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Convention and Visitors Bureau looks to expand on successful sports concierge program in 2011

POSTED January 25, 2011 8:54 p.m.

Sports are big business – even at the local level – according to Turlock’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The CVB had a successful 2010, bouncing back from a slightly down 2009, in large part because of a new emphasis on serving as a concierge service for sports tournament-related visitors to town. The service encompasses all aspects of a tournament, from finding fields to booking rooms and even ensuring restaurants are open when teams are finished playing.

It all starts when CVB representatives meet with tournament organizers to recruit them to tournaments, doling out goody bags with information on Turlock’s hotels, restaurants, and tournament facilities.

“We really want to make these tournament organizers look at Turlock before they look at any other community,” said Desa Cammack, CVB director.

The strategy worked in winning a two-year contract for the American Cowboy Team Roping Association’s regional qualifying event, drawing more than 1,000 visitors from as far away as Canada. The ACTRA was wooed by Turlock’s location – in the middle of everything – and the fairgrounds’ facilities. But it was the CVB’s work that put the ACTRA in close contact with the fairgrounds – and ensured negotiations didn’t fall through during the fair’s changeover to a new board.

Bringing tournaments to Turlock will continue to be a point of emphasis for the CVB, which hopes to secure additional major college tournaments, following last year’s CCAA men’s and women’s soccer championships and this year’s pending CCAA track and field championships and NCAA Division II track and field championships. The CVB hopes to lock down either a NCAA or CCAA tournament for the 2014 year.

As tournaments are booked, another new CVB initiative – the Turlock Lodging Council – comes into play. The new group of hoteliers meets bimonthly to discuss issues, bringing the Turlock Police Department to answer questions and a special guest speaker. Also on the agenda is a three-month calendar of all events coming to town, along with tournament organizer contact information so hoteliers can start booking rooms early.

“It’s really taking off,” Cammack said.

Once players arrive, the second phase of the CVB’s plan goes into play, with players receiving complementary gift bags with information about Turlock businesses, a dining guide, and a brochure of town. More than 22,000 brochures were passed out last year.

Also included is a bracelet good for a 15 percent discount at 18 Turlock restaurants, a new addition for this year which Cammack said has been a great success for restaurants and players alike. The CVB works closely with the restaurants throughout the year, informing them how many bracelets will go out in a weekend for staffing purposes.

“Those programs are very important to getting those tournaments here, but also to keeping those tournaments here,” said Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association Executive Director Trina Walley, who sits on the CVB Board. “There are a lot of communities out there that would love to have any of those things and are competing hard.”

The restaurant discounts, while important to visitors, are also important to the CVB because they allow the bureau to track the impact events have on local restaurants – an area of economic impact previously left out of analyses.

As the numbers came in for 2010, it seemed the CVB’s emphasis on making Turlock a trouble-free, incentive-laden place to hold a sporting tournament paid off.

While hotel occupancy rates dipped to 51.7 percent both in Turlock and countywide in 2009, 2010 saw a recovery to 53.7 percent of rooms occupied in Turlock. That’s better than the county average, which only rebounded to 52.5 percent.

“We only have 19 percent of the county’s lodging facilities, but we’re doing better than them,” Cammack said.

Turlock is also beating the county in Transient Occupancy Tax revenues, up 1 percent in 2009 and 2 percent in 2010. Countywide, other jurisdictions saw TOT revenues decline over the same two-year period.

The CVB hopes to use this information, in its more detailed form, to better assess which events have the largest economic impact on Turlock in 2011. Then, the CVB hopes to attract more like events.

But the CVB aims to expand its offerings in 2011 as well, taking its successful sports concierge program and directing it toward the business world.

“We're hoping to take all of what we've done in sports marketing and apply that to getting additional conferences in Turlock,” Walley said.

The effort will offer group rates at hotels and facilities, establish a database of event organizers at local businesses, and even entice educational conferences and seminars to California State University, Stanislaus. To make Turlock even more attractive, the CVB is working to find a nearby golfing facility where visiting businessmen could play, either offering a steep discount or the use of a private course.

The CVB isn’t just about visitors, though. The organization does much for local events as well, spending more than $57,000 in 2010 to sponsor community events like the Stanislaus County Fair, the Lights on Turlock Holiday Parade, and the Fourth of July parade.

“All of those bring people in here to Turlock and they spend their money, whether it's at the hotels or on food and goodies,” Cammack said.

The CVB worked to enhance communication with the community about these events in 2010, expanding its social media presence, sending out quarterly newsletters to locals, and even issuing a special Halloween calendar of events. So far, the response to the outreach has exceeded CVB expectations.

"When those announcements go out, people do call," Walley said.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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