By Renee Graham, Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau (2003)
The Katy Trail is a 185-mile rails-to-trails conversion of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas-Railroad (nick-named the KATY). The Missouri Department of Natural Resources was able to acquire the right-of-way after Congress passed the National Trails System Act allowing railroad corridors to be banked for future transportation use and used on an interim basis for recreational trails.
Construction of two pilot sections of the trail began in the early 1990's, but suffered extensive damage during the Flood of 1993, and additional flooding in 1995. In 1996, ten years after the MKT Railroad stopped running between St. Charles and Sedalia, the Katy Trail State Park was officially dedicated. Today, the Katy Trail is operated by the state park system which manages a total of 79 state parks and historic sites. The Katy Trail is part of the American Discovery Trail and a portion of the trail has been officially designated as part of the Lewis & Clark Heritage Trail.
The Katy Trail nearly spans the entire state as it meanders through a variety of Missouri landscapes including forests, open pastures and wetlands. Much of the trail follows along the Missouri River and is well known for the impressive limestone bluffs that tower over the trail. The trail rarely exceeds a 5% grade and is covered with finely crushed, compacted limestone gravel. This makes the trail a prime recreational area for walkers and joggers. Wheelchairs and non-motorized bikes fare equally well on the trail.
KATY Central is a cooperative marketing project developed by eight communities along the central corridor of the Katy Trail State Park. Early on, the Mid-Missouri towns of Sedalia, Arrow Rock, Boonville, Rocheport, Columbia, Jefferson City, Callaway County and Hermann discovered that visitors to the area often stopped at multiple communities. As the Katy Trail developed, it became apparent that the communities could benefit from combining resources to provide information to existing trail users and to attract new visitors to the trail. This program allows the partners to pass visitors from one community to the next and encourage longer stays in the Central Missouri area.
The Katy Central Partners: Missouri Division of Tourism, Sedalia, Arrow Rock, Boonville, Rocheport, Columbia, Jefferson City, Callaway County and Hermann.
In 1993, the Missouri Tourism Industry joined forces to educate the Missouri Legislature on the importance of secure funding for the Missouri Division of Tourism. Legislation was passed to provide a performance-based funding program that receives a percentage of growth in tourism related tax revenues. With secured funding, the Division of Tourism was able to establish an industry partnership to fund quality promotion projects that would attract new visitors to the state, nurture regional cooperation and encourage sound marketing decisions based on research.
This joint partnership program allows qualified, non-profit, Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) to apply for cooperative funding for tourism promotion, advertising and marketing research such as economic impact or advertising conversion studies. The Cooperative Marketing Program uses a reimbursement method of payment not to exceed more than 50% of the total project cost.
The KATY Central partners applied first applied for funding in 1998. The 1999 project is just winding down, and funds for 2000 have been applied for and will begin next month if approved.
The KATY Central Partnership is based on the participating communities' ability to pay. A village such as Hartsburg with a small population and a volunteer merchants association is different from a city such as Columbia which has over 75,000 people and is represented by a Convention & Visitors Bureau. In order to be an official applicant, the Missouri Division of Tourism requires a variety of criteria to qualify as a DMO. Therefore, some of our partners contribute to costs that are not eligible for coop funding such as fulfillment postage and advertising in publications that are ineligible for coop funding. (Example: The Missouri Travel Guide is ineligible for coop funding, as it is published by the Missouri Division of Tourism.)
This project is designed to promote the Katy Trail communities to active outdoor enthusiasts who are primarily educated, professional, dual-income adult couples, empty nesters and families, from surrounding Midwestern states plus Kansas City and St. Louis metropolitan areas.
Research by the Missouri Division of Tourism shows that people are interested in Missouri for outdoor activities and they are looking for two - four day getaways. The Katy Trail offers visitors a unique opportunity to travel from nearly one side of the state to the other on a continuous bike trail. If they do not ride the entire trail, many are likely to take short hikes or rides on the trail combined with site-seeing or antique shopping in the communities along the trail. Even by car, it is nearly impossible for visitors to fully explore KATY Central communities without spending at least a night or two. When traveling by bike, the average number of overnights greatly increases. Since the weather can be mild anytime of the year, the trail can be the perfect getaway on a warm weekend in January or a cool weekend in July. Serious bicycling enthusiasts actually prefer off-season trips when the trail is less crowded.
