Disaster Diverted

“We were extremely excited when we expanded our partnership with the USSSA, and this summer was going to be the first time that we would host some of the events,” Gendler says.

“It was very important to take a proactive measure and show the condition of the beaches, in addition to featuring the sports fields where athletes would be playing, and highlighting other things to do in the area. We wanted to reassure these future guests before they had time to question coming to the area because of the spill.”

In addition to these progressive ideas, the sports commission used what some may consider an old-school tool–good customer service.

“I cannot even begin to count the number of e-mails and phone calls that our sports commission staff received from concerned parents, coaches and event organizers,” says Gendler.

“We took the time to answer all, and I mean all, of their questions. These people trusted us with the safety of their children, but we had to earn that trust first by taking the time to build relationships and answer people on a one-on-one basis. Generic automated responses would not work.”

That hands-on approach was also evident in the sports commission’s social-media presence.

“Because we are a smaller organization, we outsourced our Facebook, Twitter and other social-media accounts to a local tourism-marketing company,” Gendler added.

“Since the same company also handles the CVB’s social-media efforts, both of our groups spoke with the same voice, relied on the same information, and, most importantly, had the same personable touch with guests.”

The Victory

By the end of July, the sports commission had overcome multiple hurdles to do the unthinkable–break a record for 2010 in the midst of an oil spill. The commission surpassed its 2009 year-end room-night total (23,193) seven months into 2010 by generating 30,000 room nights. Also, in 2009, the sports commission generated over $7.6 million in total spending, and seven months into 2010, that number increased to $10.4 million.

“While we did add some new events for 2010, our staff members had extra work on their hands as they had to continue to sell the destination to already booked events,” Gendler says.

“To keep attendance numbers up as much as possible for all events, we didn’t take any event- or oil-spill question for granted. In the end, these numbers prove the Gulf Coast is still a great place to play sports. Between our community support, generous annual sponsors and helpful city leadership, we offer an unbeatable athletic experience.”

While these increased room nights and revenue are a new high for the sports commission, there is still room to grow.

“We are very excited about the economic impact our organization has had so far, and are even more excited to watch it grow with the addition of events such as the NAIA Soccer Championships for 2010 and 2011 and NAIA Softball Championships in 2011 and 2012,” says Gendler.

“Quite a few of our local industry partners have mentioned to us that they were very grateful to have our sports teams filling their rooms, restaurants and attractions during a summer when there were not as many guests as normal. That realization may be one of the silver linings from this oil spill.”

Despite this success, the commission has a firm grasp on the challenges that still lay ahead.

“We have an uphill battle to change the public’s perception,” she says. “As we continue to host more sporting events, we will expose new guests to our area, and they too will become goodwill ambassadors for our still-beautiful beach destination.”

Kim Chapman is the public relations manager for Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism. She can be reached at 800-745-SAND, or via e-mail at kchapman@gulfshores.com

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