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Businesspeople of the Year
The Kalispell Convention & Visitors Bureau brings millions of dollars and thousands of people to the Flathead Valley
The Kalispell Convention & Visitor Bureau’s Director Diane Medler, right, and Group Sales Manager Rob Brisendine. - Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon
Three years ago, the Kalispell Convention and Visitors Bureau established itself with the goal of making Kalispell a leisure travel and meeting destination.

While that is typically the goal of any such organization, the KCVB had an interesting challenge – and opportunity – when it came to Kalispell: How do you put a city that’s literally been on the map since 1891, on the map in a way that attracts modern travelers but also adheres to its roots?

Diane Medler, the KCVB director, and Rob Brisendine, the bureau’s group sales manager, believe they’ve found the answer to that question.

In the time since the KCVB started up in August 2010, it has been responsible for bringing some of the biggest and fastest growing events to the Flathead Valley. These include the Montana Dragon Boat Festival, the Spartan Race, and the upcoming Montana Pond Hockey Classic.

These three events, two of which have been responsible for drawing thousands of people to the valley for multiple-day stays, are part of the KCVB’s goal of establishing four signature events in the Flathead that take place outside of the busy summer tourism season. The fourth event has yet to be determined.

Through such events, which reinforce the natural beauty of the area and offer creative and adventurous sporting opportunities, the KCVB hopes to attract a market of people to Kalispell who might otherwise not think of visiting or holding a conference here.
“It’s about what these events bring to our community,” Brisendine said.

Medler continued, “These events help to really create a strong incentive to come here.”

So far, the idea has proven its worth. The 2013 Montana Dragon Boat Festival – the event’s second year – included two days of racing with more than 8,000 people attending, including 93 teams from all over North America.

According to data compiled by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana, the festival had an economic impact of nearly $2,050,000; the mean-average group size was 7.52; and nearly half of the attendees surveyed spent an average of 4.4 nights away from home for the festival.

The Montana Spartan Race, an outdoor obstacle race held for the first time last May, had $1,147,612 of economic impact in the Flathead Valley, with 64 percent of the participants and spectators coming from out of the local market and 98 percent of them experiencing overall event satisfaction and the assurance that they would return.

Already, roughly 2,600 people have signed up for the 2014 Spartan Race, to be held on May 10 at the Flathead Lake Lodge. Brisendine said another day may be added for more experienced racers.

Brisendine said the upcoming pond hockey tournament, scheduled for Feb. 21-23, should have more than 50 teams, with 80 percent of them coming from out of market.

Such major events also catch media attention in markets the KCVB couldn’t otherwise afford, Medler noted. For instance, the dragon boat festival was featured in the Chicago Tribune as a September event to watch.

“It’s a very effective way to get information in front of those folks,” Brisendine said. “We really want to present Kalispell as one of the top adventure destinations in the world.”

And that has been part of the KCVB’s evolving marketing plan. As a relatively new organization, the three-person team – including visitor service specialist Vonnie Day – has had the opportunity to create its own vision.

“We could start from scratch because Kalispell has never had its own branding,” Medler said.

The current branding idea is “Discovery in Every Direction,” establishing Kalispell as the epicenter of outdoor and cultural excursions that take place throughout the Flathead.

It’s about promoting Kalispell, but also about acknowledging how much the other communities in the valley have to offer as well.

“All the surrounding communities are great, and we embrace that,” Brisendine said.

The fact that the KCVB’s signature events don’t actually take place in Kalispell fits in with the Discovery in Every Direction branding plan, Medler said. The dragon boat festival is located on Flathead Lake, which is 15 minutes from Kalispell; pond hockey will be played on Foys Lake, just five minutes outside of town.

The discoveries are not just outdoor sporting events, Medler said. The KCVB also promotes cultural and historical discoveries, as well as the warm and welcoming community here.

“We provide that mix, a good balance for a vacation,” she said.

The KCVB is funded through local bed taxes and the Kalispell Tourism Business Improvement District, so it would make sense that the organization would want to promote events that boost hotel occupancy in historically lean times, Medler said.

Holding the pond hockey tournament in February could do wonders for the local hotels, she noted, but it will also spill over into restaurants, shops and other businesses catering to visitors.

Statewide, bed tax revenues increased by 4 percent for the third quarter of the year over 2012, and there was a 5 percent overall increase from January through September in 2013 compared to the previous year, according to the state Department of Revenue.

In Flathead County, bed tax revenues for the third quarter – from July 1 through Sept. 30 – were the highest they’ve ever been, hitting $1,720,408, a 9 percent increase over 2012.

Through September, Flathead County bed tax revenues totaled $2,690,961, about $31,000 shy of 2012’s entire year collection.

Brisendine and Medler said they are optimistic about the steady increases in hotel occupancy and tourism in the area, and they hope it will transfer to more increases in the convention and meeting arena as well.

Meetings and conventions slowed considerably during the recession, Brisendine said, but they look to be picking up again. The KCVB has been working to put Kalispell in the minds of meeting and convention organizers looking for a spot for their regional or state gatherings.

“Kalispell has not been on the radar for that (in the past),” Brisendine said. “Now we see that continuing to build.”

The KCVB has also embraced social media, and has put together a YouTube video called “Kalispell Montana, Discovery in Every Direction.” So far, the video has about 30,000 views.

With only a three-person team and major events coming up, such as the high school rodeo finals to be held at the Majestic Valley Arena from June 3-8, the KCVB hasn’t had the time to figure out what it’s fourth signature event will be.

“We’ve set the bar kind of high, so we’ve got to be confident about what we’re bringing in,” Brisendine said.

With that in mind, along with a few dozen other ideas, the KCVB has a big year coming up, much to Brisendine and Medler’s pleasure.

“It’s been a busy three years,” Medler said.
On 01-02-14, craigrc commented....
that’s nice,how bout good paying jobs,all service industry to these events,a couple of million,open the woods back up and get some fulltiome empolyment and good paying jobs,i can count on the one hand the people and families that benifited greatly from the tourism dollars these events benifited
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