Q&A: Visit Glendale capitalizes on West Valley mega events
At first blush, you’d think Visit Glendale primarily impacts those traveling to the West Valley. But the organization’s impact hits close to home, too.
“Throughout the year, we participate in charity projects that make a difference locally,” says Lorraine Zomok, manager of Visit Glendale.
Those projects include collecting more than 8,000 Teddy bears to put on first responders’ trucks to help comfort those who have gone through traumatic experiences, partnering with Soroptimist International for Operation Women Warriors to send care packages to deployed female members of the military and organizing the Treats for the Troops Drive to support members of the military who are deployed overseas.
“They are some of the warm and fuzzy things we do that make us feel a little better when we turn off the light at the end of the day,” Zomok says.
But what Visit Glendale has done outside of its warm and fuzzy moments is create an organization that has become an economic force that is boosting West Valley tourism to new heights. As Glendale prepares to host its first Final Four is 2017, Az Business sat down with Zomok to talk tourism.
Az Business: Why did you decide to rebrand the organization as Visit Glendale?
Lorraine Zomok: We changed our name from the Glendale Convention & Visitors Bureau to Visit Glendale last October and revealed it an our annual meeting. We are heading into our sixth year as a CVB and changed because we saw that bureaus throughout the nation were rebranding themselves to better tell the story of who they are. The average visitor really doesn’t know what a convention and visitors bureau is. That’s a lot of words and it really doesn’t speak to who we are. Visit Glendale is action oriented and it really talks about what we do. We are all about that visit experience, that visit destination and it better tells the story of what we are doing.
AB: Unlike other CVBs, you represent a region, not just a city. What challenges does that present?
LZ: We showcase all 14 communities in the West Valley. We don’t look at it as a challenge, but as a great opportunity. In the City of Glendale, we have 1,500 hotel rooms. But when you encompass the entire West Valley region, it swells to 8,000 rooms. Wildlife World Zoo isn’t in Glendale, it’s in Litchfield Park. Lake Pleasant isn’t in Glendale, it’s in Peoria. All these major destinations make the region what it is. Because we form partnerships, we have more to bring to the table. The visitor coming in doesn’t know that one side of an avenue is Glendale and the other side is a different city. They are looking at us as a whole and we can sell the region as a package. Strength truly does come in numbers.
AB: What kind of impact have the last two years — the Super Bowl in 2015 and the College Football Playoff National Championship game in 2016 — had on your organization?
LZ: Because of the international spotlight that is now on Glendale and the West Valley, it has continued to change the way we do business each and every day. Ten years ago, we were a visitors center in a small tourism office that really sold a daytime destination. With the 2008 Super Bowl, everything changed: We have been in the world’s spotlight; we are growing our programs, tools and techniques; and each day, we are expanding, learning, growing and trying new things to elevate tourism throughout our region.
AB: What impact did those mega events have on tourism?
LZ: These mega events are not just one-day events. They really impact the destination for years to come. When you host those big games, great things come and continue to come. Now, because we have been in the international spotlight and host these mega events, we don’t just host travelers and the media for those events, it’s grown tourism throughout the year. When someone is sitting in Chicago in the middle of winter and they see Glendale in February and it’s sunny and in the 70s, we become their destination and vacation place. Or, we become the place where they move their business. It might be a one-day game, but the footprint goes all throughout the year.
AB: What does the fact that you’ve hosted sports’ biggest events say about Glendale?
LZ: The key thing is partnerships. When these mega events come to Glendale, they are truly coming to the state of Arizona. What I’ve been most proud of is the partnerships that the convention and visitors bureaus and the Arizona Office of Tourism have formed that are unlike any you see elsewhere in the country. We really stand alone with our partnerships. We are all working together to bring these mega events to Arizona because everyone benefits. We are confident that when people come for these mega events, we not only meet their expectations, we exceed them. That comes with experience, but it also comes with a city staff and a community that believes in rolling out the red carpet, which we do. As a 45-year resident of Glendale, what I’ve seen happen to this city gives me goosebumps. What was once farm fields is now home to Super Bowls. There is a lot to be proud of for that.
