A “Generation of Planners,” Reinventing Government
Governor Leavitt set the tone for his administration by placing strong emphasis on long range, strategic planning. The Division of Travel Development, colloquially known for decades as the Utah Travel Council (UTC), embarked on a first of its kind, long term strategic plan for the Utah tourism. Under the guidance of the newly reorganized Board of Travel Development, we collected input and broad buy-in during 20 statewide, community stakeholder meetings in two separate phases.
Concurrently, having been given a copy of Reinventing Government by Osborne and Gaebler, by the Governor, several of the book’s principles were embedded into the planning process. These include catalytic government: steering rather than rowing; enterprising government: focus on quality earnings; market oriented government: leveraging change through the market; and finally, doing more with less.
The tourism plan, published after eighteen months of broad collaboration, laid out a road map for clarifying the role distinctions between county based destination marketing organizations and the state travel office. With the state role defined as scanner, convener, and facilitator, the plan set a standard for making financial decisions based on empirical data derived from market research. These findings were expected to guide marketing communications and measure program results. The strategic plan laid a foundation for an innovative funding model which dedicates a small portion of the marginal increase in visitor spending to fund statewide branding campaigns.
The Increasing Role of Tourism Economic Development in a Global Service Economy
During the Leavitt era, Utah and the Western region were on the front edge of dynamic global change.
The Governor’s leadership in embracing the potential of emerging technologies encouraged (UTC) to exhibit market leadership in using the World Wide Web as a completely new, interactive communications channel for tourism marketing. In partnership with a cutting-edge web designer, UTC obtained the domain name utah.com and built one of the first comprehensive travel destination sites on the web.
The emergence of the global service economy coincided with a decline (at the time) in extractive industries. This put increased pressure on tourism development to fill gaps in Utah’s rural economy where a stereotype had existed that tourism jobs were of lower quality and thus, less desirable. Again, the tourism strategic plan enabled state and local economic developers to envision a preference for destination econometrics compared to the previously less efficient, windshield tourism model. Destination tourism represents higher quality earnings for Utah’s communities, new small business start-up opportunities, and less of the seasonal turnover that had plagued windshield tourism.
The September Surprise of 1996 was the White House use of the Antiquities Act to designate the Grand Staircase/Escalante Canyons National Monument. This development was not well received by contiguous gateway communities who were expecting economic gains from the extraction large coal veins now protected by the monument. Due to the long range tourism strategic plan’s emphasis on new product development, state tourism developers saw an opportunity to make lemons out of this monument lemonade. The Division of Travel Development supported a staff member, along with four other state employees, to join the BLM Monument Planning Team to produce the monument plan. Because of this unique partnership, attention was paid to market-based visitor management, visitor contact stations with a smaller footprint than the traditional visitor centers, and joint facilities planning with gateway communities.
[As a footnote to the monument designation controversy, a preliminary vision for similar geophysical space was developed by a state task force two years earlier. The charge from both Governor Leavitt and Interior Secretary Babbitt was to produce an innovative solution to the wrangling and discord between local officials, wilderness advocates and outdoor recreation groups in Escalante. Representatives of these warring factions produced, in collaboration, a proposal for a new designation, called the “Canyons of the Escalante National Eco-Region.]
Special Event Opportunities for Increased Consumer Awareness of the Utah Brand
The Utah Centennial celebration provided additional marketing material for UTC. A new product development opportunity allowed the travel division to work on the plan for a new attraction: This is the Place State Park, which combined the original monument with a Colonial Williamsburg style interpretation of early life in the state. The statehood centennial also afforded new marketing themes resulting in a friends and family referral promotion and a passport contest where visitors were challenged to collect a unique stamp from each of Utah’s 29 counties.
With the announcement, in Budapest, that Salt Lake City would host the XIX winter Olympiad, the tourism strategic plan was updated to include a tactical component to take advantage of the anticipated awareness for the Utah brand. The winter games plan had five components: destination capital attraction and product development, media development, hospitality training, leveraged, co-branded communications, and a big tent for visitor services. Over the plan’s time frame, all five elements were executed. Games time highlights include the first-ever winter games non-accredited media center, high impact national television spots that aired in prime time, and two visitor information, hosting and entertainment sites.
Hosting the 2002 Olympic Winter Games gave a tremendous confidence boost to Utahns who demonstrated tremendous planning, operations, and hospitality skills to a worldwide audience. Post games, additional work was necessary to tie this increased awareness to consumer travel planning to maximize the economic return on years of tangible and intangible citizen investment. According to Wirthlin Worldwide, a national survey firm, the winter games broadcasts produced a new market opportunity consisting of 7.1 million domestic travel consumers who otherwise hadn’t previously considered Utah as a destination. Governor Leavitt set the planning leadership bar by asking us to develop a 1,000-Day Tourism Plan to convert this into marginal increase in visitor spending. Among the plan objectives we wanted to capitalize on the bump in awareness, to build a branding bridge between passive awareness, collect empirical data supporting the return on investment (ROI) of converting awareness into visits, and to add significant reinforcement to the quality of life argument for the business relocation effort.
In executing the 1,000-Day plan, we conducted specialized travel trade missions to packaged tour executives and media editors and producers in key international markets. These produced an increase of Utah destination product in their catalogs of 30% and $18 million media equivalent value in public broadcasts and publications. We conducted two rounds of focus groups to better understand how to use the Olympics awareness in our branding messages. Using the most conservative approach, the return on general fund appropriation was confirmed as 8.6:1. This refined ROI methodology set the stage for a dedicated funding proposal which was authorized by the Legislature at the beginning of the new administration.