WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. (WXOW) - When it comes to tourism marketing, the Wisconsin Dells is in a class of its own. The mix of old fashioned charm and modern resort hotels and water parks attracts people from all over the country. As La Crosse and Onalaska look to move toward collaboration when it comes to tourism and convention marketing, the shining example of the possibilities can be found about 80 miles to our southeast.
As we continue our series; The Name of the Game, we visit the Waterpark Capital of the World.
Take a stroll along the streets of downtown Wisconsin Dells and you're likely to run into people from all over the country. Robby Bates and his family made the trip from Oklahoma.
Robby and Patty Bates say its like Branson, Missouri times five. There's so many things to do you can't see it all in a week. And the prices are real reasonable.
"My daughter is from Minnesota. She can drive four hours and meet us here. We can see a new part of the country. Never been to Wisconsin, it’s beautiful," said Patty Bates.
But a lot of hard work goes into making the Dells such a fun destination.
The Executive Director of the Wisconsin Dells Visitors and Convention Bureau says collaboration among the communities that make up the region known as the Dells was and continues to be crucial.
Romy Snyder said, "Sometimes that’s difficult for communities to wrap themselves around. Being branded as one thing thinking that’s all they are. We know that when visitors come here, they will spend 2-3 hours on the thing that they've come here for. But they'll spend another six hours doing all the other things. So there are things that don't necessarily draw them here, but they do them once they get here."
Visitors pass from the city of Wisconsin Dells to the Village of Lake Delton at the point roughly defined by the giant Trojan Horse at the entrance to the Mount Olympus theme park. But visitors are unaware of the transition from one to the other; and that’s just how business owners like it.
Lake Delton is home to the large resort hotels in the Dells that provide the bulk of the room tax revenue; a fact of limited interest to visitors.
"Visitors don't know where the line is, they don't care where the line is, all they know is they understand they're in the Wisconsin Dells area and that they're doing the things that brought them here," said Snyder.
Jane Heller owns Dairyland Fudge in downtown Wisconsin Dells. She says marketing and collaboration has spread the dells brand worldwide. "It was kind of a small resort area, now we've grown to one of the most well known in the nation. There's places I go and people say 'Oh, I've been there, or I've heard of that' which is always a positive for us."
The Visitors Bureau has a $10,000,000 annual budget, paid for primarily through a five percent hotel room tax. That budget allows the production of tourism videos and marketing targeted throughout the Midwest.
Snyder says the communities that make up the Dells area may give up some name recognition. But they get plenty in return. "The other communities don’t necessarily want to be thought of as just a Wisconsin Dells suburb. They have their own identity and do a great job promoting their communities. But they understand that we can offer access to visitors that they wouldn’t get on their own.”
But while the Wisconsin Dells is the brand name chosen to represent this region as a whole, it’s still an issue in the La Crosse area.
Onalaska Mayor Joe Chilsen says civic pride should not be an obstacle to the greater good.
“We don't need to tell them here's where Holmen starts, here's where Onalaska ends, here's where La Crosse ends, here's where West Salem ends. If we do that as an area, we don't care where it starts and ends because they don't care."
But the La Crosse brand already has an image to people across the state..
We asked Dells business owner Jane Heller for her impressions of La Crosse. "The River, the downtown. I've been there a few times; it seems like a nice community. It appears to be thriving, not dying." But Jane does not have that familiarity with Onalaska, or Holmen, or West Salem.
While Robby Bates is having a great time in the Wisconsin Dells, the La Crosse area to him is an unknown. "Not much. I saw it on a map is about all. I know the Mississippi River's there. That's it right now"
A regional marketing strategy with a strong brand name might help the La Crosse area become much more than just a place on the map to the Bates family and the rest of the country.
The Mayors of La Crosse and Onalaska are putting together a working group that will address the potential of and obstacles to a collaboration agreement. As for the naming issue, Mayor Chilsen says he hopes individual communities are open to setting their own agendas aside, and if necessary, agree to a regional name that may not list each individual city.
La Crosse County currently ranks 12th out of the states 72 counties when it comes to visitor spending.
La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat believes collaboration could easily boost the county into the top ten.
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