A Conversation with Jeff Hentz, CEO Port Aransas and Mustang Island Tourism
From natural disasters to political turmoil, how prepared is your tourism brand to handle the unexpected? Join the Slingshot /Explore team for an insightful look behind the scenes of Port Aransas’ remarkable comeback from one of the most destructive storms to hit the Texas coast in generations.
On this episode of the /Explore Podcast, Donnie and David talk with Jeff Hentz, CEO of Port Aransas and Mustang Island Tourism, about what it takes to bring a destination back from a disaster.
Your inventory is gone. Now what?
“Our lodging had gone from 4,200 rooms down to two or three hundred. The tough decision was when do we turn the marketing on, because you don’t want to spend that money when you can’t squeeze them into your lodging, and you end up filling up other destinations on your dollar.”
Making sure the timing is right
“A lot of folks who make the decision for where to go for the summer make those decisions in February or March, and we couldn’t be in the market then, because I wasn’t sure we were going to have any inventory open.”
“Once we turned on the advertising, it was like day and night, with website traffic and business flying in, and we had many days in town that were like the old times.”
Getting more out of a reduced budget
“Our budget this year is way down, because last year’s inventory never peaked above 50%, and so now last year is biting us this year, because this year’s budget is based off of last year’s revenue. Having our grant program underway is going to help us financially recoup some of these dollars.”
“If you don’t have enough inventory, you still have to keep the town busy. Day drives are not where we usually spend money, but we found a way to do it through social media, P.R., and strategic advertising without killing those dollars you really need to put into your overnight marketing. And we found the right balance. Our day drives went way up and it helped us tremendously.”
The importance of media relations in a crisis
“When we began our recovery, all I did was reach out to the media just to get the word out that we need help and you can help us. Then as we began to see that we would be able to get our first summer season in, we leveraged that media to get the word out that we’re open. You have to manage it to make sure they’re not getting the wrong message out. We had a lot of success making sure they position it in the right way.”
Back in business: how to change the narrative
Most places say ‘We’re open for business.’ We went with ‘We’re open for fun,’ and it really caught on because that’s what Port A is all about. We used that through the summer and fall. Then we started to pull it out of there, so as we launch the spring campaign, there’s going to be nothing related to (Hurricane) Harvey. I don’t think we need to keep playing that card, because it might create doubt.”
The keys to DMO disaster planning
“You’ve got put that emergency kit together, establishing who your partners are in the community, from all your non-profits, key city players, council members, regional and state officials, and create what I call my tree. You go to the media– who do you have that’s local, regional, state, and national? Then you determine, in the event of a disaster, is it about rebuilding, or is it more of an issue about reputation? Know your players and what role they play.”
Understanding who is truly invested in the community
“This was a wild card for me, understanding who is invested in the community, either as a business investment, or if they happen to have a second home there. I was amazed at the players were living in Port A or invested in Port A. And we found ways for them to get involved and help.”
What’s next for Port Aransas
“Boy, it’s exciting. This year it’s business as usual. Our core assets, the beach and fishing, are off the charts. We expect a great weather year… and folks are going to see a brand new Port A.”