By J.B. Smith
Waco Tribune-Herald via Associated Press
People across Texas will soon hear more about what’s special about Waco and its neighboring cities, thanks to a new regional marketing plan. And locals will also be asked to join the action by sharing online what they like about their hometown.
The “Waco and the Heart of Texas Regional Tourism Marketing Plan” is rolling out in stages over the next few weeks, with a new website and advertising buys in Texas magazines, newspapers, billboards and online outlets.
Waco and partner cities McGregor, Hewitt and Bellmead have budgeted $581,000 this year from hotel-motel tax revenue for the marketing campaign. The campaign, designed by the Austin firm Hahn, Texas, includes social media components and a new website to replace that of the current Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau. The site will allow easy searching of attractions from computers or mobile devices.
But most of the money will go to advertising and marketing, including several ads this spring in Texas Monthly and Texas Parks and Wildlife magazines and on newspaper websites.
Liz Taylor, director of the Waco Convention and Visitor Bureau, said Waco has advertised itself occasionally in other Texas media markets.
She said the $112,421 in contributions from Waco’s partner cities allows for systematic and repetitive items that will cement the “Heart of Texas” into audiences’ minds as a destination.
“We’re able to do this because of the partnership with the other cities,” she said. “This allows us to push our reach in new ways.”
The original Hahn, Texas campaign plan assumed an annual budget of $858,000, with funding coming from Waco and all of its suburban neighbors. That budget was cut back, partly because cities such as Woodway, Lacy-Lakeview and Robinson chose not to participate, citing budget concerns.
Taylor said she hopes the early success of the campaign will persuade those cities to join.
“We believe this project will lift all boats, but to be equitable, everybody has to help,” she said. “It’s going to take all of us to get there.”
Participating cities and their tourism-related businesses will get direct benefits from the new plan, she said.
The cities and their attractions will be listed in a visitors guide that will be distributed statewide. When the website, wacoheartoftexas.com, goes live in a few weeks, online visitors will be able to shop for and book hotels in Waco, Bellmead, Hewitt and McGregor. They’ll also get an interactive feature showing attractions, restaurants and various businesses within the areas they plan to visit.
The Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau staff will maintain the list of attractions and eateries for the four cities.
“When you’re going out of town, the last thing you want to do is go to a closed restaurant,” said Carla Pendergraft, sales and internet development director for the bureau. “We are the curators of up-to-date information. We’re the local experts.”
Linda Barkmeier, general manager of the Atria Hotel in McGregor, said she expects the campaign will widen her market and increase bookings.
“I’m getting access to people who never knew we existed,” she said.
The hotel was built six years ago, and its usual clientele includes SpaceX contractors and Baylor fans who couldn’t find lodging in Waco.
The Hewitt City Council last fall chose after some debate to join the partnership and contribute $14,589.
Hewitt City Manager Adam Miles said he believes the city’s participation will pay off, though Hewitt has only two hotels.
“Hewitt is so small that, with us participating, we’ll get more exposure than we could get by ourselves,” he said.
Miles said that in coming years he expects Hewitt will have more hotels, upscale restaurants and other attractions.
He added that he likes the “Heart of Texas” slogan, which Hahn, Texas settled on after much discussion with focus groups and city councils.
Taylor, the tourism official, said she wasn’t initially excited about the slogan because it had been used for decades and seemed “trite.” But she came to see it as a well-established, “classic” brand that could be updated for the 21st century.
“This is our brand — this is who we are,” she said.
In the next few weeks, the marketing campaign will begin a local outreach in which residents can take pictures of themselves at their favorite hometown spots alongside a placard with the “Heart of Texas” logo. The photos will be used in the promotional campaign, and entrants will be eligible for prize drawings.
Taylor said the local outreach will help identify and publicize the things locals prize about their own community.
“We really want to capture the soul of the community,” she said.