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Woodbury City Council shelves destination marketing effort

Woodbury officials pumped the brakes on forming a convention and visitors bureau last week until some of the city’s amenities open, potentially bringing in out-of-towners on their own.

City Council had ordered a study to help decide whether a CVB, also known as a destination marketing organization (DMO), is what Woodbury needs to make it a regional attraction.

Zeitgeist Consulting released the results of the study last week and laid out a few options for city officials to consider.

One of them was to move ahead with an independent, nonprofit DMO that would help market Woodbury, but it will also add a 3 percent lodging tax to local hotels.

The additional tax would bring in about $350,000 in revenue each year, but would put hotels at a competitive disadvantage especially if surrounding communities aren’t on board as well, said Bill Geist of Zeitgeist Consulting.

Geist and his team spent some time in Woodbury over the past few months, conducting surveys with business people, hotel groups and sports clubs and getting to know the community.

They found that sports groups don’t have any trouble filling tournament schedules, but the dining, meeting spaces and hotels could use a few more visitors.

“Smart communities are all about creating interest from those who spend money here,” he said. “We always have to be importing new money.”

DMOs started in Detroit, Mich., when the country was coming out of the Great Depression without all the social media and online resources available today.

In the 1980s and 90s, DMOs became all about filling hotels.

“Today, it’s less about heads and beds and more about heads,” Geist said, noting that the purpose is to attract visitors who will then spread the word and bring more people to shop, dine and stay in the community.

Woodbury has its website and social media accounts, but there is no place online that tells a story, he said.

“There is nobody that talks to people outside the area,” he said.

Geist told Woodbury City Council at a meeting Wednesday, April 16, that the city has so much potential with numerous retail stores attractive to the entire region.

“You forfeit that opportunity by not marketing the city in some way, shape or form,” he said.

A DMO would consist of a group of experienced destination marketers selling space, working with outside sports clubs and businesses who wouldn’t have otherwise known about the city.

“There is a real openness from your sports clubs and teams to move down that path,” Geist said.

But Gene Johnson, president of the Woodbury Athletic Association, said local athletic fields are already booked without additional players.

There are already plenty of visitors frequenting local restaurants and shops from locally-sponsored tournaments alone, he said.

“We’ll put a tournament on the fields every week if we can,” Johnson said, noting that he doesn’t want local groups to start competing for time on green space.

Woodbury Lions Club member Don Place said the annual communitywide garage sale brings hundreds of out-of-towners who fill up local hotels, but a DMO should do more to market various city amenities like the Eagle Valley Golf Course, and not just focus on filling up hotels and restaurants.

City Council recognized that Woodbury will look a little different a year or two from now with many new construction and remodeled facilities maybe playing a role in a decision to implement or not to implement a DMO.

Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens said she needed time to chew over and digest the results of the study before making a final decision.

“I’m just not ready as of today to move forward,” she said.

The council was also faced with the option to create a regional DMO that would impose a 3 percent lodging tax on hotels in Woodbury as well as surrounding cities like Oakdale, Lake Elmo and Afton.

Kirk Schultz, of the Madison Hospitality Group that manages the Country Inn and Suites, said customers look at the total cost of their package when looking at places to stay in the area, and if they can go across the border to another city for a cheaper rate, they would.

Geist said border cities could benefit from signing up too, as there are other amenities in Afton not present in Woodbury and vice versa.

“Those conversations need to happen,” he said.

City Council Member Christopher Burns said he was OK with waiting to make a decision until the “jewel of our community” is open, referring to the Bielenberg Sports Center currently undergoing a major renovation.

“I think time doesn’t hurt us on this,” Giuliani Stephens added.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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