© 2010 by Jack D. Wilson
How we got here – a bit of history
With much fanfare the City of Prescott announced their new Office of Tourism and the appointment of Don Prince as their Director of the Office of Tourism. Now that Don has been on the job for a few months, the tourism stakeholders are getting restless.
While I was Prescott Mayor, the City of Prescott organized the Tourism and Economic Development Summit held at Embry-Riddle Davis Learning Center on Wednesday, September 23, 2009. Speakers included Sherry Henry and Mark Stanton from the Arizona Office of Tourism and Rachel Sacco, President & CEO of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. That event spotlighted the urgent need to improve our tourism attraction function.
I lost my bid for reelection and the mayor-elect, Marlin Kuykendall, asked me to continue my efforts on Prescott Tourism assessment. To accomplish that, the City of Prescott had brought in Bill Geist, President of Zeitgeist Consulting to access the current tourism situation. I did the planning for a series of focus group interviews on December 14 and 15, 2009 that were conducted at the Rock House on the Prescott Yavapai College Campus. Focus groups were organized around stakeholder interests, e.g., we had all the hoteliers in one focus group. Stakeholder focus groups covered a broad cross-section of tourism interests and over one-hundred stakeholders were invited to participate.
Following his visit to Prescott, Bill Geist returned home and produced a report that resulted in the city deciding to bring the tourism promotion function in house. Steve Norwood, the City Manager, then initiated a personnel search for a new Tourism Director. That resulted in many applications for that position, many of which did not meet the stated pre-qualifications. The list was narrowed down to a short list of highly qualified candidates. Rather than then getting down to a list of the top three candidates, circumstances resulted in the list getting narrowed down to Don Prince. Steve Norwood decided to hire Don Prince without involving key stakeholders in the process. Although Norwood had the authority to do that, his actions made a number of tourism stakeholders very uncomfortable and feeling that they had been excluded from the process. The initial seeds of unrest had been sown.
When the City of Prescott took over the tourism function, a number of assurances were made:
- Outside marketing assistance would still be needed and the city would publish a Request for Proposals (RFP) for that. Several local people who feel they are qualified to respond to such an RFP have been waiting and waiting and waiting for it to be issued. When inquiries are made regarding when it will be issued, the standard response from the city has been “next week” which has been proffered several times.
- Tourism stakeholders would be partners in this process
PACT web site rebranding
The City of Prescott decided to rebrand the Prescott Area Coalition for Tourism (PACT) website as a city website. They added additional content; however, potential visitors find the site hard to use and confusing. It also lacks key functions that all top-notch tourism websites have. When the city added content to the PACT website, it looks like quality control was not a priority. I went into one small section and found a completely blank page sans any content at all!
Competing web sites
Prescott competes for tourists attention and more and more that competition starts on tourism web sites. Today, many tourists are Internet savvy and start their investigation of potential places to visit by spending time looking at tourism websites. How do we stack up to our competition? One of our primary target markets for visitors is Phoenix and Tucson. When they want to escape the heat they look at Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. Our competition has mature web sites with superior functionality when compared to ours. That means they will win the Internet battle for tourism dollars. Take a look at the competition we are facing:
I admit my background was in Information Technology when I was working; however, I would argue that you do not need a technical background to see the differences between the tourism web site for Flagstaff and Sedona and ours:
Just take a look at all three web sites from the perspective of a potential tourist and draw your own conclusions. Remember that in this economy dollars are tight for everyone; if we cannot capture the interest of a potential tourist that visits our tourism website, they will move on to a competitor quickly. That potential visitor may be from Phoenix or Tucson or they could be from Germany or Japan – that is why tourism web sites have become so important today. Here are a couple of additional tourism websites, one domestic and one international, that are good examples of what top notch tourism web sites currently embody:
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Stratford, Ontario, Canada – in some ways Stratford is comparable to Prescott
Partnering with the Prescott Resort
The Prescott Resort has recently completed a multi-million dollar refurbishment program. For large conferences, it is the only game in town. However, the new Office of Tourism has frozen the resort out of any mentions they are making. The resort sits on Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe land, hence it generates no bed tax for the city. The resort has been told the city would like to partner with them, but actions indicate otherwise.
When you understand the bigger picture, you see that conference attendees at the Prescott Resort also spend money in Prescott. They will come downtown to visit Whiskey Row and our museums, so we should be partnering with the Prescott Resort because it will benefit the city.
Root of the problem
Everyone was so enthusiastic, we had a new Prescott Office of Tourism and a new Tourism Director with tons of experience with tourism. He came in all fired up but now walks around City Hall in a daze. Here is a tourism professional hired at a reported salary of $90,000.00 that has run into the Steve Norwood micro-management buzz saw.
You would expect a top-level manager like Don Prince would have some latitude to make decisions on his own, but the current morass of inactivity and indecision indicates otherwise.
Where do we go from here
It is time for the city leadership to decide what tourism policy they want in place and how much latitude a $90,000.00 per year Tourism Director (plus benefits) should have in laying out the strategy and tactics under their policy guidance. Steve Norwood, the city manager, serves at the pleasure of the city council, so the council certainly has the ability to get this back on track. The key question is whether they want to or not? Until something proactive occurs, we will continue to see unrest within the tourism stakeholder community. Some have concluded the situation is now worst than before the city decided not to renew the PACT contract. However, I remain optimistic that the Prescott tourism initiative will get back on track soon. One sign of that happening will be the involvement of a broad range of tourism stakeholders.
Illustrations courtesy of www.SXC.hu.
About the author
Jack D. Wilson first visited Prescott in 1995 and has been a resident since 2000. He took a sojourn into politics and was the mayor of Prescott Arizona from Nov. 2007 – Nov. 2009. While he was mayor, he got actively involved with the question of how to increase tourism to Prescott. He now writes a couple of blogs and is President of the Prescott Frontier Days Community Service Foundation.