When July 2020 rolled around and the majority of the world was just emerging from pandemic lockdown, Megan Buchbinder was starting a new job. To make things even more interesting, she was taking on the responsibility of marketing a city to visitors—all during a time of limited travel.
“It was a scary time for anyone in the hospitality industry,” she says. “Hotels and restaurants are still trying to come back with enough staffing. We’re funded through the city’s hotel licensing fees that are paid by visitors, so if nobody is staying in our hotels, our money is gone.”
Two years in, it’s obvious that Buchbinder was the right woman for the job. “In 2020 we had the worst year on record, obviously, from a hotel occupancy standpoint,” Buchbinder says. “But 2021 was a record-breaking year for us, and with the numbers from [2022 first quarter], we’re on pace to be record-breaking as well.”
When Buchbinder started her role, the Springfield CVB team applied for state and federal grants. Those dollars went toward marketing materials that promoted topics like safe travel and social distancing. “We were able to advertise when no one else was and gain some market share,” she says.
Several campaigns followed, including a “One Night on Us” promotion in which the CVB used a portion of grant funds to pay for one night of a guest’s two-night hotel stay. The CVB also partnered with the Springfield Hotel Lodging Association to host a $30,000 staff recruitment campaign for 417-land hotels and restaurants.
Next up, Buchbinder says, are big, regional goals, like defining Springfield’s role in the Ozarks. For example, visitors flock to Branson for live entertainment. People go to Northwest Arkansas for biking and hiking. “The question is, what’s our hook?” Buchbinder says. “Well, we have ‘baby hooks’ that bring people in, but we don’t have an identity yet. That’s part of my vision for the next 10 years.”
And that vision extends past city limits. “Visitors don’t see boundaries,” she says. “It’s not just about Springfield or Branson—it’s about branding this area as a whole.”