City of Galveston
by David Stanowski
30 December 2007
Galveston needs to re-define its image with a clear, simple, and aggressive marketing plan. There is no need to hire another consultant to do months of research, and then come up with an idea like changing our name to "the City of Galveston Island"!
If those of us who live here put our heads together, we can come up with some great ideas! Here are a few to get the ball rolling.
The first step in the process was to separate the "City of Galveston" from "Galveston Island". This plan defines "the City" as all of the area from 6th Street to 39th Street, but the primary focus is on the downtown area, with some attention given to the East End. The 19th-Century city, contained within these two areas, is the "unique product" that Galveston has to offer to the world!
Without the "character" that The Strand, and the historic neighborhoods offer, to those of us who live here, we might just as well move to Sarasota or Fort Myers; the weather is better.
The beach, beach houses, canal-front houses, Offats Bayou, etcetera are all wonderful things, but they are not that unique, because they are features of typical coastal communities in Texas, and in many other places around the country.
Likewise, Moody Gardens, Schlitterbahn, and the Lone Star Flight Museum are all outstanding attractions, but they also have nothing to do with marketing a 19th-Century Southern City, and tend to confuse the message. These three attractions also have their own marketing plans. Everything outside of "the City" should be marketed separately as "Galveston Island"; although there are many ways to develop cross promotions.
Before the City of Galveston can be successfully marketed as a first-class 19th-Century Southern port city, we must develop the confidence that Galveston belongs in such a group. Our residents must believe that our city is every bit as good as the three cities that currently enjoy that reputation: Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans. Having lived in or near these three cities, I can attest to the fact that Galveston has most or all of the same features, plus the attractions of Galveston Island.
Few people travel to these three cities for the nearby beaches. They visit them because they have well-established images as 19th-Century Southern port cities. That is why they draw millions of PAYING visitors each year. Americans seem to understand these other cities, but have a confused picture of Galveston.
A successful marketing plan should position Galveston in the same league as Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans. Then we will start drawing more of the "big spenders" that these cities enjoy, instead of the people who visit our beaches without spending a nickel!
To solidify Galveston's standing in the minds of consumers, "the City" must find a variety of ways to "tell its story". "The story" should contrast life in the outside world, with life in "the City". What does the 19th Century have to offer that the 21st Century does not?
Peace versus turmoil, authenticity versus artificiality, simplicity versus complexity, character versus superficiality, and a slow pace versus the rat race. We need to find a way to make this appeal to people who are: living in subdivisions and towns with no center or soul, living in track homes made of sawdust and glue, and are always in hurry.
Galveston should be marketed as a place that offers a refuge from the madness of modern life; a place to escape from the Age of Terrorism into the Victorian Age. It is a "time machine" that transports visitors into the past.
THIS is what attracts millions of people to Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans, each year, and these same people will come to Galveston, if we tell them a story that captures the magic of this special place.
Once people arrive in "the City", we must continue to be tell them "the story", so that they form a special connection to Galveston. Then it will become their refuge that they return to again and again; their place to relax and chill out.
My wife and I have been trying to tell "this story" on our web site, TheRealGalveston.com, but it needs to be refined and repeated through many more channels.
In contrast, when "Great Day Houston" recently taped five shows in our historic downtown area, they told a different story. They featured chefs from local restaurants, attendants from local spas, and apparel from local dress shops. They completely missed the historical aspect of "the City"; they missed "the real story"!
Ways to "tell the story":
1. Advertising - radio, TV, print: We need to place ads in magazines like Southern Living, and feature stories in the travel sections of newspapers across the country.
2. A Visitor's Center on the Strand: This is where it should all begin after the visitors arrive; where the story telling continues. It is where tours begin.
3. Walking Tour of the Strand: The Strand needs a "high quality" tour like the one of Ashton Villa. A tour that tells people what it was like here in the 19th Century; that points out the architecture; that relates the buildings to colorful stories about early residents.
(The ghost tour is already doing quite well.)
4. Driving Tour of Downtown: A driving tour should use the same approach as the walking tour of the Strand, but it can cover a lot more ground.
5. Driving Tour of Downtown and the East End: This tour would begin on the Strand, and connect the commercial sector to the residential areas.
6. Videos about Downtown and the East End: Videos, similar to the ones for Samuel May Williams, and The Storm, need to be produced and shown in a convenient location downtown.
7. Architecture Tours of Downtown and/or the Neighborhoods: There would probably be less demand for these tours than one that is more general in nature, because they will be geared more toward those who are primarily interested in the hundreds of local historical buildings.
8. THE BOOK: The one thing that would put us "over the top" would be a book about Galveston that captures the imagination of the public. It can be non-fiction or fiction, but it needs to be written like a novel, so that it can paint a poetic picture of "the City", and its quirky former, and current residents. This type of book could create the same buzz and momentum that "Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil" did for Savannah.
Galveston should hold a contest to find the best book, offer $5,000 to the winner, and then fund its publication and promotion.
Although 19th-Century Galveston should appeal to a wide variety of people, there are certain groups that are already looking for this kind of experience.
1. History Buffs: People who read and study history, including history teachers and students at high schools and colleges. Let them actually experience what they are reading about.
2. Students of Genealogy: They are studying history through their family tree.
3. Students of Architecture: Galveston has one of the largest collections of 19th-Century residential and commercial buildings in the country.
4. Civil War Re-Enactors: Another group that loves being in historical locations and settings.
5. Jean Lafitte Society: This group has members all over the world that can be encouraged to visit the home port of this Founding Father.
6. Conventions: All attendees of local conventions should be shuttled downtown to take to the tours, and see the videos.
Special events should be held every month that appeal to the general public, but that also target these groups, to bring them back on a regular basis.
1. Monthly history lecture: There is plenty of material to choose from, but these need to be free, or charge a very nominal fee. GHF charges $14.
2. Genealogy Classes: Galveston could hire genealogy experts to teach free "how to" classes. With some investment in resources, Galveston could become the Genealogy Center of Texas, just like Salt Lake City is for the U.S. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City gets more than 500,000 visitors each year, and they have a local branch, in Galveston, that could be enlisted to be part of this project.
3. Architecture: Some sort of regular lectures should be offered that are tied into the tours.
4. Battle of Galveston: Invite re-enactors from all over the country to stage this historic battle each year. It could be a great off-season event.
5. Jean Lafitte Society Convention: There is no reason why this group could not host an annual convention where they could share their knowledge of the first pirate to live on The Island.
If the City of Galveston becomes a first-class destination, just because of the atmosphere and ambiance that it offers, it is less important what specific shops, bars, and restaurants are in the downtown area.
However, it would be an additional boost to the local economy if the Strand could get at least one unique business that is a destination in and of itself, like the Unclaimed Baggage Center, in Scottsboro, AL. This business pulls at least one million shoppers each year. Maybe they can be persuaded to open another store. Another good choice would be to get the first Trader Joe's in the State of Texas.
In addition, Galveston could make an effort to declare the Commerce Building as the "birthplace of Rock & Roll", which could create at least one additional annual celebration that would bring in people for an event unrelated to "the City's" 19th Century beginning.
Local shops could supplement their income by selling on eBay, and could expand to selling on their own web site, if the volume warranted.
Finally, the downtown area needs its own web site that is updated daily with news and special deals offered by merchants.
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