Catch the ‘Spirit’

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There’s a positive buzz about Milwaukee. The word is spreading. We’re a great place to visit. That’s what happens when a city invests $2.5 billion in new tourism attractions.
When working to attract conventions, meetings and tourists to Milwaukee, we’re engaged in a daily competitive battle with other mid-sized Midwestern cities such as Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Columbus, Kansas City, St. Louis and Minneapolis-St. Paul. How do we separate us from this competitive clutter and convince these groups to make Milwaukee their destination of choice?
First, we have to differentiate our city from the competitors by highlighting what’s new and different. We’ve been successful in moving people’s perceptions of Milwaukee as just another old rust belt industrial town because of our investment and commitment to improving our tourism product. We’re really a "turnaround" city.
Two recent events illustrate what we’re doing at the Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau to market the city.
A piece of Wisconsin came to the nation’s capital last month when Milwaukee resident, film and television composer Peter Buffett brought his spectacular homage to the American Indian, "Spirit – The Seventh Fire" to the National Mall to coincide with the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. The show, a dramatic blend of music, dance and film, enjoyed a successful run at our lakefront before heading to Washington.
We used this special Milwaukee-originated project to showcase our city to about 75 key association executives and meeting planners in the Washington, D.C., area on Sept. 23.
Peter attended the GMCVB-sponsored reception and dinner prior to the performance, gave some remarks on the creation of the show and explained that he and his wife, Jennifer, chose many years ago to make their home in Milwaukee vs. any other place in the world because it provides the diversity and cultural and creative environment that is often void in other places such as Hollywood.
The dinner was followed by a performance of the show on the Mall before a capacity and enthusiastic crowd. The energy that night was electric, and the Buffets and Milwaukee all received curtain calls and rave reviews from our invited guests.
We had another opportunity to get in front of key meeting planners when we showcased five new Milwaukee area tourism products during the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) recent annual meeting (held this year in Minneapolis). More than 700 exhibitors participated in the marketplace expo, including representatives from most major cities throughout North America.
With this many exhibitors, standing out from the crowd presents a challenge.
Each year we exhibit, we try to showcase what’s new and different in Milwaukee to help create a buzz and differentiate us from the pack of mid-sized cities. This year was no exception. We constructed a booth around the new Milwaukee Public Market (scheduled to open next year in the Third Ward). The booth was stocked with fresh fruit, produce and flowers. We created the booth around the theme, "Watch Milwaukee Grow" and showcased four other future Milwaukee area attractions – Pier Wisconsin (2005-06), the Bayshore Mall Expansion (2006-07), Pabst City (2006) and the Harley-Davidson Museum (2007-08).
The booth, designed and built by Milwaukee-based Derse Exhibits, took home second-place honors in a very competitive field and generated quality leads and requests for proposals.
These five projects alone represent close to $1 billion in new tourism investment and provide us with the "tools" needed to give us a competitive advantage when marketing the city. Pabst City and Bayshore play an important role in our tourism mix because retail accounts for about 32 percent of all visitor dollars spent in the area. The Bayshore Mall and Pabst City project fill an important gap in that area as visitors continuously tell us we can use more shopping options.
The Harley-Davidson Museum, like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, represents a one-of-a-kind tourism attraction that will truly help set us apart from our competitors.
Like our theme, we need to continue to develop unique visitor attractions that will build positive awareness for our city and continue to "grow" our convention and tourism business and increase the economic impact our industry brings to the Milwaukee area. This is our mission at the GMCVB. And while construction has begun for Pier Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Public Market and Bayshore, we need to keep this positive momentum going with Pabst City and the Harley-Davidson Museum. The more shovels we have in the ground, the faster we will "grow" as a tourism destination.
In town this month
This month, Milwaukee plays host to the following conventions that collectively bring in about 13,000 people and pump approximately $4.7 million into the local economy:
¥ Wisconsin Counties Association, Oct. 3-6
¥ Society of Women Engineers, Oct. 12-18
¥ Reiman Media Group, Oct. 22-23
¥ National Coalition of Title One Parents, Oct. 25-Nov. 1
Doug Neilson is president and chief executive officer of the Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau. For more information on what’s happening in Milwaukee or comments on this column, please check our Web site at
Ocober 15, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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