What do you do when your entire job contradicts what’s being said around the world? Change your message.
That’s the question Sherry Morgan and the staff at the Nacogdoches Convention and Visitors Bureau have been facing as local, state, national and international sources have continued to push people to stay home and shelter in place to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“We started early on in the first part of March adjusting our messaging,” Morgan said.
Spring and early summer in Nacogdoches is typically a time when the community sees a boom in travelers and visitors as the city moves to capitalize on its sprawling gardens and wildspaces and festival season gets underway.
The pandemic forced the bureau, which is a 501-C6 nonprofit funded largely by hotel occupancy tax, to reconsider its fundamental mission: how to drive tourism in Nacogdoches.
Early on, Morgan said the changed their messaging to push people who were healthy to come and partake in what Nacogdoches offers that adheres naturally to social-distancing guidelines: things like exploring the gardens and natural areas.
Now, that too is a question they’re trying to figure out how to address.
“Is it still responsible to encourage people to do socially distancing activities?” she said.
Part of how they’ve addressed that has been to begin planning activities, initiatives and marketing efforts aimed at whoever is already here.
“We’ve changed our focus from tourists to locals,” Morgan said. “Basically we’re just trying to inject positivity.”
The bureau initiated a Teddy Bear Hunt Wednesday, in which businesses and people were encouraged to put a stuffed bear somewhere it would be easy to spot from a sidewalk or window. Participants were encouraged to seek out the bears based on clues from the people who displayed the animals.
Morgan said a Chalk-Your-Walk event was also planned for the near future.
“If there was ever a time for a staycation, now is the time,” she said. “We want people to really on a granular level see your community through a new lens.”
While the CVB works to promote activities for people in the city, it’s also grappling with an evaporating pool of funding.
The organization’s efforts largely come from the hotel-occupancy tax, and as tourism from outside the city grinds to a halt, so does that revenue.
Morgan told area stakeholders Tuesday during a conference call occupancy in some hotels is down to the single-digit numbers, and there’s been no shortage of concern from local businesses.
“The conversations are difficult. They’re hard,” she said.
But Morgan said there’s plenty to feel inspired about, too, like how small business owners have adapted to what is a rapidly changing situation.
She cited how Butcher Boys restaurant has begun selling ground beef in addition to its prepared foods to make up for the quickly-selling stock at area stores, as well as businesses testing the waters for new methods, like curb-side and online purchases.
“That’s one of those innovative things that makes you proud to live here,” Morgan said.