Billings Chamber seeks to promote entire Custer Country region

By John Brewer, President of Billings Chamber of Commerce

  It has been a turbulent time for tourism promotion in Southeastern Montana’s Custer Country. We are all residents in this beautiful part of the country and want to see it succeed. Uniting and working together to develop a strong organization to lead economic prosperity via tourism promotion is the goal for many of us.

Recently the State of Montana revoked its contract with the board managing this tourism region based out of Forsyth. This occurred due to “egregious improprieties” according to the attorney generals office. As it stands right now, the future of tourism marketing of this region, which includes your community, is undecided. 
The Billings Chamber of Commerce/Convention & Visitors Bureau agreed to pursue this “Request for Proposals” (RFP) from the State following much deliberation. One of the deciding factors was a desire to unite urban and rural areas, and to eliminate the perception that Billings will only “take care of its own.” We understand that for Billings to succeed all of Custer Country must be successful. The Chamber/CVB’s process will be completely transparent. The Board of Directors for the Billings Chamber/CVB recently passed this resolution:
The Billings Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors, recognizing common goals and interests in the promotion, marketing and selling of room nights within the Custer Country Montana Tourism Region, voted on this day, June 30, 2010 to pursue the opportunity of managing the Custer Country Tourism Region. 
There is a mutual desire to maximize opportunities and resources and to minimize administrative expense to effectively market southeastern Montana (its 13 counties and two Indian Reservations) to visitors. 
Upon being awarded the contract, it is proposed that the Billings Chamber/CVB work with stakeholders throughout Custer Country to develop a separate 501 c6 that would be a distinct and independent entity. The ChamberCVB would then enter into an agreement with the new 501 C6 to manage the tourism region.
What does all this mean if Billings receives the contract to promote tourism in Southeastern Monatna?
• An independent board would be appointed from each of the 13 counties and two Indian Reservations in Custer Country;
• The counties and reservations will have equal say on the board and there will be no more than two voting members from each. This will ensure that no one area will have a louder voice. 
• 1.5 staff members would be hired to market and promote the region;
• There would be no membership dues to belong to Custer Country. As a resident, business or interested party located within the region, you would simply be a stakeholder at no charge. You would be able to attend meetings, receive progress updates and offer your feedback as an equal voice in the promotion of the region. 
• The Custer Country Travel Planner would continue to be produced but even more emphasis would be placed on promoting the area through the web, travel shows, press releases, and more;
• The Billings Chamber/CVB staff has extensive tourism marketing experience. As one business in Terry told us “when my pipe leaks I call a plumber. When we want to promote tourism we should call upon the experts in tourism promotion.” 
• 11 existing staff members of the Billings Chamber/CVB would be available to assist the Custer Country staff with tourism marketing, publication production, consumer travel sales, event planning, government affairs and more. 
I understand that the most significant issue Billings faces in our application is that of being the urban destination in the region. With that comes a certain amount of hesitation from a few in the region that we will run the region only to the benefit of Billings. I grew up in Miles City and lived in Broadus, Glendive and Wibaux before moving to Billings. This region is my home as it is yours. Please understand that the Billings Chamber/CVB’s desire is to develop a tourism region that we are all proud of. 
Mark Twain wrote that “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” We need to open our doors wider and cast a larger net to invite visitors to our region. We also need to understand and appreciate each other more within our region. Billings needs to understand Prairie County better and Prairie County must knock down barriers and misperceptions of Billings. 
Last week when I met with your tourism leaders in Terry we discussed the structure of Custer Country and how it can best be developed. We brainstormed fun and exciting marketing opportunities that will bring guests and dollars to Prairie County. We laughed a little. We connected. We learned that we are all just individuals; one region, working for the same purpose. 

Published Aug. 4, 2010

Article Type: 
Guest Opinion


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