The Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association is hoping City Council in its fiscal 2013 budget will approve a $100,000 extension of an ad campaign promoting tourism to markets largely outside the city.
In 2007, ACVA commissioned a marketing and research study to develop advertising that would promote Alexandria as a destination and distinguish the area from tourism competitors such as Annapolis, Md., Charleston, S.C., or Savannah, Ga.
“If we’re trying to market ourselves just like Charleston, for example, we’re not distinguishing ourselves,” said ACVA President and CEO Stephanie Pace Brown.
The ACVA, which is charged with promoting the image and often the economics of Alexandria, conducted one-on-one interviews and focus groups with key members of the community to help fine-tune a tourism campaign. It also polled residents.
“The conclusion of this work of almost 2,000 surveys was that the focus of our brand to authentically represent Alexandria were five things: historic ambiance, 18th and 19th century architecture, charm, great restaurants and an interesting mix of retail,” said Brown. “We boiled that down to historic ambiance and contemporary flair.”
The marketing campaign that began in 2008 promoted a tag line of “Shop, Dine and Celebrate on America’s Historic Main Streets.” The current promotions running in markets outside of the city include that tagline and seasonally characterize Alexandria as “Wonder-Land,” “Charm-ville” and “The Artful Getaway.”
ACVA allocated $300,000 for full-page magazine advertising for that campaign and, according to Pace Brown, discovered that it generated $40 million of visitor spending within six months.
“The return on investment for the city’s money was $4 of city tax revenue generated within four months for every one dollar we spent,” Pace Brown said. Council liked those numbers and the fiscal year 2012 budget included an extra $300,000 for destination advertising.
Pace Brown said targeted tourism marketing is key for the city’s economic development. Like many area localities, Alexandria began losing government business in its hotels recently due to big changes in government policies regarding meetings and contractors among other reasons.
“Alexandria’s business would have decreased if we hadn’t offset that with tourism” said Pace Brown. “We can’t make the government spend more money and have more meetings. This is a shrinking market.”
In 2011, Alexandria sold 59,000 hotel rooms related to government spending but in 2007 it sold 164,000.
“The campaign is a huge success story in Alexandria. The city slogan is not Charm-ville. We are marketing historic ambiance which is key to our brand,” said Pace Brown. “We didn’t just sit here and dream up ‘Let’s be Charm-ville.’ City Council made decisions to fund this campaign based on very substantial research. Our tax revenues show that it has worked.”