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Letter: ACVA’s Fruit Salad

To the Editor:

Old Town Alexandria is not the same market as The City of Alexandria. Tourism ads for Old Town are not all tested before reaching the world. Tourism and advertising study results are mixed together to make good PR, but create a poor basis for decision making – of any kind. These are a few of the difficulties with ACVA’s recent presentations of how tourism benefits Alexandria. It compares apples and oranges and ends in making mixed fruit salad.

Most alarming is the complete mismatch of how the advertising showcasing historic Old Town – with its distinctive and strong image of authenticity, history, charming houses-gardens-river parks, restaurants and retail experiences – is characterized as being fully responsible for generating the large numbers for “visitor spending”, “taxes”, “local jobs” etc. In fact, it is not the advertising featuring, small historic Old Town, that creates the $627 million in spending, $22 million in taxes, and 6,000 jobs --- those study numbers belong to the City of Alexandria. The City of Alexandria is 15.2 square miles and the densest city in Virginia. It includes 50 hotels. Old Town is only 1.4 square miles, is less dense because of its unique architecture, and bears 7 hotels, which as an ACVA study shows are often used by residents’ visiting family members.

There is limited understanding of what Old Town ads actually do for the City’s roughly seven distinctive market areas. Think about Del Ray. What would be exceptionally useful would be a rigorous analysis of the 800,000 visits to the tourism website, especially as web visits are expected to exponentially grow. Tracking visitor travel through the site can show what interests visitors, how long they spend in each place, even where they come from. Google analytics can open up a wide world of numbers to identify special travel marketing segments for more targeted spending and ad placement. Is there an opportunity here?

Let’s not spend a lot of time and money doing this - it’s an in-house job. But let’s get our story straight, please. And above all talk to the residents much more — test the ads before the tearsheets go out — as each tourism study highly recommends. As we all know, “Charm-ville” has long belonged to Baltimore.

Kathryn Papp