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Archive for Friday, April 16, 1999

RELAX

April 16, 1999

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A $20,000 study is helping Lawrence officials work on plans for tapping into the multimillion-dollar tourism market.

Another upscale golf course, a tribute to the history of basketball and an attraction dedicated to the Civil War and "bleeding Kansas" would help Lawrence contend in an increasingly competitive tourism marketplace, a tourism expert said.

Without such "destination drivers," Lawrence could slip behind Topeka and other nearby communities that have developed attractions that are vital for attracting overnight visitors, said Greg Gilstrap, who drew up a "Long-Term Visitor Industry Strategy"

See Tourism, page 15A

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for the Lawrence Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB).

Downtown Lawrence isn't enough.

"We've got to give people a reason to come to the community," said Gilstrap, a consultant who presented his preliminary findings to Lawrence city commissioners earlier this year. "Downtown can't be the destination driver."

We're talking big bucks

At stake are millions of dollars in revenues generated through transient guest taxes, which are charged to visitors through rates on Lawrence hotel rooms.

Specifically, people spend $9.8 million a year on hotel rooms in Lawrence, and those overnight guests part with another $14 million for other expenses, such as shopping in local stores and eating at Lawrence restaurants. The tourism industry supports 1,800 jobs in town, Gilstrap said.

Investing in tourism is investing in the community, he said. Visitor spending helps improve the local quality of life though several avenues, including the infusion of sales-tax revenues that help finance police and fire protection, new parks and other community needs.

The visitors also help keep local businesses in operation, he said. His study determined that in downtown alone, visitors account for 20 percent of restaurant receipts and 50 percent of sales in specialty stores.

Guest-tax revenues in Lawrence -- the money brought into public coffers from taxes assessed on hotel stays -- also are running strong, Gilstrap said. In recent years Lawrence's guest-tax revenues have increased 50 percent faster than the statewide average.

Lawrence also is faring well in the state's visitor "market share," by holding 3.6 percent in 1998 compared to 3.3 percent in 1995. Manhattan's share dropped during that same period from 3.6 percent to 3.2 percent.

Tough market

But Lawrence cannot relax in the hotel area, Gilstrap said. The city currently is losing meeting-room rentals to larger, newer options in Olathe, Overland Park and Topeka.

Lawrence also is underrepresented in the "expensive" hotel category -- rooms in the $90- to $110-a-night range -- compared to Overland Park and other nearby cities, Gilstrap said.

Lawrence should think about creating more options in that area before thinking about enhancing its meeting facilities.

A convention center could be a risky proposition, he said.

"Today, that's a very tough market," Gilstrap said. "It's really a buyer's market."

Lawrence's supply of mid-range hotel rooms has begun to outstrip demand, he said. The city's average daily rate for a night's stay in a hotel:

  • 1995, $49.13.
  • 1996, $54.26.
  • 1997, $58.70.
  • 1998, $58.40.

Lawrence's hotel growth has come as surrounding communities have pushed forward with tourist attractions, also known as "destination drivers."

Jim Colbert is building a PGA golf course in Manhattan, Kansas City is getting a NASCAR track and the Z-Bar Ranch is wowing visitors to the Flint Hills.

No time for complacency

Lawrence needs to get into the act.

"You have a very attractive community," Gilstrap told commissioners earlier this year, "but I wouldn't count on the growth you've experienced in the '90s to continue."

Developing a resort on city-leased land at Clinton Lake could be a possibility, but it's not an option for the short-term, officials said.

"If done correctly, it could be a destination driver," Gilstrap said.

Judy Billings, director of the CVB, agreed.

"It'll take some time, it'll take some dedication, it'll take some effort. But we think it will pay off in the long run," Billings said.

Lawrence's best bets, Gilstrap said: Focus on Lawrence as a cradle for basketball, including the presence of the grave of James Naismith, known as "the father of basketball."

Working to integrate the city's Civil War history -- including Lawrence's moniker as a "Free State Fortress" and its associated violence -- could pay off.

"We think the Civil War history -- the Quantrill's Raid history -- you have is interesting," Gilstrap said.

Gilstrap knows a thing or two about Lawrence, the state and its tourism needs.

Gilstrap was raised in Topeka and once served as Kansas' director of tourism before moving on to a similar job for the state of Arizona.

Today, he runs his own consulting firm, specializing in the tourism industry.

Lawrence city commissioners paid $20,000 for the study.

-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is mfagan@ljworld.com.

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