One person’s opinion
January 27, 2014 City Council approved a motion to, “appoint Councillor Patricia MacQuarrie and Councillor Wayne Neilson to represent Council on a marketing focus group to promote the Manluk Centre.” The appointment came following concerns expressed by Council that there does not appear to be a marketing plan in place, especially considering how soon the facility will be opened. Kevin Lucas Director of Community Services for the City of Wetaskiwin responded that promotional materials were being prepared and used. Council responded that is not a marketing plan that is quantifiable; how many, how much, to whom and how will each strategy be measured.
Focus groups are a quicker method of collecting research data than surveys (qualitative vs quantitative). But, because focus groups are made up of a very small number of respondents, the caution to researchers is that individual responses are not statistically valid. Focus group data does not necessarily represent the views and perceptions of other groups not participating in the research.
February 10 – Council requested a marketing plan
Kevin Lucas stated at the February 10, 2014 meeting, “the focus group is set as a marketing initiative with the Manager of Edmonton Regional Tourism to prepare a marketing plan to be implemented after the opening of the Manluk Centre.” There was no mention of participation on the focus group by ethnic groups, the County, aboriginals, educators and other potential user groups.
Nor did the proposal suggest seeking of information from the operators of similar facilities such as the Grande Prairie Aquatic Centre seeking advice about what did, or did not work for them. The Grande Prairie Aquatic Centre was used as an example when the City began promoting the idea of building a similar facility in Wetaskiwin. The population of Grande Prairie was 55,032 in the 2011 census.
Keys to the Manluk Centre will be handed over to the City in May, 2014 followed by 3-4 weeks of staff training. The Grand Opening will take place in September, 2014. That doesn’t leave much time to conduct research and create an aggressive marketing plan that will entice thousands of new users to the Manluk Centre. Although marketing opportunities may have been missed since 2010, new opportunities must be explored, planned and implemented to help offset the increased capital and operational costs.
When the Aquatic Centre Business Plan was launched a couple years ago it stated actions such as: “It is proposed that there be an aggressive marketing plan that encompasses:
•flyers to all hotels/restaurants within a 120 km radius of Wetaskiwin.
•information included with tourism books.
•partnerships with Reynolds Alberta Museum and other tourist attractions.
While running an aggressive marketing plan we will also be peppering the swim community all over Alberta with WRAF information at summer/winter swim meets and conferences (Alberta Parks and Recreation Association and Alberta Recreation Facility Personal).”
But Council is right. The Marketing Plan that was presented by Administration does not contain key performance indicators to measure the effectiveness of the marketing that has been done to date, nor those already planned for the future.
Total operating costs will almost double from $517,635 in 2012 to $914,080 in 2014. It is also stated that revenue will only offset 40% of the operating costs.
The budget for construction of the Manluk Centre included a public fundraising component of $2,750,000 from sponsorships and public donations. Most of the sponsorships that have been acquired are pledged over a 5 to 10 year period or are gifts-in-kind. The City, facing a shortage of ‘cash’ to pay the bills is borrowing $2,450,000 to finance the campaign shortfall.
Based on the $2,450,000 borrowed and using the latest indicative interest rate of 2.97% the added cost in interest charges will be $400,000.
The Aquatic Centre is here to stay and we can’t change the fact that the Aquatic Centre will be a very expensive community service. The new Council, the ratepayers, the businesspeople, the elderly and the youth (for up to the next 30 years) all own this problem.
The first step for Council (Administration) is to unveil a current comprehensive financial summary of the Manluk Centre project that also includes projections for the future. People may not be happy but maybe they will become more understanding.
The new City Council is faced with a daunting, but not insurmountable task, of bringing the community together in support of the pool. It will require careful financial planning, a convincing communication plan and an effective marketing plan. It is imperative the City begin convincing the 12,000 residents of Wetaskiwin to become good ambassadors for the Manluk Centre.
Perhaps that will be the first strategy that will come out of the focus group study.