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Professional help for Destination Palo Alto?
Original post made
on Feb 21, 2008
Destination Palo Alto has matured from an experimental effort into a budding visitors' program worthy of full-time, professional administration, City Manager Frank Benest said Wednesday night. The Finance Committee agreed, recommending a $240,000 per year "investment."
Read the full story here Web Link
posted Thursday, February 21, 2008, 12:50 AM
Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 22, 2008 at 1:03 pm
There is a better, and cheaper, way to do this.
Essentially, "Downtown Palo Alto" is a marketing effort aimed at increasing visitor presence in Palo Alto. It was a fairly good idea when it began, because Palo Alto doesn't have a visitor's bureau, and many key downtown hotels and merchants began to worry about becoming outflanked by hotel and retail presence on our borders.
With the surfacing of new fiscal constraints in the last several years, anything that seemed to be able to raise revenue through increased visitors (retail sales tax) seemed inviting.
Destination Palo Alto (DPA) folks have worked hard, and they have made some progress, but the suggestion that we should hire a consultant to manage this process as a kind of "add-on" to City Operations, seems premature.
First, just looking at the website for "Destination Palo Alto", one is struck by the similarity in look between its pages, and that of Palo Alto Online. Since the Weekly had a place on the DPA effort, I wouldn't be surprised if they are running the middle-back end to DPA, or at least suggested that DPA use the same vendors that the Weekly uses.
Second, given that the Weekly (and the PADaily, to some degree, with the Weekly effort far outshining the PADaily) is *already* the most comprehensive guide to "what's happening" in Palo Alto, online - why do we need to duplicate that effort?
The "barrier to entry" for the Weekly, as a "competitor" to DPA is trivial - all we see on the DPA website is links that the Weekly or PA Daily could handle, in a dedicated "what's happening", or "Visitor's Resource" area.
Third, it's just crazy to say "we're going to provide a link" to the City's website. In fact, it's madness. Although city personnel are doing their very best to fix what is probably the most dysfunctional municipal websites that I've ever seen (and, I've seen a lot of them), what value would that bring?
As it is - with due respect to a those who are trying to fix the PA website - I think the current website is toast. How much, I wonder, have we spent in personnel costs for something that we were screwed over on by the vendors we hired. That may sound harsh, but that's the way it is. Palo Alto was ripped off by our website vendors, period.
Frankly, I don't see why we can't take the $240K and use it to fix our City's website. EVERYTHING that lives on the DPA website could be (and SHOULD be) managed as a portion of our City's website, coordinated by a city-run operant - assuming we fix the website.
Fourth, I have to agree with pat. Palo Alto is not, and never will be, a "destination" in the way that most people think of "destination". In essence, Palo Alto is a supplementary, or secondary, destination due primarily to proximity with Stanford. So, why aren't we talking with Stanford, possibly as part of the forward negotiations around Stanford's superb rebuild of the hospital, to help us out - in some paid, or not paid (depending on what we could work out) way, using *Stanford's* promotional team to better coordinate the effort between our two municipal entities? That's another opportunity to "partner" with Stanford.
Now, some will say that DPA is already working with Stanford. That's true, as DPA and Stanford worked hard together to promote the opening of the new Stanford Stadium, and one or two additional Stanford events. But who did that profit, primarily? The focus was mostly on Downtown merchants, and especially the hotels. Understandable, the hoteliers were very much satisfied with the effort. It was a good effort, and made the Palo Alto visiting experience more satisfying.
But who was the *ultimate* winner in those Stanford-DPA efforts? I would argue that it was Stanford, because Stanford gained benefit to seamless coordination of events while the *natural* use of Palo Alto amenities like hotels and restaurants - **that would be used anyway** - we promoted as a kind of side dish. Certainly, most of the commercial side of Palo Alto was not included in DPA. The primary effort was focused on Downtown. That's OK, but we need to think about just how much value efforts like DPA really bring.
Fifth, how do we put milestone and measurement metrics to what the consultant does? Palo Alto and the region are growing, and will continue to grow. There WILL be concomitant commercial growth accompanying our growth. How are we going to separate out the efforts of a visitor's program consultant in a way that *effectively* measures the REAL impact of that consultant.
Does anyone reading this thread actually think that Palo Alto retail revenues are going to decrease anytime soon? I doubt it. So why should we be putting a "visitor's bureau" consultant in a position where we can't *rigorously* measure that consultant's impact? How about insisting that the "visitor's bureau" consultant create it's own rigorous milestone effort - vetted by the finance committee - and agrees to pay back some significant portion of its fee if it fails to reach *aggressive* milestones? How about that?
Having been around a bit, I am highly suspicious of "promotional efforts" that are lacking serious measurement, accompanied by aggressive milestones that are "do, or die" for those implementing them.
Why not hire a full-time coordinator of events at City Hall for a fraction of $240K. I just don't get the whole "consultant" thing, unless we're talking about an inside job that includes some of the advertising vendors that were operating pro bono in the early days of DPA. Is this payback for those vendors? Maybe, maybe not?
In sum, and with respect, we are re-inventing the wheel with this position. there is no way - and there will probably **not** be any effective way - to accurately measure the impact of this expenditure, other than by association with the natural commercial growth that our city is experiencing **anyway**.
I fully understand the impulse of a municipality to want to increase revenues; it's a needed step.
Palo Alto used to have a full-fledged development group at City Hall. That group was mostly disbanded, with the lone development officer (a very competent person) now relegated to - and operating under - the auspices of our excellent planning department.
There is SO MUCH MORE we could be doing in the way of aggressive promotional development from an interior development group - properly managed - than we will ever get from a promotional consultant.
Palo Alto *already* has the internal infrastructure - given the money the Finance Committee says it wants to spend on a consultant - to have promotional efforts contained within City Hall.
In closing, and closely related, before embarking on this path, I would urge oru policy makers to cut free some money to really FIX our city's website. It is a tragedy of major proportions, in this day and age, not to be able to leverage the our city's website for things like visitor's bureau information, city document information, archives of all kinds (made possible even though access from the library).
If we could get the website fixed, in a way that creates a seamless customer experience, we could bring back a DPA-like position into City Hall for, say, $100K. That leaves us with $380K to play with for website repair, and other infrastructure. The city would have full control of measurement and milestones for this position.
If our policy makers don't want to do that, I would suggest funding a position at the Weekly, for someone to do the job there. The latter is already the "go to" place for local happenings and events, and it looks like they're hosting the DPA website, anyway.
Funds expended for promotional development, in the way currently suggested, are an outgrowth of a small program that should now move inside City Hall. If we go the unwise route of this "promotional consultant" we will be making a mistake similar to the one we made when we tried to reinvent the wheel on our city's website.
Palo Alto has no trouble getting visitors; they keep coming, and they will continue to come. As long as we look at the *challenge* (not a solution looking for a problem) of keeping our city attractive from a *policy* point of view - by doing all the things we need to de to unlock dormant commercial capital (e.g. committing to enabling retail development), Palo Alto businesses will continue to grow, and the visitors will come.