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When visitors to our community stay in Cumberland County, we hope that they also play in Cumberland County. To that end, the Cumberland County Tourism Development Authority (TDA) oversees the monies collected from the 6 percent occupancy tax funded by visitors to area hotels. The TDA is responsible for the distribution of these funds to promote travel and tourism. The Arts Council, the Crown Center and the Fayetteville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (FACVB) receive dedicated funding from the TDA. A percentage is also used to fund specifi c grant requests. 03-16-11-facvb.gif

The Cumberland County Tourism Development Authority recently received grant requests of $25,000 each from the City of Fayetteville to help fund marketing for Veterans Park and Downtown Fayetteville. The Airborne and Special Operations Museum also requested a $25,000 grant for marketing. The TDA requested that the Convention & Visitors Bureau coordinate a marketing plan incorporating the three requests.

“The TDA stepped back and looked at the fact that if we give each of these grants individually, they will promote themselves singularly. So, why not combine those resources with what the CVB is already doing?” said John Meroski, CEO of the FACVB. “Then, go back into the private sector and get matching dollars so we can have a 12-month marketing strategy for the downtown area.”

According to Meroski, it’s a matter of effi ciency and putting out a unifi ed message. The TDA questioned “What’s the best return on investment? How can the investments be measured and know they are used in the most effi cient manner?” Meroski adds, “You get a bigger bang for the buck when it’s used in a co-op fashion.”

Vivek Tandon, chairman of the TDA, echoes that. “We felt since all three requests were positive downtown assets, that a combined effort by the CVB would give each asset a better return on the investment that TDA would make on their behalf,” said Tandon.

“The CVB is hired for marketing and that is their specialization, so with their abilities to market in the right areas, streamline from their databases, and their experience of knowing what works and does not work, we feel that the CVB would be the best source for each of the downtown assets,” Tandon added.

The TDA contracts with the FACVB to promote travel and tourism for Cumberland County. “I think it works well for Cumberland County. You contract with the CVB who does an ongoing program, 24/7, 365 days a year,” said Meroski. “Since 2006, all of the downtown attractions are already worked into the CVB products.”

On March 28, the Fayetteville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (FACVB) will host a meeting for downtown area merchants and organizations to discuss the TDA marketing initiative which will include $75,000 from the TDA and $50,000 from the CVB. But according to Meroski, downtown is more than Hay Street and the area near the Market House.

“When I say downtown, I mean from the Botanical Gardens, to the river, all the way through downtown to Haymount,” explained Meroski. He went on to explain that the Airborne and Special Ops Museum has 100,000 visitors a year, but Cumberland County has 160,000 overnight visitors a month. “That’s nearly two million people staying overnight in our community. Our job is to get them to Veteran’s Park, to the restaurants to eat, to attend events and to plan return visits,” Meroski says. “Why not add to that and encourage people to stay longer. If you are going downtown to eat, let them know, here are the shops that are open when you will be there; here are specifi c things to do during different times of the day.”

Currently, the different organizations and businesses downtown do not have a consistent marketing message. Millions of dollars from the city, county, state and private organizations have been invested in downtown projects. “But whose responsibility is it to market downtown?” asked Meroski. “The CVB, Chamber of Commerce, city, Arts Council events, the private businesses through the Downtown Alliance? What’s contributed to the revitalization of downtown is all the agencies that help promote downtown.”

“We’re talking about packaging destinations, working together. It’s really facilitating information and getting a consistent message out there and really working together.”

“On March 28, that’s where the CVB can really help,” Meroski continues excitedly. “We can deliver that target audience of visitors, military, visiting family and friends. That can be done by sharing our knowledge. We can build on a good co-op plan that matches the TDA funds, some CVB funds, and we will be selling other partnerships so people can invest in this. Then we can leverage it over a 12-month p

eriod to build a consistent marketing message. Really get the message to resonate with the people.”The meeting will be held at 9:30 a.m. on March 28 at the Cumberland County Headquarters Library, and is open to people in the greater downtown area who are interested in a 12-month marketing plan.

“If people are interested in co-promoting, we would really like to hear from them. The Downtown Alliance has 70 business members, but in this area there are over 500 businesses. We are trying to reach those folks to be part of this effort,” said Meroski.

Jami McLaughlin, Downtown Development Manager for the City of Fayetteville, is optimistic about the marketing initiative. “I think partnerships are always a good thing, especially when it comes to marketing. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” said McLaughlin. “As downtown continues to grow and we have more vision, more possibilities, this is the best time to all come together and unify those marketing decisions. All in all, this is a good thing.”

Chris Villa, the President of the Downtown Alliance, is also optimistic about the future of downtown. “For us, our intention is to get people to shop local and shop downtown. Shop, eat, play, live is our mantra,” explained Villa. “We are encouraging our members to come out to the meeting and have a voice.”

The CVB will build the marketing plan and then they will go back to the TDA to present the plan. “We’ll present the plan, the funding requests, who the supporting partners are and a recommendation of how to proceed with the funding — whether in full, in part, individually or not at all,” he said. “We can facilitate something that is very much needed. If we can get all the players around the table with the common goal of a 12-month plan, some really good things can happen.”

To say he is excited about the prospects of the project is an understatement. Meroski says “In our business we say ‘everything begins with a visit.’ It takes getting that person to visit fi rst. It’s a big task and there are some fun challenges. But like our mascot of Uncle Sam, I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and work hard at providing a solution.”Photo courtesy of FACVB, by Tim Sciandra.

PHOTO: The proposed TDA and FACVB marketing initiative will shine a new light on the greater downtown area. Photo courtesy of FACVB, by Tim Sciandra.

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