New Orleans Wants to Turn BCS Fans Into Repeat Visitors

As they poured out of the city Tuesday morning after the BCS championship game, fans of LSU and Alabama who stayed at local hotels received cards thanking them for visiting and inviting them to come back to New Orleans. The thank-you card provides them with a chance to win a free trip to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, a spot on a float during the Orpheus parade, and tickets to attend the Carnival krewe’s post-parade bash.

At first blush, it seems that the ultimate prize surely will go to the winning visitor, but the city’s hospitality industry may end up being the big winner.

Visitors who register for the drawing can choose to be added to the marketing corporation database, giving the industry the opportunity to entice thousands of people with travel deals, especially during the slow season for New Orleans tourism.

“The important thing is that we want people to know that we appreciate them and that we want them to come back,” said Mark Romig, chief executive officer of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., the tourism promotion agency that spearheaded the campaign. “We think we are doing this in a unique and compelling way.”

The thank-you cards, printed on heavy card-stock and affixed with a purple or gold doubloon, represent a first-of-its-kind promotion, designed to capitalize on thousands of visitors in town over the past two weeks to attend sporting events, Romig said.

“It’s a pilot,” Romig said. “We’re trying it out.”

About 25,000 cards were printed and given to 30 hotels to hand out to guests as they checked out beginning Dec. 29. Hospitality industry officials are hoping the cards made their way into the hands of fans of the University of Michigan, Virginia Tech, LSU, the University of Alabama, the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons and the Detroit Lions.

So far, 314 people have responded to the card by visiting a special website listed on it. Romig said his organization will monitor the results to determine if the trial is successful, how it might be modified and what to do moving forward.

The effort cost about $12,000, or 48 cents per card.

The idea was born last month at a marketing corporation board meeting. Board member and Hyatt Regency General Manager Michael Smith suggested that the industry find a way to turn the thousands of visitors into repeat customers. Smith’s thinking was that it would be nice to have the same level of visitation during the slower summer months of June through August, when hotel guests are scarce as compared with boom months like October and during special events.

“One of the reasons I brought it up was that we have to have a strategy and tactic,” said Smith, whose hotel handed out cards. “We know that in July, August and September we’re going to have some downtimes. But if you look at what we just had in front of us, if we could put something in front of those guests now we could use that as a foundation for those down times, to fill that need period.”

While the cards don’t encourage guests to return during the slow months, what they do is send them to a tourism website and require that they enter their email address in order to qualify for the trip give-a-way. If they choose to let the marketing corporation retain their email information, the industry and its partners will have developed a list of travelers that already are familiar with New Orleans and whom they can market directly to.

“We weren’t yet ready to list any discounts and special deals,” Romig said. “But when we’re ready to do that, we’ll have additional names to send that to.”

Added Smith: “Now, what we can do is we can control our destiny,” Smith said. “We can strategically decide what the offer will be.”

A main goal was to reach out to as many visitors as possible while New Orleans was top of mind and associated with a good time, said Kim Priez, who does marketing for the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“The power of getting these email addresses is that we’re getting the visitor who is leaving and just had the time of their life,” said Priez, who worked with the marketing corporation on the effort. “It’s the perfect timing.”

The effort could eventually be recreated by the CVB, Priez said.

“We definitely would like to consider something like this with conventions and meetings,” said Priez, who does marketing for the visitors bureau. “We’re keeping a very close eye on the responses. New Orleans has a very high repeat visitor percentage. This just encourages them to want to come back.”

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