Tourist Board Discusses How To Market Mercer County
The City of Harrodsburg will take over collecting the restaurant tax for the Harrodsburg-Mercer County Tourist Commission.
Harrodsburg Mayor Art Freeman informed the Tourist Commission’s board of directors that the city would start July 1.
Freeman said the city would like to revise the way the restaurant tax revenues are divided. Formerly they were split 50-50 between the city and the Tourist Commission. The mayor suggested the revenues be split 70-30, with the city collecting 70-percent.
“That would make us extremely happy,” Freeman said.
He said the city commission would give first reading to the ordinance at their meeting on Tuesday, May 26.
Freeman said the city would handle transferring tax collection to city hall. He said they needed to move records currently being stored at the Tourist Commission’s office to city hall.
The mayor said the tax would stay the same. He said the city would resume collecting tax in July.
He said the city could make the move without the board’s input.
“We can do pretty much what we want to do within that state law,” Freeman said.
In other business, the board talked to David Caldwell of Balance Creative, an ad agency based in Lexington. The agency has been working with the Tourist Commission for over a year. Caldwell presented board members with an ad schedule. However, Chairman Mike Inman said the commission wants to move in a different direction. Inman said in the past, the commission’s marketing has concentrated on print advertising at the expense of online marketing.
Caldwell said they had worked to create content in line with the established look, including the “Coolest Place In History” slogan. He said a lot of the content was advertorial—articles promoting the area in magazines such as “Southern Living.”
“How relevant is print media?” Inman asked.
Caldwell said the advertising has focused on Mercer County’s major attractions, including Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, the Beaumont Inn, Old Fort Harrod State Park and Bright Leaf Golf Resort. Caldwell said the attractions drew an older audience who are best reached through print media. Caldwell said the commission received thousands of responses to some print ads.
“We don’t want to lose that, but we’re a lot more than that,” said Inman, who referred to the Corning plant, where gorilla glass is made, and other attractions like Kentucky Fudge.
“We’re a lot more than history,” Inman said.
He also asked about Herrington Lake, which he said drew visitors from Ohio.
“I don’t know why we don’t market to that, because that is a huge asset,” Inman said.
Caldwell said Herrington Lake was mentioned in ads, but was not a focus of the marketing. He said advertising, except for content that could not be canceled, has been on hold. He said the Balance contract ends June 30. He said the Tourist Commission has in the past tried to piggyback on the state’s marketing efforts, which are generally concentrated on attracting out-of-state visitors. But the state’s marketing efforts have also been on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everything is on hold,” Caldwell said.
He said he would make the Tourist Commission aware of when the state releases its new marketing plan. Caldwell also said he would create a new plan for Mercer County.
Inman said he expected there would be no spending at all going through the next several months. He said they were going to institute a moratorium on spending until they figure out where they are.
“We don’t know where we are right now because we don’t have an accountant,” said Inman. “We don’t know where we’re going to be next year.”
He said the Tourist Commission had not gotten a response from any local accountants about providing bookkeeping services. After the meeting, Inman explained the commission is looking for outside help to separate tax collections from bank accounts and payroll. If the city takes over tax collection, the commission may not need outside help. He said Office Manager Carolyn Crump, who normally handles the commission’s books, is off due to COVID-19.
The board also considered hiring a firm to draft a strategic plan. Inman wondered if the board should approve a plan before hiring a new executive director. The former director, Karen P. Hackett, resigned at the beginning of the month. Inman said the commission was not at a point to hire a new director.
Board member Tim Kazimer said it would be the new executive director’s job to fine tune and realize that “big vision.”
“We don’t have a big vision,” Kazimer said.
Inman said developing the plan would be key in evaluating employees.
“The money we spend getting our ducks in a row will save us money in the long run,” he said. Inman said he felt the Tourist Commission should approach an outsider to lead them through the process.
“I’ve never liked strategic planning days personally, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it,” said board member Chuck Dedman.
The board took no action on the suggestion. Inman said he would bring back information at the next meeting on Wednesday, June 17, at 9 a.m.
In other business, the board moved to join the Mercer County Chamber of Commerce.