Cindy Mackin, Loveland’s newly appointed Visitors Service Coordinator, began working on that problem after started her job in late February and has $500,000 in lodging tax dollars to help.
Her roadmap: a five-year strategic outline called Destination Loveland.
It includes plans to develop a brand for the city, a new website and eliminating clutter along corridors such as Highway 34, the main thoroughfare used by travelers headed to the mountains west of Loveland.
If all goes as hoped, Loveland will become known as a “world-class destination for art, leisure and business visitors.”
As Mackin will readily acknowledge, Loveland has a lot of work ahead.
At the moment, limited tourism information can be found on the Loveland Chamber of Commerce’s website. That’s why getting a dedicated website up and running is the first big step toward creating name-recognition and making Loveland a destination, according to Mackin.
“We have a very aggressive timeline and hope to have the website up this summer,” she said. “It’s important to get the site up because most people do their travel research online.”
Mackin, who has been on the job for less than two months, is also thinking hard about how to better leverage the city’s Visitors’ Center, which until late last year had been run by chamber.
Destination Loveland also calls for enhancing the visual appeal of Loveland including signage upgrades and other changes that can help alert and, it’s hoped, entice tourists passing through on either Highway 34 or Interstate 25 to pull over and spend some time in Loveland.
Other items on the list include offering incentives and volunteer programs to help people clean up their properties, make façade improvements and expand the placement of public art.
Loveland is known for its art, with 300 pieces of art scattered throughout the city. Including even more art in the city’s landscape, particularly along primary tourist corridors, can help cement the city’s identity and draw more people, officials believe.
Mackin said she also will work with the city’s Department of Economic Development to assist with visitor and recreation-related business development.
This includes an emphasis on working with breweries, galleries, restaurants and recreation rentals.
Another area possibility: encouraging business development that benefits residents and tourists, including air services and shuttles, family entertainment and farmers markets.
Mackin is working on forming partnerships to help make the plan a reality. One of these relationships involves the Fort Collins Convention and Visitors Bureau, which has established itself as a primary source of information for tourists in the area. Working with the Fort Collins CVB will allow both organizations to promote Northern Colorado as a whole, Mackin said.
The city is now working with a local visual communications firm to create a brand for Loveland. Perfect Square was selected last month to develop the identity needed to market Loveland as a tourism destination.
Perfect Square worked with the city on “Loveland 365,” a compilation of photos and descriptions of all the things that make Loveland “great.” The book was sold through the Visitors’ Center to raise money for nonprofits.
The first steps to creating a brand involve asking a few key questions, according to John Metcalf, owner of Perfect Square.
“What is the emotional tie-in? Why do people want to come here? You establish that and work from there,” Metcalf said.
Most of Perfect Square’s work has been for private companies, but the firm does have some experience working with tourism marketing, in Denver’s LoDo and at Xanterra Parks and Resorts, headquartered in Denver.
With cities, according to Metcalf, establishing a brand is in part about determining how many eyes are going to see the finished product, and what kind of public input is received along the way.
Loveland’s strongest asset, in Metcalf’s opinion, is its versatility.
It has a strong arts community, but also features three breweries, easy access to the mountains and national shows at the Budweiser events center, all of which appeal to different types of people.
The timeline for Destination Loveland is stretched out over the next five years, and will be funded through revenue from the city’s 3 percent lodging tax, implemented in 2009. For 2012, $500,000 is budgeted, but that number will vary in the coming years.
Prior to the lodging tax, the Chamber of Commerce was running the Visitors’ Center, but had no funds to help Loveland get noticed.
The money from the tax was originally meant to market the city and get it on the map, said Economic Development Director Betsey Hale, but there was no plan for how to spend the money. For the most part, the dollars were distributed to different groups to hold events. The city hired a consultant to develop its Destination Loveland plan last year.