How to market Southern Oregon

Local residents are well aware that Southern Oregon is a scenic destination within a day's drive for millions of people. But getting those millions of potential visitors to see and hear the message and then jump in the car with their families is the challenge, a tourism expert said Monday.

"You need to let people know this is a world-class destination with lots of scenic beauty," said Caroline Beteta, president and chief executive officer of the California Travel and Tourism Commission.

Southern Oregon's unique setting and its wines and produce lead to a highly marketable experience, she said.

"Stay on that message with your brand and be persistent," Beteta said after addressing the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County at the Rogue Valley Country Club on Monday. "It takes five years to establish credibility so that the investment begins to pay dividends."

Beteta, who also is the national chairwoman for the U.S. Travel Association, said Southern Oregon can benefit from higher fuel costs.

"Gas prices are more important if you are not primarily a car destination," she said. "As prices go up, it's more expensive to fly a family of four than to drive. Being accessible to a high-density population base (the Bay Area and greater Sacramento) is one of the most critical factors. You've got to let them know you are here."

During her presentation, Beteta said tourism associations have become advocacy groups for the varying elements of the industry.

"It's an important role, when the last 5 to 10 percent of gross sales is where you turn a profit," she said.

She said the government was willing to bail out the auto industry but showed little interest in the travel sector, which employs twice as many people — one in eight Americans.

She said strategic planning, coupled with customer service, is integral to attracting tourists and getting them to stay longer and spend more money. She encouraged use of social media, using traditional media to drive potential visitors to websites.

"You have to fish where the fish are," Beteta said.

The forum was held in conjunction with National Tourism Week.

During the chamber forum, Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler presented the annual Mayor's Award to the Rogue Valley Senior Softball Association for its 2009 Senior Softball tournament that drew 42 teams from four states with nearly 700 players, accompanied by 200 family members and friends.

The senior association moved the tournament from White City to U.S. Cellular Community Park. More than 20 teams already have signed on for the September 2010 field, with organizers hoping to add teams from Idaho and Canada.

Harry and Wendy Purslow are the RVSSA's organizers.

The mayor also honored Medford police Lt. Robert Hansen for attracting the 2009 North American Motor Officers Association Conference with 127 officers for maneuvers and annual training. The conference contributed more than $100,000 into the local economy.

Homewood Suites guest service agent Lori Robbins received the Customer Service Award. She has been with the Hilton affiliate in south Medford for the past year and was with Springhill Suites before that.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

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