CVB wants Holiday World visitors to stay here

Leah Koch, director of communications at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana, says the theme park averages about 1 million visitors a year.

“Most of them come from Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois and Missouri,” she said. “But we occasionally have families that travel across the country, and even some who travel from other countries, just to experience our four renowned roller coasters.”

Many of the visitors are within a day’s drive of the theme park.


But the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau launched a campaign last year — and is intensifying it this year — to try to persuade as many of those 1 million guests as possible to spend the night and dine in Owensboro.

After all, the drive is just a little over half an hour.

And visitors to theme parks in places like Orlando, Florida, often travel longer than that to hotels.

“Owensboro is still facing tourism challenges and we have an uphill climb ahead of us,” Mark Calitri, CVB president, said last week. “But we’re recognizing the changes and adapting.”

He said, “One key marketing initiative we have Dave Kirk (director of destination management) focusing on is a collaboration with Holiday World,” he said. “Our hotels are reporting strong numbers of room nights coming from guests visiting the park and we wanted to capitalize on this opportunity.”

Curt Baker is the general manager of Townplace Suites in Gateway Commons — the closest Owensboro hotel to Holiday World.

“Since coming to the region about five years ago,” he said, “I have been immensely impressed with the loyal following that Holiday World has created. I truly came to understand the power combination that blended Holiday World and Owensboro.”

Extending stays

Baker said after he opened the hotel in 2019, “I was overwhelmed by the number of people that were extending their visits from one day to two, as they paired a day at Holiday World with one of the local attractions like the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum, the Owensboro Riverwalk and sports and other events.”

He said, “Holiday World recognized the great partnership and they brought in a virtual reality water ride in November of 2019 to introduce their newest attraction.”

Baker said, “The further development of a two-way relationship between us is an opportunity that can only grow and enhance the experience for those of us on both sides. We are extremely fortunate to be only 20 minutes away from this unique venue and all that it brings to the area.”

The CVB has rented two billboards near Holiday World to encourage people to make the drive.

Calitri said the billboards have 60,000 vehicles a week passing them.

Last year, when the CVB began working on the Holiday World promotion, they called it “Play in Holiday World, Stay in Owensboro.”

Calitri said, “Hotel sales and marketing managers in other cities have even reached out to us after witnessing the success of our Holiday World campaign and commended us on our creative efforts during this difficult time.”

Kirk said last year, “We’re offering cheaper hotel rates to people who have been to or are going to Holiday World. And we’re working with attractions to create a package for distillery tours or museum visits while they’re here.”

He said, “Families are looking at visiting smaller cities with a lot of amenities where they feel safe to get away for the weekend.”

Last week, Holiday World President Matt Eckert said, “This summer has the potential to be our best yet. We’re celebrating 75 years of family fun, and we continue to hear and see positive indicators that our guests can’t wait to get out again. If that weren’t enough, there are tons of families out there who didn’t have the opportunity to experience Cheetah Chase: The World’s First Launched Water Coaster when it opened last year. We can’t wait to introduce them to this thrilling race to the finish.”

Calitri said the season-long marketing campaign collaboration with Holiday World “will utilize multiple platforms, including digital advertising, social media marketing, interviews with theme park influencers and website promotions.”

David Johnson, a CVB board member, said, “This community has a chance to lead if we are going to move the needle.”

Immediate impact

Claude Bacon, vice chairman of the board and vice president of sales, marketing and e-commerce for LinGate Hospitality, which operates the Holiday Inn and Courtyard Suites by Marriott in Owensboro, said, “There’s a longer-term strategic approach. However, it’s critically important that we address the areas that have the most immediate impact.”

Things like getting Holiday World visitors into local hotels and restaurants.

Johnson said, “Our goal is to get people here spending money and accelerate economic development. It involves a vision and creating an environment to drive events. We needed to be chasing good money and improving the visitor experience.”

Once people stop in Owensboro, Chris Joslin, executive director of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum, said, they’ll find that “Owensboro has a lot to offer visitors, including a stellar riverfront, a word-class distillery that is part of the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a wonderful performing arts center, museums, and great restaurants and shopping.”

He said, “I contend that Owensboro knocks the ball out of the park in all these areas, but the reality is that we compete directly with other cities our size who offer many of the same things. I see the role of the Hall of Fame as a differentiator, something that sets Owensboro apart from every other city, both nationally and internationally.”

Bacon said: “We must support new events that bring state and national attention to Owensboro. We have to focus our sales efforts in attracting state association conventions and conferences. Bringing new city-wide events and filling the Owensboro Convention Center and sports facilities is an extremely high priority. And we must uncover new opportunities for our indoor sports market. That’s the biggest opportunity.”

Calitri said this summer the city has lost the Kentucky United Methodist Church annual conference and the OMG!con convention, which would have brought more than 1,000 people each to town.

New groups

“With the vaccines ramping up, the stage is set to mount one of the greatest comebacks in 2021 and 2022,” he said. “We are working strategically with our tourism stakeholders to bring new events to town and creating new marketing strategies aimed at bringing in new groups of people.”

The Midwest Open Geocaching Adventure on Memorial Day weekend is expected to bring 1,200 or so people from at least 17 states to town.

ROMP has been moved from June to September this year.

But at least it’s still on the schedule.

“ROMP is important to our community’s identity as Owensboro continues to carve out a reputation as the Bluegrass Music Capital of The World,” Joslin said. “We will be making some big announcement soon for the new date in September. We’ve got some exciting things to announce.”

The bluegrass festival usually brings more than 25,000 people to town.

And The Great Race is slated to roll into town on June 23 with 120 vintage cars from Japan, England, Germany, Canada, and all over the United States.

Jeff Stumb, the event director, said, “When the Great Race pulls into a city, it becomes an instant festival. Two years ago, we had a couple of overnight stops with more than 10,000 spectators.”

Brian Smith, CVB board chairman, said, “This community is in the right position to thrive in the future, if we have the courage to act. In business, the customers will tell us what we need to do. We need to listen to the customer and prepare to act. Our customer is telling us what to do.”

Calitri said, “The important thing is we are rescheduling. We are rebooking. We are aggressively pursuing new events. We’re doing more with less in our marketing efforts. We will be ready to welcome back our visitors and our guest safety is the highest priority.”

Messenger-Inquirer article written by Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, [email protected]