States cutting back tourism ad dollars


Many states are slashing their tourism budgets, moving from national advertising to target market ads, according to a U.S. Travel Association article. About 20 states have cut spending in the past year on advertising and other promotion and support to try to lure tourists and their vacation dollars. That includes states that depend heavily on tourists’ dollars such as Hawaii, Washington, New York, South Carolina and Arizona. Washington has shut down its tourism promotion office after lawmakers couldn’t come up with the $2 million they usually spent to attract visitors.

With slashed budgets, state marketers are learning to do without expensive advertising tools they’ve relied on. Few states buy national ads. Instead, some spend what advertising money they have on select, targeted markets. The Nevada Commission on Tourism, for instance, has stopped advertising in publications such as Conde Nast Traveler and National Geographic. It’s pouring its ad dollars into ads in cities such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle, spokeswoman Bethany Drysdale told USA Today.

New York no longer has money for television ads, says New York Economic Development Commissioner Ken Adams, whose tourism marketing budget was cut 39% to $7.4 million in the past two years.

Many state tourism officials say the budget cutting is shortsighted and costs them visitors, which ultimately hurts their states economically. In bypassing national advertising, Arizona has “missed some marketing opportunities,” says Sherry Henry, executive director of Arizona’s Office of Tourism.

Like other states, Arizona has tried to target markets it thinks will deliver visitors. Now that its fiscal year 2012 budget is $8.6 million compared with $19 million in 2009, Henry’s office focuses on Chicago and Los Angeles. “We don’t have the bandwidth we once had,” she says. In 2007, when its budget was $26 million, her office spent $9 million on advertising.

Fewer dollars means tourism directors turn to other ways to try to lure visitors. Some have turned to less-expensive online options–such as Facebook, Flickr photo contests and other social media channels. Nevada tourism officials met with Google to learn about the keywords and search results related to state tourism — such as Hoover Dam or Highway 50, the loneliest road in America. They paid the search engine to ensure that Nevada’s online ads show up on websites that discuss these topics and terms, Drysdale said.

“Everybody has to figure out how to do more with less,” Mike McCartney, CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority told USA Today. He said its budget has been lowered and capped at $69 million each of the next four years compared with $81 million a year ago. “You’re not going to see a lot of our ads on CNN.”

The Hawaii Tourism Authority has partnered with hotels to buy large newspaper ads in San Francisco. Smaller cities and towns that have relied on state marketing efforts could be disproportionately hurt by cutbacks, some say.

“The biggest challenge will be in rural areas, in smaller communities who don’t have the budget that Seattle has to market itself,” Marsha Massey, outgoing tourism director for Washington told the Seattle Weekly.

RBR-TVBR observation: This reminds us of the way Michigan has allocated dollars for its “Pure Michigan” campaign. It focused ad dollars on nearby states, drawing them in by car. A national campaign is nice, but there’s a lot of waste involved. Therefore, when the budget is cut, the buy becomes local spot markets where research has shown the most visitors coming in from. Also, a good idea for state campaigns is to partner with resorts, hotels and travel sites like Travelocity and Hotwire to co-op the effort and make a stronger value proposition component to the campaign.