Compression as a Recovery Tool

By David Holder, Clarity of Place

One of the immediate impacts of COVID-related closures and gathering restrictions was the elimination of festivals, conferences, conventions, and athletic events.  From college tournaments to conventions to annual gatherings with long-standing traditions, event cancellations were a constant reminder of the impacts of the global pandemic.   These cancellations caused tremendous, unparalleled economic devastation, but the shockwaves from these cancellations reached beyond financial impacts. 

As destinations begin to regrow and reposition, the need and urgency to restore the presence of events as powerful economic drivers is palpable yet tempered by the lingering residuals from forced changes to gatherings.  Even as communities, convention centers, and event planners rush to return to past operations, the event itself will undergo substantial change to its overall operation.  Individual perceptions of safe spacing, cleanliness, virtual access, and organized efficiency through reservations are likely just some of the new expectations facing events.

Destinations have a role in planning, managing, and supporting needed revisions to events as the opportunity to build better community systems is a dynamic component of future.  The destination role can begin with helping community leaders, venue managers, business districts, and event planners make smarter decisions regarding when events take place, where these events are physically held, and how the events establish a more coherent connection to the overall brand promise and resulting image of the community.  To effectively accomplish this process, the destination requires a decision-making tool that helps guide overall perspective of activity and impact across the community.  That tool is compression mapping.

When Fort Collins, Colorado developed its destination master plan, it was already recognizing the need for reconfiguring events.  Knowing the process would be difficult, the City of Fort Collins, the Downtown Business Alliance, Colorado State University, and Visit Fort Collins were each identified as part of the implementation and support.  The disruption by COVID changed the dynamic of events and how this community would host, provide, and support events in the future.  Downtown would factor heavily into this revised perspective on events for a few reasons:

  • Escalating demand for holding downtown events pre-COVID was creating unrealistic demands on City resources;
  • Many downtown special events and festivals were not driving enhanced demand for overnight stays but merely adding to the list of possible activities in an already diverse mix of things to do;
  • Business and resident sentiments towards the multitude of downtown events was eroding based on frequency, attendee behavior, and a lack of walk-in traffic sparked from the event; and
  • The primary agency that helped to develop, manage, and host downtown events in Fort Collins, the Downtown Business Alliance, was forced into a COVID-closure as its fundamental revenue source was tied to the events it could no longer host.

With these factors and others at play, Fort Collins realized that the role of events would need to be drastically different as the demand for dates began to resurface.  Additionally, the opportunity for hosting conferences, meetings and sporting events would play a new role in the future as the Destination Master Planning process revealed an opportunity for developing more relationships across the community with individuals having connections to a variety of organizations that held meetings, small conferences, or youth tournaments.  As a bonus, each of these connections offered the opportunity to create a stronger tie for both talent recruitment and retention.

As a tool the concept of compression mapping provided a needed observation point for examining impacts from events across the calendar.  By lining up daily occupancy rates and RevPAR against events, public gatherings, tournaments, and conferences, Visit Fort Collins could see historically where there were major need periods, discrepancies in daily performance, or stacked events that could be better orchestrated across new date options.  In one such occurrence, Visit Fort Collins was able to inject a new decision point into an investment consideration for a large-scale youth conference that overlapped with significant region-wide multi-day event occurring in another city but providing considerable spillover business for Fort Collins hotels.

Compression mapping also allows Fort Collins to adopt and communicate a new set of measurable outcomes beyond room night production, even though compression mapping is essentially a room night production analysis tool.  The opportunity to shift the conversation towards days of impact and community-wide travel business volume provides a more meaningful metric for community members seeking to understand tourism volume.  Number of rooms consumed was considered less meanignful than volume of business generated. 

Compression mapping is a tool that will continue to evolve and change as destinations add additional information.  Inputs like weather, pricing deals, school holidays, and natural disasters all have a meaningful impact on event driven business and can be reflected within compression mapping.  Economic development partners can better understand travel business impacts and the relationships to the corporate community.

For Visit Fort Collins, the compression mapping will empower the destination organization to help the community make better choices and be more strategic in planning/hosting events. The win-win opportunity allows this city to better define how it wants events to help in recovery and provide the justification to pursue those changes.

About David:

David Holder co-founded Clarity of Place with a hands-on understanding of what destination leaders need to be successful. David translates community inputs into meaningful actions by interpreting needs into priorities.