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Why St. Louis' tourism agency is betting on road-trip visitors

"I listen to the public health officials, and they indicate it is really important we model this behavior and set the expectation"
Credit: SLBJ
An example of an Explore St. Louis ad that will appear as part of a push to encourage nearby residents to visit St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS — By July 1, the St. Louis region will have lost out on $1 billion in direct tourism spending because of the COVID-19 crisis.

That's according to estimates from its tourism agency, Explore St. Louis. In response, the organization is planning a marketing campaign targeting St. Louisans and those within a 200-mile radius of the region, encouraging them to "re-explore" the area's attractions.

A first phase will involve social media posts by area businesses, indicating they're open, said Explore Chief Marketing Officer Brian Hall. Explore has distributed handheld signs, encouraging owners to use them in the posts. The idea is to get locals to take "staycations," and visit attractions, parks and restaurants.

By July 1, a second phase of the campaign will begin, featuring digital ads targeting those within driving distance of St. Louis. The display spots show masked individuals and families enjoying St. Louis destinations such as the Gateway Arch, Laumeier Sculpture Park and Saint Louis Zoo. 

Hall said he felt it was important to "model" safe behavior, like the face coverings.

"I listen to the public health officials, and they indicate it is really important we model this behavior and set the expectation," he said.

Explore is targeting people within a few hours' drive, Hall said, because research shows attitudes about travel have changed. He cited a U.S. Travel Association & MMGY Travel Intentions survey indicating 57% of travelers are more likely to book to domestic destinations, and 45% are more likely to travel by car.

He also said leisure travel is likely to rebound first, with travel for business and meetings lagging. "People have been pent up for 100 days in their home," he said.

Explore plans to submit an application for a Missouri Division of Tourism program that could pay 90% of the campaign's cost. Hall didn't provide a campaign cost. Explore, which is funded by hotel taxes, has had to drastically reduce expenses amid the downturn.

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