Time to launch the ‘Billion Dollar Road Show’

Whereas in real estate it’s all about location, location, location, in tourism, it’s all about image.
The reviews keep coming in, and Milwaukee is headed in the right direction. Thanks in large part to our $1.5 billion investment in new tourism attractions since 1998, people are starting to take notice. While public perceptions of Milwaukee still might be that of a "Rust Belt" manufacturing town, we’re working hard at the Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau to turn that image around. And our efforts are working.
It’s easy for us to say we’re a "turnaround city" It’s another story for us to convince convention and meeting planners and the general traveling population that they’ll have a great time when they come to Milwaukee. That’s a big part of what we do.
First, to sell the city, we need to have the attractions. Fortunately, with this recent spate of investments, we have a lot to talk about. Milwaukee can rightfully boast of having a topnotch convention center, great arts and cultural attractions, fine restaurants and quality hotels. We also have a clean and safe city with friendly residents. All told, we have a great story to tell, which takes me to how do we tell it and how do we convince Joe and Jane convention-goer in Houston or Philadelphia to come to Milwaukee, vs. many other mid-sized cities that want their business?
Old impressions die hard. So, in addition to going to these meeting planners to tell our story, we need to go to the greater population at large to move these perceptions.
In addition to the $1.5 billion spent on tourism-related attractions since 1998, we have another $1 billion planned for the next few years. Much of this investment centers around five showcase projects – the Milwaukee Public Market, Pier Wisconsin, the Bayshore Town Center expansion, the Harley-Davidson Museum and the redevelopment of the former Pabst Brewery site.
In 2005, our organization plans to launch the "Billion Dollar Road Show," a sales and marketing blitz aimed at reaching as many meeting planners, group tour operators and media as possible to tell them about Milwaukee and the new tourism product opening over the next few years.
We will identify the three to four cities that will give us the best opportunity to expose Milwaukee to key audiences. We will look for local partners, such as Midwest Airlines, our elected officials and our hospitality industry to join us in the tour.
Reaching the population at large with this "turnaround" story is not easy. We don’t have the scale or budget to mount any widespread advertising program. To a great extent, we’ll continue to aggressively work the news media from throughout the country (and in some cases, the world) to come to Milwaukee and mine for niche stories that might work for some "non-traditional" consumer publications.
We’ll also maximize this opportunity to "showcase" our city when the Society of American Travel Writers central states chapter convenes in Milwaukee next summer.
In addition to the Chicago Tribune and ESPN.COM, excerpted at the top of this column, we’ve enjoyed recent visits from the Washington Post, Midwest Living, The Travel Channel and the Wisconsin State Journal, to name a few. These third-party, objective media stories reach millions of people and play a crucial role in helping us build an image for our city. Because at the end of the day, image is everything.
2005 shaping up
to be a big year
There was a recent media report that gave the impression that 2005 will be a down year in the local convention business. Based on bookings at the Midwest Airlines Center (and contrary) to these reports, we expect a banner convention year. Many national conventions are booked, including several extremely high profile groups. Look for a preview of the new year in next month’s column in Small Business Times.
Doug Neilson, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau, writes this exclusive monthly column on the local tourism industry for Small Business Times. For more information on what’s happening in Milwaukee or comments on this column, visit www.milwaukee.org.
November 12, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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