After having our all time best year in 2019 for tourism in DeKalb County, with an increase in lodging occupancy and tourists expenditures by 11.3 percent, 2020 has been a whole different story…but not all bad!

In March of this year, we closed our visitor center at the same time the state closed their visitor’s centers due to the “stay at home” orders from the state. We continued to office there but it was closed to the public. This continued until April 12 (Easter) when the mega rains flooded our visitor center up to 36”. We lost most all of our content, furniture, computers, travel guides and our archived printed archives. The only thing not damaged nor destroyed were the pictures hanging on the wall above the water line.

We immediately moved to a home office environment with each of us continuing our normal activities minus having visitors walking in. All phone lines were forwarded to us, and we continued to operate all elements of our business other than the walk-in visitors.

A majority of what we do as a Destination Marketing Organization is advertising, marketing, website content, distribution of travel guides ordered on the phone or on our website. We have ambassador bloggers, and we are active on all the major social media platforms.

Our focus is entirely on trying to entice people who do not live here to come for a visit. We also play an active role in all state and regional tourism organizations and participate in meetings, trade shows and political engagement, at both a state and federal level. It sounds simple, but is quite complex due to the amount of content required and the ability to properly research and target each market demographic based on generation, age, gender, income, education, location and their desires of interests once they are here.

Learning who our visitors are is important so we can match them up to the things they want to do and see, once they are here and to match them up in advance so we can market directly to their desires based on the interest demographic that they fall under. Knowing who our potential visitors are most likely to be allows us to go directly to media channels that target their demographic. We do this for multiple channels of a variety of demographic content based on age, gender and interests.

This year we have promoted tourism to DeKalb based on our outdoor environment, easy to travel around in, easy to social distance and a relaxing, safe, outdoorsy place to be to get away from the tightly packed cities and come to the great outdoors. It has worked!

Despite the cancellation of almost all tourism related festivals and events for the year, we have managed to have an excellent June, July and August, primarily by targeting outdoor activities, camping, hiking, biking, kayaking and leisure time at a rental cabin, B&B, or campground.

We promoted keeping our messaging to fit the state requests of Covid-19 safety and good health practices.

We feel this month and next will be outstanding also. In reviewing our year to day numbers and our last fiscal year which ended on September 30th and our new one has begun; we have done quite well under the circumstances.

Statewide tourism has been down more significantly than us. Here is why: Our tourism business is almost entirely leisure tourism based. This means a smaller percentage are here as business or government travel, of which has almost been not existent this year. In addition, we are not a meetings and convention area. Locations such as Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile have a much larger loss of tourism this year than we do since more of their business comes from business, government and convention travel.

When is all said and done we will be down in 2020 due to an almost complete closing of the economy in March and April but I feel we will not be down more than 15% annualized. The cities I just mentioned are down year to date from 30% to 60% in dollars spent and lodging occupancy.

To see all the things to do and see in DeKalb County visit our website at www.visitlookoutmountain.com or call us at 256-845-3957.

— John Dersham is the president and CEO of DeKalb Tourism.

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