Pam Seidl, who served for 10 years as marketing and communications director for the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, was recently named executive director, replacing Randy Prasse. Seidl is one of the catalysts behind the bureau’s Wisconsin Shopping Place brand and has served on the Governor’s Council on Tourism marketing committee. She spoke with Insight Associate Editor Nikki Kallio about the region’s tourism efforts.
This area has really urbanized itself since I’ve been here. When I came we were searching for a brand – we didn’t quite know who we were, especially as a leisure travel area. We’ve developed the Wisconsin Shopping Place Brand and really focused on how we are an urban area, we are a great place to come for a city getaway. We have wonderful performing arts, great museums, incredible dining for a market of our size, and of course, shopping is our big lure. We’ve really settled into that kind of big city feel, and yet have the small town ease of access, affordability and safety.
The interesting thing about the downturn in the economy is while spending may have declined, shopping hasn’t declined. It’s about getting away together, and we’re still seeing groups of families travel together. Shopping isn’t necessarily what they’re doing when they’re here all the time, and I think we have great complementary activities that pull people into the area.
The Wisconsin Department of Commerce offered a grant program called the Tourism Diversification Grant and targeted smaller communities that were losing an industrial base. We leveraged it (in 2004-05) because we saw a downturn in business travel. As some of our corporate headquarters left the area we were looking for a way to fill in the gaps. We hired a consultant, (tourism expert and speaker) Roger Brooks, who will be speaking at our tourism breakfast on Feb. 8. He’ll be doing an audit of our attractions, identifying potential growth and development. Roger did some secret shopping and identified a lot of things – he really was kind of hard core – and he told us our baby was ugly in some places. But he helped us see that shopping is the big hook.
Moving forward, I want to focus a lot on our Tourism Development Fund, which reinvests room tax dollars back into the community. Many of our attractions were funded partially through our grant program. It’s unique, really, of any bureau in this state, and quite frankly, in the Midwest. Basically, a portion of room tax dollars are segregated into a grant fund, which was identified first as a capital development fund. We spent about $7 million since 1987, reinvesting back into the community – grants to the Performing Arts Center, USA Youth Sports Complex, the Bergstrom-Mahler museum and Fox Cities Stadium, which is under construction. As the program has evolved, we’ve opened that up to cover other things. One program is called the WOW! Exhibits – it helps our museums bring in signature traveling exhibits – the Da Vinci exhibit at the history museum is our first grantee. I think we need to utilize that program more and also alert the community that this program really helps improve the quality of life here, because a great place to visit is also a great place to live.
We’ll obviously be focusing on continuing to grow our sports tournament market. That has proven to be a very strong area for us. That is all facility based – you have to have the right facilities to be able to even begin talking to a sports tournament planner or bringing in an event here, and we’ve been very fortunate in that many of our communities have been supportive of those types of initiatives.
I really love the sense of community here. The bureau serves 19 different communities in three counties. We have many municipalities but I think that whole regionalism idea is very strong in the Fox Cities. I like how this community thinks of itself in a greater sense, and really aspires to looking at that progressive way of bringing in new ideas to the forefront, and creating a better quality of life for its people.