Texas Rising March/April 2010

Communities Band Together to Boost Tourism

Prosperous partnerships mean more bang for small budgets

By Tracey Lamphere

Tourism generated more than $60 billion for the Texas economy in 2008, and thanks to regional and local partnerships, even the smallest communities can cash in.

Networking Enhances Success

The population of George West, located about 60 miles northwest of Corpus Christi, more than quadruples when 8,500 people come into town for the annual StoryFest. Chamber of commerce officials there credit part of the event’s success to the Texas Coastal Bend Regional Tourism Council (TCBRTC).

With an annual marketing budget of about $8,000, the George West Chamber of Commerce relies on local and regional partnerships such as TCBRTC to get the word out. For less than $500, the chamber gets advertising and editorial space in the council’s annual guidebook, which has a 50,000 statewide distribution.

The chamber’s Web site also is linked from the council’s site and George West staff network with peers from 60 other Gulf Coast communities.

“It’s been hugely cost-effective,” says Becky Allen, executive director for the George West Chamber.

“We all support each other with our efforts,” says Ann Neese, executive director for the TCBRTC, one of six Texas regional tourism councils. The Coastal Bend council, in turn, is a member of the Texas Travel Industry Association, and offers council members access to the statewide network of more than 800 tourism-related businesses and organizations.

On the Map

In addition to regional and statewide tourism organizations, rural communities rely on Texas’ trail systems to attract travelers who want to see places different from the state’s big cities. Stemming from an initiative by Gov. John Connally in the 1960s, the Texas Historical Commission’s Heritage Trail Program consists of 10 driving loops throughout the state that aim to pull travelers away from the interstates.

One of these loops, the Texas Forts Trail, connects the cities of Abilene and San Angelo and features eight historic forts and one presidio. Through the trails program, smaller Concho Valley cities, such as Brady, Eastland and Albany, can tap into a wealth of advertising programs and cross promotion opportunities. Retracing Texas history is the initial draw, but travelers can take in a star viewing party, visit a world-class art museum or see the inner-workings of a ranch.

Historic Texas forts frequently host Buffalo Soldier reenactments.

“With this partnership, communities can accomplish more together than each would doing something on its own,” says Margaret Hoogstra, executive director for the Texas Forts Trail Region. “Every Texas community has its strength and its story,” she says. “We want to tell that story.”

Cities also can establish a reputation for nature tourism by joining the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Great Texas Wildlife Trails. Texas was the first U.S. state to develop wildlife and birdlife viewing trails. Currently, there are four regional trails, each with several loops offering the best places to see Mother Nature at her best.

Local Support

Tourism partnerships also can be locally grown. In 2009, the South Texas Botanical Gardens in Corpus Christi saw a 70 percent rise in the number of visitors and a 60 percent increase in garden shop revenue over the previous year, due to its cooperative marketing efforts with the TCBRTC, among others. A $20,000 marketing grant from the city of Corpus Christi also helped.

“It’s been an excellent return on investment,” says Marketing Manager MaryJane Crull. “Partnering enables us to purchase an ad that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.”

Corpus Christi tourism partners also created a local network to cross-promote five attractions including the USS Lexington Museum and the Texas State Aquarium. TR