Tourism Agency Strategy Shifts as Virus Cancels Events

    • Palm Springs CVB is working to mitigate the loss of an event driving $400 million in economic impact.
    • A new marketing campaign will target markets within driving distance for tourism.

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As the greater Palm Springs area is reeling from the cancellation of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, the tourism industry is taking a proactive approach.

The tennis tournament was the first of now many sporting events to cancel, close to fans or postpone in the wake of the coronavirus, which is now officially a pandemic according to the World Health Organization. 

BNP Paribas was expected to bring more than $400 million in economic impact to the Palm Springs area, a figure the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau hopes to mitigate, Colleen Pace, the bureau’s chief sales and marketing officer said. The 2019 tournament drew more than 475,000 spectators.

“We’re definitely encouraging people who had plans to come anyway,” Pace said. “This is the time of year when it’s the most beautiful and highest demand. This is a very popular place to come this time of year. We’re optimistic with some messaging that we’re pushing out. We want to mitigate any hotel loss and keep tourism alive and well.”

In the greater Palm Springs area, one in four workers is employed in a tourism-related job, according to Pace. 

To help offset the potential drop in tourism from the canceled tennis tournament and postponed Coachella, Palm Springs will roll out a “pretty robust” marketing campaign targeted to the markets within driving distance, including Los Angeles and Orange County, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. 

“We’re trying to be proactive and adding marketing to that drive market,” Pace said. “We know people might be changing their spring plans to other destinations, and thinking a spring getaway might still be appealing.”

Pace declined to speculate on the potential economic impact from the tournament’s cancellation but said those numbers would be known following the two-week period it was set to take place.

Palm Springs’ choice to rethink the people coming to town could pay off, Dave Schwartz, a gaming and tourism expert at UNLV, said.

“It could be a way to mitigate the fly-in tourism, and they definitely want to be adaptable,” Schwartz said.

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Sporting and entertainment events across the globe are in a fluid state as officials from governments and organizations continue to learn about the virus. With choices like the NCAA decided to close NCAA Tournament games to fans, millions in tourism dollars could be lost.

What the potential tourism dollars lost from the loss of sporting events mean to the overall economy won’t likely be known for months.

“It’s still a bit too early to tell how big of an impact on tourism this will have, but obviously, if there are events being canceled, those will have an effect,” Schwartz said. “Right now, you don’t know what’s happening one moment to the next, it’s fluid.”

As for Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and the Stagecoach Country Music Festival, Pace said the best-case scenario is postponement to October, which is also a desirable time to be in the California desert community.

“When Desert Trip was here in October 2016, that was the best October we’d seen on record,” she said. “We know the hotels are encouraged, that’s a strong month.”