With the First Ever 20th Annual World's Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade approaching, Visit Hot Springs Director of Marketing Bill Solleder earlier this week presented a rundown of last year's marketing efforts and accomplishments and a sneak peak at this year's campaign.
"It takes a huge effort to put on a 98-foot parade," Mary Zunick, cultural affairs manager for VHS, said as she introduced Solleder's presentation Wednesday to members of the Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club.
"It sounds like it might be easy, but it takes a fair bit of planning to keep that going for 20 years."
Video not playing? Click here https://www.youtube.com/embed/M8nozrjE8ug
"Everything that you may see, television, radio, social media, newspapers, billboards at one point, is going to come across my desk," Solleder told the members. "So, that's my job is to promote Hot Springs and to just basically invite people to come to Hot Springs to spend all or most of their money here, and then go home to Texas or Memphis or St. Louis or wherever they're from."
Solleder said he got "two great emails" on Tuesday, noting, "Forbes said that the Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade here is one of the best in the world. And then Thrillist also, (Tuesday) said (it was) one of the best in the world, up there with Boston and Chicago."
Solleder started his presentation with a recap of Visit Hot Springs' accomplishments for 2022, noting its partnership with CJRW in Little Rock and Sixty One Celsius.
"When I came on about seven years ago, I brought an in-house effort to the marketing efforts of Hot Springs," he said. "In other words, I started to assemble a staff and restructure Visit Hot Springs, so that we could market ourselves from Hot Springs, instead of sending everything to Little Rock with CJRW.
"During the pandemic, we could no longer invite people to Hot Springs. You know, we just weren't doing that. Tourism was off. And as it came back, we could have asked the state agency to create a campaign for us, which would have cost an exuberant amount of money and time to make that happen. And we were weary that we were going to then have to turn off the messaging again because the pandemic was underway."
So, Solleder and his team created an inexpensive, in-house campaign, even using models from Hot Springs, he said. This way, VHS had the ability to turn the ads on or off, depending on the state of the pandemic.
All of its social media and websites are managed in-house, with a presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and TikTok, and more than 134,000 followers on those platforms, he said.
During 2022, 1.2 million people visited hotsprings.org, Solleder said, noting VHS also manages the World's Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade website, as well as websites for other special events and attractions, including Spa-Con, the Northwoods Trails, Majestic Park and the eclipse in 2024.
Last year, the convention center hosted 222 events in the building, resulting in more than $18 million in spending "directly related to the convention center," Solleder said.
Majestic Park hosted 2022 games last year, and the Northwoods saw more than 60,000 bikers and hikers.
Out of more than 120,000 visitors to the downtown visitors center last year, 49 states were represented, only missing North Dakota, Solleder said. There were visitors representing 31 different countries, as well.
"We used to just advertise to the touch states," he said. "Now, they're coming from all over the world to visit Hot Springs National Park."
VHS has now started expanding its advertising market to a wider area, including St. Louis, Nashville, New Orleans and Houston, he said.
In 2022, $9.1 million was collected for the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission, which operates Visit Hot Springs, up 14% from 2021's $7.4 million, Solleder said. After such a successful year for tourism, Solleder also shared some of his plans for 2023's campaigns.
"The idea, this year for '23, is to be upbeat, be colorful, be exciting," he said. "The state of Arkansas is really resting their laurels on outdoor recreation, which I love too. But, they're doing these big sweeping outdoor things. It's casual and cool and kinda laid back.
"We wanted to stand out in the state of Arkansas, so our idea, let's give it to them. Let's give them lots of energy."