Visitors Fly under Media Radar

By Pollack, Joe | St. Louis Journalism Review, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Visitors Fly under Media Radar


Pollack, Joe, St. Louis Journalism Review


Local media didn't pay much attention to the goings-on, but journalists, travel agents, tour operators and travel and vacation sites throughout the nation--and their sales forces--were exposed in breadth and depth to St. Louis and its features during a four-day conference, party and selling jamboree in mid-May.

The Convention and Visitors Board played host to more than 4,000 visitors, including 1,500 junketing media from overseas, as part of the Travel Industry Association of America's 2003 Press Tour and Pow-Wow.

Some 1,600 booths filled the Downtown Convention Center, and they housed representatives of individual hotels and hotel chains, car and RV rental firms, practically all states and major cities (some counties, too, like Napa and Sonoma), airlines, bus lines and cruise lines, fancy resorts and basic campsites--and more casinos than even William Bennett could lose at.

Advertising premiums and gadgets were everywhere--key chains, note pads, pens, light-up buttons, wallets, discounts on hotels and restaurants, maps, brochures, charts, CDs. You name it, someone was giving it away and someone else was taking it.

St. Louis put on its very best face. The weather cooperated. Some 650 volunteers seemed to be everywhere, offering directions, advice, friendly greetings and wide smiles. St. Louis historic sites, hotels, restaurants, caterers and manufacturers were generous, and if there was a certain amount of self-interest involved, it was well-decorated with ribbons of courtesy and generosity. Even confirmed, curmudgeonly cynics like this one were impressed; not only impressed, but proud.

For example, riding one gorgeous evening on a Zoo train with a group of foreign journalists (Sweden, Austria, Germany, Japan this time), one could not help but hearing the visitors, in almost awe-stricken tones, repeating, "And it's free."

The week appeared to be a real winner for St. Louis, one of the smaller, less famous cities to be a host for the event. Los Angeles goes next year, New Orleans went last year. Nancy Milton, vice-president of communications for the CVB, was everywhere for the four days, as was Mary Hendron of the CVB staff. Carole Moody, the organization's president, also was a regular presence.

It's the sort of week that will pay off down the road with more attention being paid to St. Louis by writers and television folks from around the world, whose work may be noticed by those who run the organizations that travel and spend money. It's interesting, however, that the mere discussion of a sporting event that may be coming to St. Louis in six or seven years rates banner headlines and long stories in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports pages, but something that may bring larger crowds and more money--and be far less expensive--to the community is almost ignored in the remainder of the newspaper except for brief gossip items about folks seen in town.

Given the world economic, political and medical situation, attendance was about 10 percent below last year's crowd, but several countries were under quarantine and unable to travel.

St. Louis had its party face on. A Sunday brunch at the Planetarium, catered by Los Angeles-based food guru Wolfgang Puck, now the caterer for the Science Center and Planetarium, looked elegant in the building's main star chamber, and if much of the meal was only ordinary, the service was exemplary, the bars well-stocked, the bacon and baked goods real standouts. …

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