Kathleen Ratcliffe, Explore St. Louis

Kathleen Ratcliffe

A World-Class Experience

Editors’ Note

Kathleen Ratcliffe assumed her current role in May 2006. Before this, she was Executive Vice President for New Orleans CVB; President of Jacksonville & The Beaches CVB; and Vice President, Sales & Marketing of the Baltimore Area Convention & Visitors Association.

Company Brief

The St. Louis Tourism Bureau (explorestlouis.com) was founded in 1909 by a group of local business leaders, after seeing the success of the 1904 World’s Fair. In 1984, the Bureau was restructured and combined with the St. Louis County Office of Tourism to form the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission (SLCVC), a regional commission of the State of Missouri. Dedicated funding for the SLCVC and the Regional Arts Commission through a new tax on hotel rooms was implemented. The SLCVC’s board was reorganized in 1991 to reflect the organization’s new role in managing the expanded America’s Center Convention Complex including the 67,000-seat Dome at America’s Center, 1,400- seat Ferrara Theatre, a 28,000 square-foot ballroom, and the St. Louis Executive Conference Center. Prior to the expansion, the convention center had been operated by the City of St. Louis.

Will you talk about some of the strengths of St. Louis as a destination?

I truly believe we’re the best family destination in the country, as we have world-class visitor attractions at a very affordable price. We have a number of cultural institutions and visitor attractions that annually each draw more than three million visitors, including the Gateway Arch, St. Louis Zoo, Forest Park – which is the largest urban park in the country – and the St. Louis Cardinals. We see about 20 million-plus visitors annually.

Families drive here from hundreds of miles away to see venues like the St. Louis Zoo, which is free and is routinely named as one of the best zoos in the country.

It’s wonderful to offer an affordable, world-class experience to so many people, and we capitalize on that.

Would you touch on the offerings for meetings and conventions?

We have a very large convention center that our organization operates. It’s in the heart of our urban core downtown surrounded by thousands of hotel rooms, and it’s within walking distance of great restaurants and nightlife activities. We are very successful as a convention destination.

St. Louis is well positioned for those who are driving, but is there a broader international appeal for those coming from further away?

Our convention business consists mostly of national organizations, some of which have international attendance. We do have great air service as well as the drivability factor.

On the leisure side, a good part of our marketing is directed toward a regional-drive audience, because that fuels our economic engine on a year-round basis. We do, however, utilize international marketing for key geographic targets, mostly within Western Europe.

Our opera theater and symphony are world-renowned and attract international visitors, who may also want to check the Arch off their bucket list or drive Route 66.

How important are metrics to track the impact of your programs?

We measure everything. Working with our marketing committee, we add more metrics every year, and we never take any away, because the metrics help us understand how visitors are engaging with our message.

By measuring trends, we can better make decisions with regard to future messaging about St. Louis and its attractions.