Door County Connections Marketing Doesn’t Make

Since writing the article in last week’s Peninsula Pulse about the increase in room tax returns and camping rates through June, I’ve spoken to several more business owners to get their take on the season thus far.

One prominent restaurant owner said her numbers were a little down, especially bar business, from last year. But she added that 2009 was way up from 2008, so the drop isn’t as dramatic as it might appear.

Another retailer said people still don’t seem to be spending like they used to, and wondered whether we’re attracting the right kind of visitor. But in today’s economy, it’s doubtful that any segment of possible visitors is spending like the salad days of the late 1990s or even the mid-aughts.

But one of the most interesting insights came from Josh Kropuenske, who owns Baileys Grove Travel Park and Campground just down the street from the Pulse offices.

“I was really surprised by the number of unemployed visitors we had last summer,” Kropuenske said, not what you normally hear in a conversation about vacationers. “But they already owned the truck, already owned the RV and camping gear, so it really didn’t cost them much more to come up.”

We already knew camping was on the rise (though subject to weather fluctuations), and that in many cases campers have less disposable income to spread around. But if many of them are squeezing dollars just to get a few days away, as Kropuenske’s observation indicates, we have another big piece to the puzzle that tells us why spending is down even when overnight stays are up.

Now, there are some who might argue that we should skew our marketing away from this “light-spending” segment, but seeing camping numbers rise gives me hope for a growing base down the road. Camping introduces people to Door County. It provides young families with an opportunity to enjoy the peninsula, and it creates connections.

One of the most telling conversations I overheard this summer came in a grocery store check-out line. A father, whose daughter – maybe 5 – bounced around the candy rack nearby, told the checker that he was staying in Peninsula State Park.

“Oh, that’s a wonderful park isn’t it?” the checker said.

“Yeah it is,” the father responded as he counted his bills, one eye on his little girl. “My parents took me there all the time when I was a kid. Now I’m taking her to show her what the old man used to do.”

Marketing is great, but it doesn’t do that.