RNC visitors encouraged to ‘stay for the unconventional,’ check out Cleveland-area sights

H&LA’s Laurel Keller weighed in with the Cleveland Plain Dealer about the city’s campaign to encourage RNC attendees to extend their convention visits and take in more sites the city has to offer.

By: Susan Glaser/The Cleveland Plain Dealer
Published: April 2016

City boosters are hoping that some of the 50,000 visitors in town for the Republican National Convention this July will take a break from the roller-coaster ride of GOP politics – and take a ride on a real roller coaster instead.

The Cleveland 2016 Host Committee recently launched a months-long marketing campaign designed to encourage RNC delegates and other visitors to spend a few extra days in town, getting to know Cleveland and surrounding sights.

The name of the campaign: Come for the Convention, Stay for the Unconventional.

Among the attractions touted: Northeast Ohio’s Amish country, the Lake Erie islands, the Rock Hall and Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Cedar Point’s collection of 18 roller coasters.

The campaign unfolds in aseries of seven videos, organized by theme: Adventure, Cuisine, A Step Back in Time, Get Active, Quiet Escape, Wine Country and World Class Art, Culture and Rock & Roll.

Sam McNulty, the owner of Cleveland’s Market Garden Brewery and several other local brewpubs, serves as tour guide in all the videos.

“One thing you may not know about us Clevelanders,” he says in one, “We love adventure. And that’s not hard to find, here on the shores of Lake Erie.”

Host committee spokeswoman Jennifer Kramer said the videos, produced by Cleveland’s Goldfarb Weber Creative Media, are already running in several markets, on social media and online news sites popular with conservative-leaning listeners and viewers. (Among the outlets: Fox News and SiriusXM Patriot Conservative Talk.)

Destination Cleveland, the city’s visitors bureau, is funding the campaign, which costs $185,000.

The goal, Kramer said, is to get people to take a few extra days to see a few extra sights while they’re in Northeast Ohio.

The convention, running July 18-21, is the earliest it’s been in more than three decades – and hits in the heart of prime summer vacation time.

“Many of the people coming will have never been to Cleveland before,” she said. “We want to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Laurel Keller, vice president of. Hotel & Leisure Advisors, a Cleveland-based hospitality consulting firm, said the pitch makes sense.

Some major convention cities – she mentioned Orlando and Las Vegas – don’t have to spend money to build awareness in the hopes that conventioneers will stick around and play.

Cleveland, however, remains a bit of a blank slate for many would-be visitors. “It makes sense to try to make the most of this event, to try to get everything we can out of it,” she said.

Several years ago, Keller tried to determine whether previous political convention cities –Tampa Bay, Denver and Charlotte among them – were successful in getting delegates and other guests to stay and vacation after the official event had ended. She studied hotel occupancy figures and came to the conclusion that the economic benefits of the event extended far beyond the three or four nights of the official gathering.

Some of that boost in hotel occupancy came from party officials, members of the media and other business travelers, who have prep work to do far in advance of the convention’s opening gavel.