LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - When it comes to tourism, La Crosse has a lot to offer. Its location along the Mississippi River, nestled among the bluffs makes it a popular place for visitors. But Onalaska also has its attractions. And a visitor to La Crosse would be short sighted not to take in what Onalaska has to offer, and vice versa.
So why aren't the two cities working together when it comes to tourism marketing?
We take a look in our series: The Name of the Game.
Most people travel between the cities of La Crosse and Onalaska several times a day without even realizing it. For instance, Valley View Mall is located in La Crosse, but Crossroads Center, right across the street, is in Onalaska. The two communities share many borders, and to a growing number of people, the two should also share their tourism marketing.
"I think if we get caught up in political boundaries; that’s the wrong message to be sending. The message to be sending is; come to the area. Chilsen’s colleague in La Crosse agrees," said Onalaska Mayor Joe Chilsen.
La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat said, "I really see this as a way to increase how we market and how effectively we market the whole area."
La Crosse's Convention and Visitors Bureau has a $950,000 annual budget, funded primarily through a hotel room tax. It pays for such things as advertisements in magazines like Wisconsin’s Great River Road. Onalaska’s Visitors Bureau has a $850,000 budget, also funded through a room tax, which also pays for advertisements; sometimes in the same publications.
In this issue, La Crosse is on one side of the page, Onalaska is on the other. The price for two half page ads is far higher than a single full page ad.
To Mayor Chilsen, its not the best use of precious tourism dollars. "La Crosse has assets, Onalaska has assets, together we have more assets. From a budgetary standpoint it just makes sense."
For evidence of the unimportance of municipal boundaries to visitors, look no further than fabled Lambeau Field.
While it’s located in Green Bay, parts of the stadium complex are actually in Ashwaubenon. Marketing yourself under a strong brand name like Green Bay gives a region an identity. That's important when competition for tourism dollars and conventions is so intense.
At Onalaska’s Hampton Inn, Business Relations Manager Brent Johnston knows how competitive the tourism and convention market has become. “Such a competitive market out there; you have to be willing to work together and we've done a lot better job of that but I think if we were one unit we'd be a lot stronger.”
General Manager Valerie Erickson believes more people working to promote the region, rather than an individual community would pay dividends. “I think it’s a fantastic idea. We need to be competitive to draw event planners and meeting planners to our area. When the CVB is going well, we're doing well.”
But the momentum toward collaboration faces some hurdles.
"I don't think that La Crosse is going to support Onalaska the way some city fathers may think they will," said Barry Nimtz.
Nimtz owns the Blue Moon Restaurant in Onalaska. He's not against collaboration, but only if it calls for a multi-county and multi-state approach and if the location of a combined visitor’s center benefits all communities. He's skeptical that Onalaska would get its moneys worth otherwise. "I think they need to get out and talk to everybody, to get a better handle on whose going to run the visitors center, where it will be located. How feasible and accessible will it be for people coming into Onalaska."
Addressing concerns like Barry's is important to Mayor Kabat as the process moves forward. “Community identity is one of those where, anytime you're talking about collaborating or merging or consolidating, folks do get concerned about that. I do think that we have so many great assets whether it’s in La Crosse or Onalaska or the surrounding communities that we should be marketing this area as one. “
The move toward collaboration certainly faces some challenges. But any marketing strategy gets easier when you have a great product to sell.
Coming up in part two of The Name of the Game; we'll visit an area of Wisconsin where tourism collaboration has proved wildly successful. Find out how the Wisconsin Dells has become one of the nations foremost tourist destination Thursday night at 10.
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