In an effort to make Owensboro a desirable tourist destination, county officials hired a secret shopper to evaluate seven attractions around the city.
Daviess County Fiscal Court used funds from the hotel tax to hire Boston-based Veneto Collaboratory to assess the potential tourist destinations.
The findings showed many areas of improvement needed across the city, but not all feedback was negative.
Joe Veneto, CEO of the consultant company, conducted his review of Owensboro in the spring, unknown to the seven destinations he visited. He released his findings to local officials Friday, prompting a meeting with tourism stakeholders.
“Mr. Veneto provided an unbiased, outside assessment of Daviess County,” said Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Mark Calitri, adding that the CVB is already implementing changes suggested in the report.
Fiscal Court Director of Legislative Services David Smith said the report gave county leaders a good view of the first-hand experience visitors undergo when visiting Owensboro — from hotel check-in to dining, to attractions.
“It gives us some ideas on how to improve our facilities and marketing,” Smith said. “The enthusiasm the report has created among local leaders about the future of tourism development will lead to some very quick changes to some of our local marketing, such as the addition of tourist information racks in our local hotels and attractions.”
Owensboro Times obtained the 18-page report summarizing Veneto’s findings, which focused on the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum, Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn, Owensboro Museum of Fine Art, Owensboro Museum of Science and History, O.Z. Tyler Kentucky Bourbon Distillery, RiverPark Center and Western Kentucky Botanical Gardens.
Although Veneto’s experiences were not all positive, he said with a lot of work and reevaluation, these destinations could have the potential to become tourism gems for Daviess County.
“The city must focus on the ongoing creation of quality attractions, restaurants and retail outlets in order to engage visitors, get them to stay longer, and spend more money,” Veneto said. “There are several local community-based attractions that do not currently have enough appeal to be tourism drivers.”
BLUEGRASS MUSIC HALL OF FAME & MUSEUM
Veneto said the hall of fame was a major tourism driver that would appeal to music lovers year-round.
While Veneto praised the hall of fame for its venue and employees, he deducted points for the museum’s lack of interactive displays overall and its presumption that most people who entered would be knowledgeable on the culture and history of bluegrass music.
Veneto recommended the museum forge relationships with the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville to bridge the two musical genres and create a professional relationship that would bring country music lovers to Owensboro to see the bluegrass museum.
Another noted problem was the lack of knowledge indicated by other downtown employees. Veneto stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown Owensboro/Waterfront during his trip and said both front-desk clerks either hadn’t been inside the museum or hadn’t seen the exhibits.
“The Hall of Fame needs to do a familiarization event for all sales and frontline staff at hotels, the convention center and downtown restaurants,” Veneto said. “This will convert locals into brand ambassadors who can recommend the Hall of Fame to locals and visitors.”
OWENSBORO MUSEUM OF FINE ART
The art museum received praise for several of its exhibits, including the Native American, Kentucky Collection and Joe Downing paintings gifted to the museum, but major points were deducted for the museum’s website and exhibit layout, as well as employees’ lack of knowledge and overall demeanor.
Veneto said he was followed by a museum associate for a large portion of his visit.
“I was the only person, other than staff, in the museum,” Veneto said. “After engaging with the associate in the Kentucky Collection, I was followed for the rest of my visit — a bit creepy.”
Another downfall of the museum was its website and social media presence.
OWENSBORO MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND HISTORY
Veneto said the OMSH was in need of much support and repair. He said the museum did not have engaging front desk workers, even receiving no response from the man when asked which exhibits were most worth seeing. He added, most exhibits in the museum did not include an introduction, lacked cohesion and were unmarked.
Veneto recommended the museum take note of the setup of the Wendell H. Ford Government Education Center, praising the exhibit for its engagement potential and layout. Veneto also said the Coal Mine Exhibit had the potential to reach a broad range of people, but when he asked to take a tour, the front desk worker said nobody was available as a guide.
“The overall condition of the museum is fair to poor,” Veneto wrote. “Many exhibits need refurbishment, especially exhibits that are not working.”
O.Z. TYLER DISTILLERY
O.Z. Tyler received good reviews overall from Veneto, based on his distillery tour and employees’ knowledge of the bourbon and distilling industries..
“We were able to get a taste of the two versions of liquor being produced. This was a great sensory experience,” he said.
Veneto also praised the distillery for its Facebook presence and reviews, as well as its gift shop. While the distillery could enhance its number of online reviews, Veneto said this could be accomplished by ramping up its social media strategy.
Large gaps between programs were one of the issues the RiverPark Center should look into, Veneto said. A stronger focus on utilizing programs and events for younger generations would be crucial to the performing arts center’s long-term success.
“Events and programs beyond traditional arts and cultural events should be considered,” he said. “Customer demographics are people in their 60s. This means the Center should focus on programming that will attract younger audiences.”
Veneto said the city, county and visitor’s bureau still need to focus on bringing more visitor-based attractions that have a broader appeal to attract more visitors to the city, and they also need to better leverage the destinations they currently have to increase tourism, even using these sites to create citywide festivals and events year-round.
“Mr. Veneto provided a lot of feedback,” Calitri said. “We want to make sure this report has a positive impact on our community.”
Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn and the Western Kentucky Botanical Garden was also visited by Veneto. His complete findings can be found here.