Tourism: Time for events to take off the blinders

Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2013, 6:00 am
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By Roger Ruthhart
As winter's last gasps smack us upside the head, you can't blame a guy for thinking about the great things that will happen here once it warms up.

The event season doesn't really kick off until the Quad Cities Criterium on Memorial Day weekend, but lots of 2013 planning is already under way. My criticism is that too much of this planning happens independently -- in a vacuum. Think of the opportunities to boost tourism if towns and events coordinated their plans.

The Quad-Cities Convention and Visitor's Bureau does an amazing job of promoting all the Quad-Cities has to offer and is always on the lookout for unique and effective ways of packaging and promoting. The Quad-Cities Sports Commission -- an arm of the CVB -- does the same when it comes to attracting and promoting sporting events.

But those amazing efforts aside, a lot is being left on the table when it comes to capturing multiples of the tourism dollars we already receive. I'm not talking about spending millions -- just some common sense stuff.

Part of our problem is our fractured identity -- dozens of towns each doing their own thing. As a result, it falls on organizations like the CVB and Quad-Cities Chamber to try to get everyone pulling in the same direction.
Mostly it's like herding cats.

Rock Island and Davenport -- through The District and Downtown Davenport Partnership -- do a better job than most of trying to parlay downtown events into revenue drivers for downtown businesses. But for the most part we have a lot of free-standing events that are marginally trying not to step on each other's toes, rather than trying to work together.

The summer festival season here is dominated by major events in many cities. The big dogs on the event schedule are the John Deere Classic, Mississippi Valley Fair and the Quad City Air Show. Nobody wants to go up against them. The same is true of the next tier of events -- festivals in The District, River Roots Live, Mississippi Valley Blues Fest, Bix 7 Run, Quad-Cities Marathon and the World Series of Drag Racing. The next tier is the smaller festivals and community-based events.

Just think of the possibilities if events started to cross-promote. Think of the opportunities for bigger crowds and more revenue. Think of how many more tourism dollars could be spent in the Quad-Cities.

To get there we need to move beyond our parochial sensibilities and be willing to work together. There are some models that can be built upon, and if you've got some ideas the CVB is a good resource to help flesh them out.

East West Riverfest is the first example that comes to mind. More than 300 smaller events were combined into a 10-day festival under one promotional umbrella by Experience Quad Cities, a collaborative marketing effort by area arts, cultural and heritage organizations to advertise the event in major media markets within a 150-mile radius. The CVB was also heavily involved in its promotion.

The CVB tried for a number of years to promote Quad-Cities Speed Week as a similar opportunity for cross promotion during the 10 days beginning with the World Series of Drag Racing at Cordova and ending with the Rock Island Grand Prix. The concept never caught on -- but the opportunity remains.

And while there has been a bit of cross-river tugging, Red, White and Boom is a good example of Rock Island and Davenport working together to the benefit of both -- and the entire area -- with a joint Fourth of July celebration.
Our warm weather months are filled with great events. We don't need more, but it would be great if they could all be more successful.

Last July, Joe Taylor, president of the CVB, reported that for 2011, in Rock Island County alone, visitor expenditures were up 5.7 percent to $210 million. These generated $51 million in payroll, an increase of 1.5 percent and local tax receipts were up 2.6 percent to $3.72 million. We know Scott and other outlying counties also have popular tourism events and attractions.

According to Mr. Taylor, in the Quad-Cities area, more than 7,000 full-time equivalent jobs are directly supported by tourism spending, and the region attracted 1.9 million visitors.

Ideas for capturing tourism dollars aren't exclusive to the convention and visitor's bureau. It's something every individual event needs to include in its promotional plan. Local government needs to be supportive, too, as well as private businesses.

Getting fans from one genre of entertainment to check out another would seem to be low-hanging fruit -- a great way to bring new people to events and build our tourism industry at the same time. Mr. Taylor and his CVB staff have provided some blueprints, but the real effort has to come from us.

As you shovel the snow and long for summer, think about how we can get softball fans to watch drag racing; golf fans back for reggae music; and, tug teams to listen to the blues. Let's turn day trips to the Quad-Cities into weekend stays or longer.

There are cost-effective ways to capture many more tourism dollars and create more jobs if we just take off the parochial blinders that most Quad-Citians seem to have been issued at birth.
Roger Ruthhart ( is managing editor of The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. He is also a board member of the Downtown Rock Island Arts & Entertainment District and president of the Rock Island Grand Prix.


Local events heading

  Today is Thursday, Oct. 2, the 275th day of 2014. There are 90 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The ladies have adopted the fashion of wearing representations of insects in the flowers on their bonnets. Some look very natural.
1889 -- 125 years ago: T.F. Cary, former Rock Island alderman, has accepted a position as salesman for a Chicago wallpaper house and plans to move to that city.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Work on the new telephone building on 18th Street between 6th and 7th avenues is progressing rapidly.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Rock Island's new theater at 3rd Avenue and 19th Street will have a name significant of its location. The "Rocket" is scheduled to open Thanksgiving Day.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Two of Rock Island's newest water towers were vandalized last night, including the one at 38th Street and 31st Avenue, where police took five Moline boys into custody about 9 p.m..
1989 -- 25 years ago: Some of us who live in the Quad-Cities take the Mississippi River for granted, or at least we used to. But the river is not taken for granted by our visitors. And most Quad-Citians are realizing the importance of the river to this area as increased emphasis is placed on tourism.

(More History)