The city has seen steady tourism increases, and with a new marketing grant, hopes to expand the reach of event and attraction promoters.
Attraction and event organizers can receive $5 for every $1 spent in advertising through a new marketing grant from the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The bureau is awarding up to $20,000 in grants this year to promoters who are likely to "put heads into beds," said bureau director Jan Stevens. The 80/20 grants will award up to $1,600 in matching funds on a $2,000 marketing project.
The deadline to apply for the first half of the funding is April 30 for events occurring from that date through Oct. 31. The second round of funds will be awarded at the beginning of November for events taking place through April of next year. The grants will be awarded by the visitor's bureau advisory board.
Applicants will need to justify how the city's investment will benefit the community, Stevens said, and will be required to generate some simple data collection during the events.
The new grant program is a spiritual successor to the print grant program, which awards 50 percent in matching funds up to $500 from an annual bucket of $5,000. The new grant program will cover broadly print, digital, broadcast, promotional items and outdoor marketing campaigns.
With the print grant, which went toward printing costs and some other limited marketing tools, "the return on investment has been very good for us," Stevens said. The new grant has the goal of expanding what the print grant achieved while making it easier to tailor for the more diverse marketing environment.
Stevens also hopes the grant will encourage promoters to take a chance on broader advertising in the hope of drawing overnight stays. Overnight guests spend about three times as their day-tripping peers.
Conservatively, the state estimates that day trippers spend about $50 per person when visiting while overnight guests will spend $150.
The grant will come from the bureau's budget which is funded from the 8 percent transient guest tax, also known as the bed tax.
Tourism is the third largest industry by workforce in Kansas, Stevens said. Overnight stays were responsible for roughly $26.7 million in economic impact in 2011 according to a measure based on the bed tax.
In total, tourism, events, attractions, conventions and group events, like weddings, were responsible for an estimated $104 million economic impact in Ford County, Stevens said.
The annual economic impact of overnight visitors in Dodge City has been steadily rising since 2007 when it was estimated at $17.4 million under measure of bed tax. Growth in the Dodge City tourism industry had been stagnant from 2001 to 2007, bringing an estimated $15 million per year to the city.
In 2012, the estimated economic impact based on the bed tax was $34.5 million, but that number is likely an anomaly, Stevens said, due to the number of oil and gas and wind power workers in town that year. But once the 2013 numbers are compiled from raw data and complex formulae designed by the state, she said she wouldn't be surprised to see the impact as close to $30 million.
The steady increases were likely a result of the city's new, aggressive marketing campaigns, the construction of two new hotels and the opening of Boot Hill Casino in 2008 and 2009, Stevens said.
Dodge City is advertised as far away as German-speaking European countries and the United Kingdom. A recent entry in the guestbook at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Windhorst may be a testament to the Wild West's draw on the continent.
The stained glass and old world architecture "reminds us of home," wrote one visitor from Germany.
Later this year the city will host two groups of German bikers, one group for the upcoming Dodge City 300, and another who got sick of the same-ole-same-ole of a cruise down Route 66.
Another possible draw for European visitors: the legality of both guns and rodeos in the United States.
Those "leisure travelers" that take European-style month and more holidays are especially targeted, Stevens said.
Stevens says that marketing can be a bit "voodoo" and the hard numbers can be squishy, but despite the difficulty of marketing a city far from an interstate highway and a major airport, she says the order of the day is growth, which she believes she and her limited staff and budget have achieved.
A tally of the bed tax revenue agrees: from 2006 through 2011, it increased an average of $60,000 per year.