By Steve Woodhouse Editor
The Journal Express
---- — Organizations which participated in a controversial June forum involving tourism expert Roger Brooks recently received the presenter’s full report in regard to improving the vacation industry in Marion County, and are now working on plans to implement his strategies.
Brooks has made a name for himself across the country, and the globe, for being able to provide solutions and suggestions to towns interested in improving themselves. He came to Marion County this summer and was left with the impression that the county’s current tourism revenue of approximately $50 million could be tripled to $150 million.
Carla Eysink, Executive Director of the Marion County Development Commission (MCDC), says that the written report was reviewed at a quarterly tourism meeting on Sept. 30. She said the written report was similar to the workshop, but also included additional action items.
These actions were divided among short-term and long-term goals. Costs involved with implementing these changes and recommendations were key factors in determining completion dates and priority. By the first of December, when the tourism group meets again, Eysink hopes there is a rough timeline for completing these projects and finding a “champion” for each one to see them through.
One recommendation made by Brooks was to make information about Marion County attractions available 24/7/365. Eysink hopes to install approximately 20 information stands around the county, to fill with brochures and other tourism information. The “champion” for this project will also check on them routinely to ensure they are stocked and in good order. Locations for these have not been determined.
These information centers are expected to cost a little over $2,000, which Eysink believes will quickly turn a profit in terms of tourism income to the county. They offer the opportunity to “cross-sell” Marion County communities and attractions.
The county’s tourism website will also include a link to the “101 Gems of Marion County,” another suggestion by Brooks. Eysink said a grant from the Iowa Tourism Office has been applied for to pay for this project.
As reported, the MCDC has relaunched the “Best of the Red Rock Area” contest this year. Eysink said the results of this contest will help determine what the 101 gems should be. One of Brooks’ messages was to celebrate, accentuate and promote the region’s most popular assets and attractions. The contest is expected to show what restaurants, businesses, attractions, events, etc., are held in the highest regard already. Recommendations will also be used to determine what to focus on in the 2014 travel guide, which MCDC is already working on. Voting in the contest is available at www.redrockarea.com, and will be open until Nov. 1. Winners will be announced in January.
The bigger projects Brooks suggested, such as way-finding signage improvements around the county, will take longer to complete. Focusing the county’s marketing efforts on websites is a priority that could be achieved sooner.
“We know the Web is where we’re getting a ton (of visitors),” Eysink said.
Each tourism entity in the county, whether it be the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce, Pella Convention and Visitors Bureau, Lake Red Rock, etc., is tasked with trying to find an identity to capitalize upon to attract visitors. MCDC is also working on an “umbrella” identity to encompass the entire county in the hopes of bringing more people to the area.
To help achieve this, focus will be on “anchor tenants” in the county, those true destinations Marion County has to offer. Eysink knows of at least two; the Knoxville Raceway and the Historical Village in Pella. Contest results should point out the others.
“There’s lots of others,” Eysink said.
The people who will work to ensure the implementation and follow-through of these new attempts are expected to include stakeholders in each community. Volunteers will be accepted. Eysink remains impressed with Brooks’ presentation, the suggestions he made and the plan that is coming from it.
“It’s a plan to help us move froward,” Eysink said.
Brooks’ visit, the Opportunity Assessment, was made possible through a partnership of several organizations including the Knoxville Raceway, Pella CVB, MCDC, Knoxville Chamber of Commerce, Pella Chamber of Commerce, Pleasantville Chamber of Commerce, City of Pleasantville, Pleasantville State Bank, Marion County Conservation Board, Marion County Community Foundation, Red Rock Lake Association, Central Iowa Tourism Region, MidAmerican Energy, National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum, Molengracht/Royal Amsterdam Hotel and Central College.