AB: What has guided the success of your organization?
LZ: Our advisory boards are crucial and vital to our success. When we became a CVB, we had an advisory board made up of nine members that were elected by our membership to represent the bureau. They make up all sectors of the tourism industry — restaurants, hotels, sports, attractions. These nine members are the foundation and lifeblood of who we are. They really drive what is best and most vital for the West Valley.
After we became a CVB in 2010, an amazing thing happened: our hotel community came together and went to city management and said, “We want to see the CVB succeed and part of that is through funding, so we would like to institute a specialized hotel bed tax that will go to the CVB for marketing and promotion.” We were able to put into place an additional 1.6 percent bed tax. We are honored and thrilled that the hoteliers had the confidence in us to ask for this additional tax. Because we are bed-tax funded, we no longer receive general funds through the City of Glendale, so it’s vitally important that we work closely with the hoteliers. Our second board is a hotel and venue advisory committee that is made up of hoteliers and the major venues. We meet regularly with them on marketing, advertising and national sales initiatives.
AB: From where has the growth in your organization come?
LZ: It’s coming from our national sales. About 18 months ago, one of the charges that came from the hotel and venue advisory committee was that we needed to grow a national sales division. We hired a national sales manager, Danielle Dutch from Southern California, and she has really benchmarked so many programs for us. We no longer wish or dream about being at national trade shows and missions — we ARE attending those national trade shows, building business and generating leads, which is ultimately what we send to our hotels to fulfill. We’ve seen phenomenal success on the national sales side. We are booking hotel rooms, events, conferences and all of this happened because the hotels had confidence in the CVB.
AB: Has the visibility you’ve gained from hosting mega events helped boost national sales?
LZ: Saying that we’re hosting the Super Bowl, the College Football Playoff National Championship or the Final Four is a great opening line when you’re talking with a meeting planner for the first time. That definitely perks up ears and we no longer have to answer the question, “Where is Glendale?” because everyone knows where Glendale is now. Mega events help unlock the door, open the door and give us an opportunity for dialogue.
AB: How are you reaching potential visitors?
LZ: We have always had very strong print advertising. Print is still very successful for us and still the No. 1 way people hear about us. But we know that we needed to diversify because the world is diversifying demographically with generations emerging who are looking at information in different ways. We are tapping into so many new digital resources that a year ago I might not have even known about. In the last year, we’ve had huge success in our SEO, our site re-targeting, our prospecting and our geofencing. Our analytical reports show that this is not only the emerging way, this is the most effective way that many of our visitors are receiving information.
We’ve also seen some really fun success during the last spring training season with some customized advertising that showcased the Visit Glendale staff. We know that no matter how you reach out to someone, it’s that personal connection that matters. People want to talk to someone and ask, “Where’s the best burger? Where’s the best place to hang out in town?” We have our Glendale Visitors Center, which is our call to action for all advertising, whether it’s online, social, digital or print. It’s all about getting people to our visitors center because we want that local connection.
AB: What do you consider Visit Glendale’s greatest success?
LZ: Knowing that we have truly made a difference in our community through our partnerships shows that everyone is truly working together. There is such a sense of community throughout the region and throughout the State of Arizona. At the end of the day, it’s about getting tourists to Arizona. When you see all the Valley CVBs and statewide (destination marketing organizations) working together along with the Arizona Office of Tourism to make sure tourism is a prime economic driver for the state and seeing those success, we know that we are doing a really good job and the best is yet to come.
AB: March is always a big month for tourism in Arizona. How will hosting the Final Four next year add to that economic impact?
LZ: The month of March is our everything. We continue each and every year to benchmark record-breaking occupancy at our hotels and attendance at our Cactus League baseball games. We have honed expertise since hosting the Super Bowl in 2008 in Glendale. We know what to expect and we are ready.
AB: What are your goals over the next five years for Visit Glendale?
LZ: Growth, growth, growth. We’ve seen what we can do with national sales, so where do we go from here? As we approach our 10-year mark in a couple years, we want to grow our staff, grow our programs and grow our footprint. We always look for the next great thing around the corner and we are going to find that, grab onto that and nothing will stop us.