The number-one reason people visit New Hampshire is to shop, according to Cultural Resource Commissioner Van McLeod. Hospitality and arts organizations are asking how that information can help them put heads in the beds and butts in the seats — this was the focal point of conversation when McLeod met with about 30 heads of various organizations in a recent roundtable discussion at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough.
McLeod said the places that recover quickiest from a recession are those that are able to harness the precious things about their own sense of place and share those with not only their local population but other people looking for experiences.
Daniel Henderson of Arts Alive! validated McLeod’s point by citing a past study: “The Arts & Economic Prosperity III study provides compelling new evidence that the nonprofit arts and culture are a $16.6 million industry in the Monadnock Region,” according to www.monadnockartsalive.org. Henderson said twice as much money is spent per person by people from outside the region than by those from inside the region.
This is logical enough. Get people to watch your shows and sleep in your hotels and you make money. But Susan Farrell, also of Arts Alive!, wanted to know how to do it. Lisa Murray of the Peterborough Players agreed. She said with limited resources she finds herself focused on doing local promotional activities. This is beneficial but as Pelagia Vincent, a hotel consultant, noted, if you keep going to the same people, how much can you really expect from them? Again this leads to the question of how to reach people outside the state and region. Sometimes appealing to people outside your region can be just as much a challenge as outside the state. “We’re still a regional state in many ways,” McLeod said.
“When people make plans for trips, they don’t plan to go to a state but to a region,” said David Macy, resident director at the MacDowell Colony. “If every region linked to a single website it would be a good start. If people came to Peterborough to see the Players but then knew other things were going on, they might turn their day trip into an overnight.”
The key then is finding one place to put all the information. David Simpson of the Peterborough Town Library said many people turn to a town’s Chamber of Commerce website when planning a trip. This brought up a key point: how are people planning their trips? McLeod said in the past people might get into the car, drive to a destination and find a hotel along the way. Now everything is planned out on the Internet before the tourist ever leaves home. This is why Vincent said it is crucial to reach people from other regions or states before they arrive. Otherwise it is too late.
McLeod pointed to www.nh365.org, a website dedicated to New Hampshire events. Those in attendance seemed to agree this was a good start but this website is incomplete. McLeod said it was imperative for arts and hospitality organizations to put their events all in one place.
“For an organization to get its data into every different place it needs to be, it would need to hire two extra people,” McLeod said. “Eventually it becomes too much and then they stop putting it in anywhere. That’s not good.”
Shelly Angers, who does marketing and public relations for the Department of Cultural Resources, said the Granite State Ambassadors, a group of volunteers who promote New Hampshire, exclusively use www.nh365.org to get their information. So if an organization’s event is on there, it has a better chance of being promoted by the Ambassadors. Angers also pointed out www.nhmade.com, a website dedicated to promoting locally made products. But the Internet is not the end all of advertisement. Michael Desplaines of Castle in the Clouds in Moultonborough provided a relatively simple way to increase visitors: increase your advertising budget. He said Castle in the Clouds increased its advertising budget from $50,000 to $70,000 and has seen gates up 20 percent and income up 45 percent. Desplaines said such a jump in advertising was scary but a necessity. He said most companies have to replace about 25 percent of their business each year. He said this advertisement needs to be a mix of Internet, television and newspapers, etc.
“You have to have money to advertise,” Desplaines said.
The problem is as the economy staggered the first things to get cut were marketing and advertising budgets. One suggestion was to collaborate with arts organizations of a similar discipline. McLeod said many corporations say they are asked for money by many of the same types of organizations (for example multiple choirs). He said they would be much more likely to offer donations or funding if all of them worked together and approached them as one.
Adele Bouffard-Baker of the Franco-American Centre said this collaboration works for grants as well. She said many foundations want to give to a larger gambit of arts and culture.
Such a collaboration doesn’t need to be just between arts organizations. McLeod said arts organizations should be teaming up with restaurants and hotels — reaching across a broader spectrum.
Simpson offered an old-fashioned kind of advertisement: word of mouth. He said many residents of New Hampshire are not native. That means they are the best ambassadors to their friends and family back in New Jersey, New York and other states.
But once you get their attention, you have to sell them an experience, according to Henderson. He said Vermont has done a wonderful job of packaging itself to outsiders. He said people are more likely to think of New Hampshire’s logo, “Live Free or Die,” than its culture. But McLeod disagreed, pointing to the fact they were in the MacDowell Colony, which is widely known as a haven for the world’s greatest artists.
Attracting more visitors is not an easy task and for most organizations it is a constant struggle. But Desplaines gave hope.
“We’re only a gas tank away from a lot of people,” he said. “They are looking for experiences. That is something we have to offer them. Now we just need to find the best way to package that.”