By KERRY SMITH, Editor, St. Louis Construction News & Review
Nearly 100 members and guests of Urban Land Institute St. Louis gathered in the historic Magnolia St. Louis boutique hotel March 8th to hear a message of how crucial civic pride is in attracting business, investment and visitors to The Gateway City.
The organization, whose mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating sustaining, thriving communities, convened a panel Thursday morning to talk through St. Louis’ strongest development-related assets. Of the list they articulated, a less conventional one rose to the top: civic pride.
Kitty Ratcliffe, president of Explore St. Louis – formerly known as the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission – said messaging coming from the mouths of those working on the front lines of the hospitality industry have the ability to influence site selectors, developers, investors and convention venue scouts as to whether or not they seriously consider St. Louis. Ratcliffe said the convention and visitors commission formed a nonprofit educational entity, St. Louis Civic Pride Foundation, in 2013 to “create a culture of confidence and competitiveness among St. Louis area residents” to propel the city’s growth. At Thursday’s panel discussion, Ratcliffe said equipping local hospitality industry workers with the same plusses about their city is every bit as critical.
“We all know what a great community this is and how much we love it,” said Ratcliffe. However, five years ago we formed the foundation because we felt that our own people were in some way, shape or form our worst enemies in selling St. Louis as a destination.”
Back then, despite a vibrant destination-driven ad campaign in cities such as Washington D.C. and Chicago that drew prospects to visit St. Louis, Ratcliffe said too many of these leads were met in cabs, at hotel front desks, at St. Louis restaurants and elsewhere with less-than-stellar messaging from the city’s own.
“Clients would come in, take a cab from the airport and check in at the front desk and they were met with responses such as, ‘Why would you look here? Why would you want to choose St. Louis?’ With support from local corporations, our foundation has now trained more than 1,000 cab drivers, hundreds of hotel workers and a great number of others working in the St. Louis hospitality sector how to respond with what’s great about St. Louis,” she added. “We absolutely have to train and encourage people in our community to be evangelists for our community. It has to start from the inside out.”
Robert O’Loughlin, a fellow panelist at the ULI St. Louis event, is chairman and CEO of Lodging Hospitality Management, which owns 20 hotels across the St. Louis metro area. O’Loughlin agreed.
“You can’t go out and sell prospects on coming to a particular area until you first sell your own people on it,” O’Loughlin said. “It has to start from the ground up, from the inside out. When employees feel good about where they’re at, visitors and prospects will hear a very sincere story.”