Tourism Campaign Capitalizes on Trail Center's Birthday

January 16, 2002 11:00 pm
The first Old Oregon Trail Ride occurred during the grand opening of the Interpretive Center in May 1992. Participants drove wagons, walked or rode horses while traversing the trail and experiencing what original trail travelers might have endured. NHOTIC plans to re-enact the event this spring. (S. John Collins).
The first Old Oregon Trail Ride occurred during the grand opening of the Interpretive Center in May 1992. Participants drove wagons, walked or rode horses while traversing the trail and experiencing what original trail travelers might have endured. NHOTIC plans to re-enact the event this spring. (S. John Collins).

By MIKE FERGUSON

Of the Baker City Herald

Important birthdays call for big celebrations.

Thats one lesson that marketing consultant Mike Belcher of Larry Harvey Public Relations, hired to develop a marketing strategy for Baker County and Eastern Oregon attractions, learned at a previous job with the Walt Disney Company.

During 2001, the year Disneys founder would have turned 100, every property in the company including Walt Disney World, every Disney Store and the Disney Channel found ways to celebrate.

Thats what Belcher strongly believes Baker County ought to do with its own cultural jewel, the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, which turns 10 this year.

Belchers plan, which will be unveiled Saturday at the Baker County Chamber of Commerce banquet, calls for a two-year multi-phase marketing campaign that brands Baker County as Home of the Oregon Trail and features NHOTIC as the centerpiece.

Cost of the $123,000 campaign which includes about $50,000 worth of advertising, mainly in regional and national magazines will be shouldered by several funding sources, including the Baker-Morrow Partnership, which last week gave tentative approval to a $26,000 grant.

In addition to the initial emphasis on the Interpretive Center, this years plan calls for publicity that supports winter recreation opportunities as well as general tourism awareness, Belcher said. Next year, the focus will enlarge to sightseeing and summer recreation.

Not only does Belcher recommend traditional advertising in such publications as Sunset and airline in-flight magazines, but nontraditional outlets as well. One possibility, he said, is to link package tours a weekend of skiing at Anthony Lakes with a stay in a Baker City hotel, for example to websites that promote area tourism.

Turning 10 in a big way

The celebration on Flagstaff Hill will take place over Memorial Day weekend, when the Interpretive Center is formally rededicated.

NHOTIC director Gay Ernst said plans call for a three-day wagon train that will leave Oxman Crossing in Pleasant Valley May 24 and arrive Memorial Day, May 27.

Other plans call for a birthday celebration for all the 10-year-olds in Baker County, featuring entertainment just like children would

have enjoyed at the time of the Oregon Trail migration.

The formal celebration is set for Saturday, May 25. Black powder muskets will offer a formal salute, Ernst said, and living history performers will portray presidents including Jefferson and Polk. Participants will enjoy an authentic meal of cornbread and beans. The next day will focus on family activities, she said.

We want the celebration to go on all year, and weve got something planned for every month, Ernst said. The goal we have is not just to increase visitation. Its important also that we increase the knowledge of what there is to do in Baker County. By going together in this marketing plan, we all benefit.

Pulling together

Indeed, in his plan Belcher calls for cooperative marketing efforts.

When you think of the brand of Baker County, you think of history, because its a very important piece, he said. But youve also got complementary attractions that people will want to visit. Obviously the Interpretive Center is behind the plan, but so are Anthony Lakes, Hells Canyon, and several other key players. Youve got to get people here, but youve also got to show them what else is available.

This is a plan not only to get visitors here, but to get people who live here excited about whats going on.

Belcher said he also plans to capitalize on the Oregon Tourism Commissions $200,000 media campaign designed to get Oregonians and others in the region to drive a few hundred miles to see the states attractions, rather than traveling by airplane to visit more distant tourist destinations.

The primary target will be the Matures (age 55 and older) who are active retired people, married, educated, enjoy household incomes above $50,000, and want to travel 500 miles or less.

The secondary target is the baby boomer polulation that fits the same specifications.

The campaign will be targeted at people who enjoy special kinds of vacations and weekends: cultural heritage tourists, outdoor enthusiasts, sightseers, as well as garden-variety I-84 travelers.

While most visitors are expected to come from Oregon, Idaho, the Tri-Cities, and the Seattle area, others targeted in the campaign are residents of California, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Texas.

Nearly half of Oregons overnight visitors travel within a 300-mile range. Of the states 26 million annual day travelers, more than 80 percent are Oregon residents.

At $6 billion annually, tourism is one of Oregons largest industries. The Oregon Tourism Commission says that for every dollar it spends on advertising, $3.05 in state tax revenue and $1.22 in local taxes are generated annually.

Tourism generates 25 travel-related jobs per 1,000 residents, more than $230 million in local and state tax revenues, and local jobs with earnings of $1.7 billion.

Since the mid-1990s, Belcher notes, tourism in Baker County has been relatively flat. Some factors, such as the state of the economy, are out of the hands of Baker County, he said.

But by refocusing all marketing efforts in support of core products, Baker County will have a great opportunity to showcase the diverse and unique experiences the county has to offer throughout the year: a vacation experience that is essentially in their backyard, Belcher said.