Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center Executive Director JoAnne Hoatson and North Platte/Lincoln County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Assistant Director Muriel Clark have just returned from the American Bus Association Marketplace 2013 held in Charlotte, NC January 5 – 10.
Marketplace brings together buyers – operators who bring group tours to the area, and sellers – Destination Marketing Organizations such as CVB’s and attractions such as the Golden Spike Tower. Sellers are given seven minute appointments, which are prescheduled electronically and based on buyer and seller requests. At the start of Marketplace, Hoatson had appointments with 28 buyers and Clark had scheduled appointments with 13 buyers. “Marketplace has made some very positive changes in 2013,” said Clark. “The selling floor is now open during all three appointment days. I was able to meet with an additional 9 buyers and make contact with dozens more through their mailboxes.”
Appointment requests are made on the basis of extensive research. The first criterion is that buyers must be interested in coming to, or through, Nebraska. Secondly, they must be interested in something the local area has to offer. The Golden Spike Tower is specifically interested in buyers whose groups have an affinity for trains. The CVB has offerings ranging from agritourism, wineries, history, outdoor recreation, transportation, and, of course, trains.
“A group tour overnighting in North Platte can infuse as much as $6,000 into the local economy from such things as lodging, fuel, food, shopping, attraction admissions and local sales and lodging taxes,” said Clark. “Group tours are a significant focus of our marketing efforts. Whether they are choosing North Platte as a destination, or passing through on the way to another destination, selling them on the services and amenities North Platte has to offer is important.”
Hoatson concurs, “We’re seeing more and more group tours with interests in trains. It helps that North Platte’s Rail Fest was chosen as one of ABA’s Top 100 events for 2013, but whether it’s history or modern technology, railroading resonates with the group tour market.”
Hoatson and Clark met with buyers who were seeking such diverse ideas as a mystery tour based on living history reenactments of Golden Spike Hall of Fame inductees; a cross-country train taking in railroad attractions from Council Bluffs to Cheyenne; and a circle tour of Buffalo Bill points of interest – Le Claire, Iowa, North Platte, Nebraska, Cody, Wyoming and Lookout Mountain, Colorado. North Platte’s special events such as “Ride with the Wild Bunch,” “The Canteen Spirit Experience,” and the “Beef and Wine Tour” were also very popular.
The ABA Marketplace is serious business. Industry research shows that at the 2012 Marketplace in Grapevine, Texas, more than $78 million in current and future bookings took place, with each seller realizing approximately $58,065 in prospective business. “Selling to the group tour industry is a marathon, not a sprint,” says Clark. “The buyers are looking far into the future. The offerings we discussed with them won’t be included in their catalogs until 2014 and beyond. We back up our sales efforts with strategic follow-up by Ginger Ady, our Group Tour Sales Director and a user-friendly group tour section of our website.”
Also attending Marketplace from Nebraska were Micheal Collins, Group Tour Sales Director for the Nebraska Tourism Commission and Roger Jasnoch, Executive Director of the Kearney Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.