Capitalizing on Culture

By Hannah Wallace September 30, 2009

›› The five-day, inaugural Ringling International Arts Festival Oct. 7-11, featuring dance, theater, music and visual arts by acclaimed performers from around the world, is a rare opportunity to brand Sarasota as an international cultural destination, says Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau president Virginia Haley. The festival is a collaboration between the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and New York City’s Baryshnikov Arts Center.  

What will be the impact of the Ringling International Arts Festival on tourism? We view this festival as a golden opportunity to remind people of what you can find when you visit here. It is a tremendous gift.  It was not budgeted, but shifting the budget to promote this was a no-brainer. You don’t have this opportunity come but every

10 years.

How many visitors do you expect? We have not made visitor number projections. Our key goal is exposure and branding the destination. Other destinations have worked very hard to steal the cultural tourism market share. We’re taking the opportunity to steal that back. No one should own cultural tourism other than Sarasota County. We want to dominate the market.

How are you promoting the festival, beyond what the museum and Baryshnikov Arts Center are doing? We’ve invested about $100,000 in advertising, in sales missions and in public relations efforts. Our managing director, Stephanie Grosskreutz, went to London in August and did sales calls and sales training with tour operators such as Virgin Holidays, British Airways and others, particularly those that specialize in high-end travel. The great thing about this festival is the ease of access. Ticket prices are very reasonable. The artists will be staying in nearby hotels, as will the guests. It speaks to the accessibility of the arts in Sarasota. We’ve put together packages with airfare, tickets and an exclusive event at the Sarasota Opera House with wine and cheese and some of the artists. Tying the opera into it was very important. We want the journalists, operators and visitors to understand there’s a cultural richness year-round.

Who are you targeting? The international target is pretty much in and around London. We promoted this at the International Pow Wow in Miami in May, which is put on by the U.S. Travel Association and where the United States sells itself to the world, but we really drilled down on the United Kingdom. It’s a tremendous hook to get journalists here. The hook is a new festival. It’s the Ringling name and Baryshnikov. We’re able to gain the interest of a higher level of journalists. We’re also involved with a national cultural tourism research study that will provide guidelines for advertising. We’re looking at international visitors, in-state visitors and at cities such as New York, the suburbs of Philadelphia and Chicago and the Boston area.   

What will the SCVB staff be doing over those four days? It will be all hands on deck. The journalists and tour operators will want to get out and see other things, so you have to be flexible. Some journalists like to be shown around and others like to go off on their own. The sports marketer will become a cultural tourism marketer for those four days. The finance person will be giving tours. ■

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