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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

Comments (15)

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2008 at 11:21 am

This is a ridiculous amount of money. $240k per year on what exactly? Yes, it is a good idea to have a brochure which can be kept up to date and circulated to hotels, businesses, etc. for visitors and also a visitors to PA page on the City web site, but what else will we get for the money?

Total waste of money, the PA way.

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Posted by Amazed!
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 21, 2008 at 12:48 pm

Destination Palo Alto is nothing more than a slightly redesigned version of Palo Alto Online. Most of the links go to content already on Palo Alto Online. Thinking a web page will increase hotel occupancy by 5% is complete insanity. This seems like a publically funded subsidy for a private newspaper (The Weekly) looking to direct more traffic to its site and sell more online ads to local businesses.

Perhaps if the City had done its web site well in the first place, this content would already be on the City Web Site.

Half a million dollars over two years to consultants!!! I want that job. I can't get someone from the City to come out and replace the broken sewer line connection to my home - they don't have enough staff to keep up with the backlog. But they do have plenty of money to throw at consultants. The new Council members are proving to be pretty amazing disappointments. Remember the song that goes "Meet the new boss - same as the old boss...."

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Posted by Gene
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 21, 2008 at 1:34 pm

If this weren't so ridiculous, it would be funny. Destination Palo Alto FOR WHOM? The people who live here for the most part go someplace else. The fiscally prudent Palo Altan - and those who live in 'affordable housing', the seniors on fixed income, and those who are not 'wealthy', (and those prudent with their money) do their shopping in Redwood City and Mountain View.
There are not too many 'affordable restaurants in Palo Alto anymore. Doesn't fit PA's image. The days of the "Emporium" and Fresh Choice at the Stanford Shopping Center are long gone - and we are in what appears to be a 'recession'. Downtown Palo Alto is full of expensive restaurants and bars, boutiques, and nail salons.
And by the way, the streets in downtown Palo Alto are some of the worst in the city. Some 'showcase'. There are aggressive homeless people, and Lytton Plaza is a disgrace. The punk crowd is intimidating. Can't somebody even paint the benches there while arguing over what should be done goes on?

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Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 21, 2008 at 1:59 pm

When the fabulous new boutique hotel opens on Sand Hill Road at I-280, let us hope that it does not erode the business at the Sheraton and the Westin. Better yet, pray.Because that hotel is going to 'eat Palo Alto's lunch'.

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Posted by Jenny
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2008 at 2:42 pm

To quote John McEnroe: "You've gotta be kidding, you can't be serious"!!!

To quote Benest: "This is a learning journey" - for whom, the consultants at half a million dollars on a two year trial basis - that's an unproven and hugely expensive journey!!!

If I read this right, the consultants are being hired to hire a contact person, now how dumb is that. Couldn't we save the $240,000 annually, and hire that person directly for less money!!

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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 21, 2008 at 2:58 pm

We are learning also--we have learned that our city and it's leaders always seem to find money for these kinds of things (remember how much we sunk into our new "improved" website?) and payouts to companies that robbed us blind (i.e. Enron)
They do not seem to be able to find money for our infrastructure needs.

Let's be honest--Palo Alto is not really a destination for tourists. Anyway, if we did get more tourists, they might cause to much traffic on Embarcadero Road.

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Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 21, 2008 at 3:18 pm

Let's see. 5% increased tax at the cities 5 largest hotels - perhaps $10 per guest per night? So 24,000 guests would be needed to pay the $240,000 each year. 24,000 divided by 5 means each hotel would have to have 4800 more guests/year or 4800 divided by 365 days means 13 more guests needed each and every day. Seems unreasonable.

I assume the $240,000 goes to the consultants. So we/the city would also hire a person to run a visitors bureau? Let's add $120,000 which includes all the perks (usually about 35 to 40% of salary) for vacation, sick leave, medical insurance, and retirement for this person. Another 6 or 7 more guests per day, every day.
How does one measure the increase in revenue which results from this effort? There is no way I know of to separate the hoped for increase from the usual tourist dollars. Oh, well. I'm sure it will all be explained by more estimates.

