks and mortar facility is no longer an advantage. This evolution is not dissimilar to the way many business models are changing throughout numerous sectors in the economy.  The prospect of freeing up capital tied-up in a large fixed asset and repurposing that money towards more contemporary marketing activities (such as a brand new website and increased presence in the social media environment) was too strategically advantageous to ignore.

In the summer of 2017 the Visitor Center, which also holds the FACVB staff offices, was sold to the Bank of Oakfield.  The FACVB will be leasing space in the Downtown District starting in the winter of 2018. The switch from an ownership model to a lease model will essentially be expense-neutral.

Destination Lake Winnebago Region