With Lots Of Help From Her Good Friends, Saugatuck-Douglas CVB Executive Director Works Her Magic To Get Local Area "Million-Dollar Exposure" At Europe's Largest International Travel Show
The popular adage states it’s all about who you know – and that was recently proven true for the Saugatuck-Douglas Convention and Visitors Bureau members and its director, Felicia Fairchild.
Breaking in to new advertising markets, especially international sectors with travelers who tend to book longer-term stays, would normally take hundreds of thousands of dollars in a travel and tourism promotion budget.
But, thanks to a couple of personal friends and former colleagues of the well-connected Fairchild, the local tourism industry is getting some significant international publicity.
Wolf Treupel, a prominent businessman and promoter in the European travel industry, handles the largest travel trade show in Europe; and Peter Albrecht, owner of Karawane Reisen, one of the largest worldwide tour operators in Germany, recently reconnected with Fairchild through social media and discovered they each have a great deal to offer in synergized international travel services.
They hoped Fairchild would attend the CMT Stuttgart, an international exhibition for Caravanning, Motor and Tourism. The CMT presents the most beautiful travel destinations from around the globe. It is the world’s most visited travel fair, with approximately 241,000 visitors, and more than 2,000 exhibitors from over 90 countries. This premiere event runs January 17-25.
It features special travel themes such as cycling, golf, wellness, cruise ships and culture in hopes travelers will find inspiration, ideas and important information for their dream holiday.
“They wanted me to come and represent our town at the CMT, but I said we can’t afford it,” explained Fairchild, who paid for her own travel since early on in her position.
She also knew the local CVB is not at the $1 million partner level required to attend with Pure Michigan.
“Small destinations like Saugatuck do not have the financial resources to participate with the state; but thanks to a little ingenuity on our part and the generosity of my dear personal friends and former colleagues in Germany, Saugatuck-Douglas will have a strong international presence as well,” she said.
The two German friends and former colleagues of Fairchild independently offered to promote the local tourism industry to their clientele in Germany and run international fly-drive programs through Chicago to Saugatuck-Douglas for three-to-five night stays, starting this year.
Both companies offered to provide international representation services to the Saugatuck-Douglas CVB – free of charge, as a special favor to Fairchild.
Pure Michigan will spend about $4 million this year in developing relationships like this for their $1 million partners such as Traverse City, Fairchild explained.
When Treupel sent her a proposal with extremely tight deadlines to meet and a year’s worth of data to gather in less than a week – on Thanksgiving - she knew the hard work would be well worth it in the international exposure and in the returns the local travel industry will see over the coming years.
“On Thanksgiving they requested a German language color brochure from us,” said Fairchild.
“We had to develop it in German and get it to them by Jan. 15, including time for delivery and clearing customs. They requested promotional brochures, visitors guides and an entire 2015 calendar of events, plus a detailed six-day itinerary for someone coming to our area.
“They were making us an entire destination for people coming in for four- to six-day stays. That meant that over the holidays, I had to get all the net rates from every attraction and all the lodging people, she said.
“I worked with people to agree to the net rate, which is a percentage off the retail. We set up tour operators here that would be available to take people for hikes, tours of art galleries and more. We had to do this in approximately 10 days,” she added.
But meeting this goal meant huge rewards in promotions that others would be paying millions to achieve. “They thought it would be fun to catapult us into the spotlight – this little town in Michigan, and they requested our brochure,” she said. “I sent them our visitors guide – and they were astonished. They said it’s an ‘amazing’ visitors guide.”
The European colleagues decided to use a Saugatuck/Douglas area promotion - a week in Saugatuck - as part of their worldwide sweepstakes prize that was a focal point of the entire show.
More than 22,000 people signed up for the drawing. And, Albrecht would also represent the CVB - and Saugatuck-Douglas area tourism worldwide - through his company as well as at the show.
“I invented the CMT Super Gewinnspiel some 25 years ago and I’m still in charge of it,” said Treupel. “We offer 25,000 flyers to reach approximately 22,000 visitors. The return rate is over 18,000.”
Also, more than 1,300 press representatives are registered at the CMT. The event is held at Europe’s most modern exhibition facility, which opened in 2010.
All this international exposure means attracting more foreign visitors to the local area.
Foreign guests who have already visited the larger cities including Los Angeles and New York City, would now be looking to experience the real America – authentic America. Statistics show this market spends a lot of money and stays longer than the average one- or two-night tourist, usually spending a couple of weeks traveling. This will help the local industry fill in that mid-week business.
“In our experience it takes about two years to establish a new market,” Albrecht said.
“Commissions for all the work that goes in to operating travel programs can range from 15 to 20 percent on hotels and other products offered to the public,” he added.
“A lot of visitors book cars through the Internet and do hotel bookings on the spot. Therefore we concentrate on more upscale clientele and products.
The international market will become increasingly important to the Saugatuck/Douglas area as American generational travel patterns continue to shift, the economy remains soft and domestic travel patterns remain clustered around summer weekends, noted Fairchild.
The Saugatuck-Douglas visitors bureau has promoted the area in the international market for the past 24 years. The result has been consistent steady growth, shared Fairchild.
“Our international efforts have been limited to promotional tactics, not sales efforts, due to our very small budget. It is very unusual that something like this would happen – where old friendships reconnect and lead to this.
“It is a phenomenal opportunity that no other community in the state of Michigan has. It is based on previous relationships and friendships from decades ago,” Fairchild said. “It’s all about who you know!”