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Bigger, better planning needed by destinations

Convention center and tourism management needs to spend more time focusing on long-range planning rather than the short term, according to the 2005 Destination Performance Survey just released by accounting firm Ernst & Young.

The survey was sent to 518 convention and visitors bureaus and tourism authorities around the country. Respondents included directors, CEOs, sales managers and other high-level executives. The large majority responding were cities and counties, followed by states and defined regions.

The survey found that long-range forward planning may be an area where convention center and tourism management organizations need more focus. “Most appear to plan more for the short term than for the long term,” said Brian Tress, senior manager with Ernst & Young's Hospitality and Leisure Services Group. “The majority of organizations responding indicated they had a one-year strategic plan to meet goals and objectives, but less than a quarter of the respondents reported having a 10-year strategic plan in place,” he said.

Another telling survey finding was that many smaller market convention center bureaus believe that they compete with larger venues. “Smaller markets are more likely to effectively compete against larger national markets if they first understand their destination’s advantages and disadvantages,” said Tress. “We’re advising them to be practical, by investing scarce municipal assets in targeted improvements in tourism product and marketing infrastructure.” He added that smaller markets often have a built-in competitive challenge based on limited resources and slow-to-change factors like airlift. “They need to capitalize on what investments will give them the biggest bang for their buck,” said Tress.

In this regard, the survey found that the majority of tourism-related projects under construction or planned over the next five years involved infrastructure and product development improvements for the community—including airports, highways, parks and museums. Projects planned for longer terms included convention centers and headquarter hotels. “This indicates that communities are starting to focus on how to get visitors to come, before they build places for them to meet and sleep," Tress added.

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