The question of whether the Abilene Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Abilene Area Chamber of Commerce should combine in some form or another is making the rounds again.
James Holland, chamber executive director, told members of the CVB Advisory Board on Tuesday the chamber board adopted a motion advising him to talk with City of Abilene officials about the “efficiencies to be gained with a more formal cooperation” between the organizations. At this time, the Chamber has no specific proposal, but is seeking input from stakeholders, he said.
City Manager David Dillner, Vice Mayor Tim Shafer (in the absence of Mayor Dee Marshall), Chamber Vice Chairman Todd Moore and Holland already met to discuss the issue. “I think there was a tepid interest in visiting the issue and talking about it,” Holland said.
When asked for their opinion, CVB members felt the organizations should remain separate.
Board member Jeff Sheets, Dickinson County Historical Society director, said he’s expressed the same concern the “last four, five or six times the topic has come up.” The Chamber is a member-based board, while CVB is the promotional arm of the city, designed to draw people into Abilene to visit motels, restaurants and attractions, he said. If the groups were combined, he wonders if non-chamber members would be left out of CVB promotions. “That’s one of those issues that’s never been answered satisfactorily,” he said.
Board member William Snyder, Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum curator, said it’s likely the two groups sometimes overlap and a MOA (Memorandum of Agreement) might help both be more efficient and save money. “But in terms of one organization over top of the other, that doesn’t really seem to address the needs of this community as well as it could,” Snyder said, “simply because you are marketing to different audiences.”
Interim CVB Director Glenda Purkis said she worked for chambers in other cities that did handle tourism. Yet, she feels it wouldn’t work in Abilene because of the large number of tourist attractions. “It takes a full-time person to be tourism director and do marketing,” she said.
In Atchison, where she was chamber president/chief executive officer and economic development director for Atchison County, Purkis had seven full-time employees who handled the chamber, economic development, retail and tourism.
“We had two or three employees in each area. In tourism, we had four or five employees. It takes more than one or two people,” Purkis said. “With as many attractions and artisan shops as Abilene has to promote, it needs to be done well.”
Purkis recalled a marketing study the City of Abilene did when she first came to town as CVB director. “I remember them saying the tourist wants to know what all the restaurants are, all the attractions, all the lodging facilities. They don’t want chamber members only,” Purkis said.
Even if a chamber works to market all businesses, Purkis said she thinks it’s likely at some point a paying chamber member will demand to know why their competition — who didn’t pay a dime — also is being promoted.
Purkis said this is the third time the topic of combining the chamber has come up in the eight years she’s lived in Abilene. “Every time there’s a switch in one position or another, it seems to come up,” she said. “But if there’s a way to improve both at the same time, then I’m all for improving.”