The Missouri Division of Tourism has declared outdoors to be the state's positioning in the tourism market with the concept of rivers used to create a trademark image. The goal is that when potential visitors think Missouri, they will immediately think of rivers and their reaction will be that Missouri is a great place for outdoor activities. Promoting KATY Central, the central corridor of the Katy Trail, is a perfect fit! It teams bicycling and hiking, popular, family-oriented outdoor activities with an immensely popular trail that primarily runs along the Missouri River.
As a combined group serving as a single destination, KATY Central offers many features that Missouri Division of Tourism's research shows score high on traveler intercept studies including: History, Scenic Beauty, Unique Shopping, Festivals, Economic Value, Midwestern Hospitality, Diversity, and Small Town America with easy access to Big City Attractions.
KATY Central also follows one of the original intents of the Coop Marketing Program which is the creation of regional partnerships that will encourage visitors to stay longer and spend more money in the state. This project equally benefits both small and large trail communities. There are other compelling reasons to continue promoting KATY Central. The Missouri Division of Tourism was involved in the filming of a PBS documentary about the Katy Trail. The Division is also promoting the Lewis and Clark Trail's Bicentennial. Since a significant portion of the central corridor of the Katy Trail has been recognized as an official section of the Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail, the area will benefit from increased national and international awareness. The industry needs to be prepared to handle visitor requests and find ways to encourage the visitors to discover sections of the trail firsthand.
What can be learned from the first round of KATY Central Research?
The first study was conducted as part of the FY 1998 project. Conducted in the spring of 1998, this first project collected information from a limited conversion study conducted by the University of Missouri - Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department.
In the 1998 coop program, KATY Central dedicated a significant portion of the project to creating a four color brochure, limited advertising in targeted markets and set up costs for toll-free advertising and fulfillment pieces. The 1999 overall program cost less due to fewer start-up costs, but a larger total was spent on advertising and research.
The FY 2000 application has been carefully planned to provide quality, comprehensive, marketing-based trail research which began with the FY 98 conversion study and is continuing with the FY 99 project. The revised KATY Central brochure will include a survey form. The 800# and mail fulfillment services, will continue to track how many phone and mail inquiries are received each week. The dedicated answering service will gather information from callers such as which ad generated their call and when they are most likely to travel to the area. The project will receive information about people who requested our guide via our website request form which will track addresses, how many people the inquirer would likely travel with and whether they would travel with other adults, children or both.
The mailing service will create and maintain a database of addresses and phone numbers on each inquiry generated by our web site and print advertising. This database will be used by the researchers contracted to do a customized conversion study near the end of the program. With a third year of continuous research we will be able to provide a definitive look at the effectiveness of the KATY Central marketing project.
Revisions to the KATY Central brochure will begin July 1, 1999 with a printing date of late September 1999. Some advertising will begin in September 1999 with the majority of advertising to occur in the Fall of 1999 and Spring of 2000. Support services such as fulfillment, website advertising and 800 service will run throughout the project year, July 1999 - June 2000. Research will occur throughout the year, with the bulk of work done after May 2000. A preliminary research report will be submitted with final expense request in late June 2000. Final analysis will be completed by December 1, 2000.
Initial Media Selection (May have some changes due to alterations in publications)
Other components of the project:
I. A dedicated 800 answering service to track exactly what ads generated inquiries and obtain very basic caller information.
II. A survey to accompany our request for information form on our website and a new survey included in the brochure.
III. A conversion study to determine actual visits based on a cross-sample of inquiries.
-- Brochure revisions, expansion (including detachable survey) and reprint of guide.
Katy Central Advertising Expenditures:
This project is truly a collaborative effort of communities. As the only private-sector guide to the central corridor of the Katy Trail, the KATY Central guide features information on each of the participating communities, and includes much needed visitor information such as B&B's, hotels and campgrounds in each area. The guide also lists contacts, addresses phone numbers and websites for each partnering community.
Small towns along the trail enjoy marketing exposure from this project that they would never be able to afford on their own. Larger cities are working to promote the entire section of the trail because it benefits all of us to increase the visitor base instead of narrowly focusing on existing market share.
The research component of the project alone represents one of the greatest opportunities for the Missouri tourism industry to track the economic impact of the Katy Trail State Park. Few, if any other, projects in the country combine this program's level of tourism marketing, multi-community partnership and research.