Scott County’s four big entertainment attractions and the cities of Prior Lake and Shakopee are launching a campaign to boost tourism, and the new brand is to be announced this week.
“RiverSouth, Land of Big Fun” is a moniker they hope will resonate like the North Shore or Wisconsin Dells.
Canterbury Park, Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, Valleyfair and the Renaissance Festival already draw more than 10 million visitors a year, according to representatives of the venues.
But they believe that, working together, that number could rise — with more spending spilling over to other area merchants.
Despite the large attractions, Scott County ranks sixth in the metro area — behind Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota, Anoka and Washington counties — in tourism spending and employment, according to Explore Minnesota, the state tourism office.
Valleyfair General Manager Dave Frazier said there’s no formal market research, but the entertainment venues believe most people now come to the area for an in-and-out visit to a single destination.
“I don’t think people have tied this whole area together,” he said.
Randy Sampson, president and CEO of Canterbury Park, agrees. “We think that by jointly making people think about ‘RiverSouth’ when they come to Canterbury for a day at the races, they’ll look at other options.”
The initiative is an extension of a deal struck two years ago by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, owners of Mystic Lake, and Canterbury, that both agree has been a success.
Under that agreement, Canterbury dropped plans to add video slot machines that could have eroded business at Mystic Lake. In return, the tribe agreed to pay tens of millions to boost track winnings at Canterbury over the next decade.
The purse enrichment deal has boosted attendance, the amount of money wagered and the number of horses racing at Canterbury.
In 2013 nearly 460,000 people came to the track, up more than 12 percent from 2012, and the track set a record for average daily attendance. Sampson said Canterbury had to turn down people wanting to race there because it ran out of stalls.
Results so far this year are even with 2013 despite heavy rains that forced the track to cancel some races and flooding that temporarily closed the Hwy. 101 bridge, Sampson said.
Canterbury and the tribe also have begun working together to strengthen each other’s business while fending off attempts to expand gambling elsewhere in the metro area. In addition to the loyalty programs, a trolley shuttles guests between the track and the casino during race season.
Representatives of the venues and cities began meeting last spring to come up with a unified brand name. “There were a number of different versions, all trying to give a sense of geography and what’s available here,” Sampson said.
In the end, the partners were unanimous on the name and the straightforward logo, which mimics a green highway sign, he added.
The first phase of the collaboration includes a joint website, www.RiverSouthMN.com, that will be promoted on each of the entertainment venues’ websites. The partners also will market the brand through direct mail and e-mails to existing customers.
The second phase of the campaign, which the group will begin planning within the next few months, will include additional proactive, brand-specific promotions. This may include social media, joint ad buys and billboards.
The partners have learned a lot about one another during the planning process, helping them in the ongoing effort to promote each other, Frazier said.
Although eager to capture more business from out-of-town visitors, Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke said the “staycation” market of local customers will be a prime target.
“This can bring more focus to our area, letting people know there’s a little bit of everything,” he said.
Not alone in the metro
This type of collaboration is becoming more common across the metro area, with highly-localized efforts by communities to promote tourism.
Leaders of 14 west metro cities began working together this year to rebrand their area, revamping attractions near Lake Minnetonka and possibly creating a scenic byway around the lake.
St. Paul’s convention and visitors bureau recently began sending a mobile tourism booth to other communities to promote itself as a destination with attractions that include brewpubs, museums and minor league baseball.
Said Canterbury’s Sampson:
“We think there’s an opportunity, with that family thinking of driving out to Rapid City [S.D.] or the Wisconsin Dells, those kinds of regional trips. How do we get that family from Anoka or Stillwater to think ,‘Why do we have to drive all that way?’ and come here, get a hotel room and spend a few days.”