In January 2016, two of Georgia’s destination marketing organizations, Meet College Park and Meet East Point, combined and rebranded to become ATL Airport District. Two more organizations (Union City and Hapeville) quickly followed suit. The results: a 48 percent increase in website visits (compared to the same six-month period in 2015), an increase in area room bookings and an easier marketing experience for the organization. The rebranding, led by President Cookie Smoak, has also given the ATL Airport District room to grow.
Take us through the decision to rebrand.
When we initially started out, we were Meet College Park because we only handled one city. Then, East Point expressed an interest in coming on board with us. It really wasn’t appropriate to be Meet College Park and have East Point a member as well. Then Union City followed up and we knew we really wanted to add Hapeville, so we started talking about a brand that sort of encompasses the whole area, a brand that is not city-specific but is more area-specific.
How did you select the name ATL Airport District?
When we were narrowing it down, “district,” is kind of the new cool word and everybody knows where the ATL is. It was just an easy change for us to go ahead and make it ATL Airport District. It allows us to grow or reduce if the need ever arise.
Have you received positive feedback from the rebranding?
Absolutely. From our standpoint, when our salespeople travel to trade shows and you’re sitting down with customers, you would tell them you’re from Meet College Park and they’d think you’re from Maryland. For us, it was about getting an immediate identification. Somebody hears ATL Airport District, they know it’s the Atlanta airport area. All four of our cities are sort of small, unknown cities. They’re not like Atlanta, Baltimore or Los Angeles—they’re small suburbs of a major city, so we figured we’d capitalize on that big city recognition.
What internal changes were made after merging the entities?
We started out originally with five people and we now have 11. Our budget started at $1.2 million and we are now at over $4 million. It’s definitely been a big change for us, and a great growth opportunity.
What are some of the other benefits of this rebranding?
It gave us more variety of attractions to offer to attendees. With the addition of Hapeville, we brought on the new Solis hotel, which is a five-star hotel; we also brought on the Hilton Atlanta Airport, which is a very large hotel in that vicinity. It also gave us access to the Porsche North American headquarters. Then, of course, the Delta Museum
is in Hapeville; College Park has the Chick-fil-A Headquarters and Backstage Tour, and the city of Union City has Metro Studios, one of the largest soundstages in North America. Every city brought a unique personality with it.
Not to mention the fact that by pooling all of that money together it allows us to do a lot more aggressive marketing for the area. It just made more sense for them to be unified and to have qualities of each that we package together and sell as one entity, versus trying to do so independently.
Is this a technique you’d recommend to other destination marketing organizations?
I definitely would because I do think it gives you a lot more buying power, and it gives you name recognition and, again, strength in numbers. It makes it easier to sell, more effectively, versus trying to make one little area sound like it’s got everything — when we all know it doesn’t.
Do you have any advice for organizations looking to do the same sort of thing?
It brings its own set of challenges because you have to make a lot of people happy. You have to deal with cities and city councils and politicians in each and every city. You have to make each and every city feel important and feel like they’re getting their ROI on their investment, and reporting can be an issue. You’re reporting out to each city, so you’re making sure each one of them understands what you’re doing with their money and that they’re getting value for that. It can be a challenge, but I love it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.