Strategize for regional tourism

Greg Edwards | President & CEO, Catch Des Moines

The Idea: Create a Tourism Master Plan involving stakeholders throughout the community that will serve as a comprehensive road map to strategically identify and allocate resources to bring game-changers to the region.

We’ve all witnessed or heard about the renaissance and transformation that Greater Des Moines has experienced over the past 15+ years. Many of us have lived it. This transformation has been borne out of collaboration and engagement, with a shared vision of what we can become. My idea, while not a new one, is a necessary one to continue the forward momentum we’ve been gathering for over a decade. The support and funding for projects and initiatives that help us attract more visitors and events to the region is paramount to ensuring the economy remains healthy and our reputation continues to evolve.

At Catch Des Moines (the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau), we are in the unique position to see firsthand what attracts conventions and events to our region and, conversely, why others pass us by. For years, the fact that the region did not have a hotel attached to the convention center was a barrier in booking new business. With the Hilton hotel open, we have seen an increase in conventions and events looking at us as a viable location, with 23 new conventions and events utilizing multiple metro hotel properties.

Similarly, the same effect has happened with the new Wellmark YMCA pool in downtown, which has initiated new opportunities to host new events. Most recently it was able to accommodate the AAU Junior Olympics, which drew 14,000 visitors to the region. Recently, it was announced that USA Swimming, a national event, will utilize the facility.

In a competitive and crowded landscape for travel and event dollars, it’s not enough to just meet certain requirements; as a region, we must continue to differentiate ourselves to exceed expectations. That means curating unique experiences for visitors by elevating and leveraging our existing cultural assets, while identifying areas of opportunity that could be “difference makers,” as was done for the creation of the Hilton and Wellmark YMCA pool.

Current initiatives gaining momentum lately, including the Water Trails Project, potential new sports facilities and enhancements to existing facilities, would be game-changers for our economy and quality of life. These are the types of differentiators that a region like ours ― one that wasn’t blessed with that one “thing,” but rather the sum of many great parts ― can really hang its hat on.

That said, we as community must be strategic and thoughtful when it comes to how we allocate resources. Unfortunately, the adage “If you build it, they will come” is more idealistic than it is realistic. Knowing our limitations, we can work within those confines to address areas for improvement where it makes sense, or to amplify our areas of strength when that makes more sense.

Catch Des Moines is currently working through initial phases of a Tourism Master Plan, which will involve stakeholders throughout the community and serve as a comprehensive road map for destination success and identify those areas of collaboration and resources that will get us where we want to go and need to be.

Greater Des Moines has come a long way in a short amount of time. Let’s build on the collaboration that got us here and leverage our greatest asset, our people, to help create a clear, thoughtful road map for success moving forward. >