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Posted by Theater Goer
a resident of another community
on Feb 21, 2008 at 4:08 pm

Once Palo Alto's tourist program is in effect I won't have to go to Ashland anymore for the Shakespeare. I'll be able to book a room at the Sheraton and go see the Children's Theater and maybe have lunch at the Duck Pond.

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Posted by Jarred
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2008 at 8:47 pm

$240,000? For that much, you can get a state-of-the-art new city website . Or 1/320 of a library upgrade!

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2008 at 12:18 am

Professional help is definitely needed – for the finance committee and the city manager.

Palo Alto is a lovely place to live and raise kids, but a “destination” it is not. “Brimming with attractions”? Apart from Stanford, I can’t think of any.

Business travelers don’t need a visitor’s bureau. The host company provides all kinds of information about restaurants, shopping, places for spouses to visit, etc. (In my experience, most want to go to San Francisco.)

The Destination Palo Alto website looks nicer than the city’s, but it's mainly a series of links to other sites:

- Art Galleries takes you to a PA Online page which lists at least two galleries (Voshan and Firehouse) that closed down. Many of the “galleries” listed are in Menlo Park, Redwood City, and Mountain View, e.g., the rotunda of Mountain View’s city hall.

- Downtown Palo Alto links you to the Palo Alto Downtown site, brought to you by BID. The shopping page welcomes you with this message: Parking is Abundant ~ Come to Downtown Palo Alto. (Maybe parking is only more abundant to visitors than to residents. And maybe visitors don’t get ticketed if they stay 5 minutes overtime in the avocado zone.)

- The Arts includes the Palo Alto Jr. Museum & Zoo (links to a city website page which seems to infinitely loop back to itself) and the Museum of American Heritage (MOAH website). Nice little places, but “Arts”?

- Sightseeing includes Stanford Memorial Church and Hoover Tower (Stanford), Sunset Magazine Gardens and Allied Arts (Menlo Park), Filoli (Woodside). All have their own websites.

Since Stanford – plus hotels, restaurants and others in the long list of “Destination Palo Alto” partners – will benefit from this visitors’ program, how much are they chipping in to pay the consultants? And if Destination Palo Alto is sending visitors to other cities, will those cities help pay for the project?

I wonder if this staggering waste of half a million dollars will have any influence on votes for the upcoming bond issues.

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Posted by Tim
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 22, 2008 at 11:25 am

Vallejo is on the verge of bankruptcy. With the out of control spending being done by our city manager and the city council, it COULD happen to Palo Alto. We need a city manager who knows how to manage our resources, not squander them - and this manager sure doesn't. This council is proving to be as whacky as the last ones.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2008 at 11:42 am

Yet another Palo Alto boon dongle. Maybe all these new tourists can take tours of the Italian tile in the traffic circles or the new Public Safety building.

Must be nice to have $240K of taxpayer money to burn at a whim.

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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 22, 2008 at 11:56 am

Make sure that they are taken through the Homer Avenue bike tunnel (Dena Mossar's proudest achievement while on the city council)--then at least someone will use that other city boondoggle. Also we can take them to Alma Plaza to show how things never get done here.

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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.

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Posted by Disgusted Taxpayer
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 3, 2008 at 9:27 pm

$240,000 for Destination Palo Alto??? Maybe you can study what Redwood City did by rebuilding The Fox Theater and The Little Fox and consider getting some live entertainment venues? Otherwise, forget it. What are you going to promote -- another chainstore like Long's?

The city keeps bringing in more chains and undercutting local merchants like Midtown Market and now JJ&F while leaving retail space and gas stations empty while they argue endlessly. Maybe you could recoup some lost retail revenues to pay for this idiocy first.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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