There has been an outpouring of concern for the direction and future of Laconia Motorcycle Week since I spoke in opposition to new bike week vendor fees at a recent workshop of Meredith selectmen.
What has struck me is how much this dialogue, long simmering below the surface, has needed to come to the forefront and be discussed. The facts speak for themselves — attendance is down, traffic is down, and interest is down. We must make major changes to reverse the negative trend of Laconia Motorcycle Week. This will require broader state and regional discussion on the rally in order to determine how best to go forward. The approach of the past 25+ years is no longer working. The handwriting is on the wall — If we don't change, the rally will continue to decline and may disappear.
Laconia Mayor Engler provided some eye-opening data that unfortunately was not a surprise to those closest to the rally. The total average daily traffic volume during the nine days was only 117,208 vehicles, a 25 percent decrease from the previous year. It was a verification of what we have all felt in recent years. Let's use this new number as our baseline for going forward and planning.
Laconia Motorcycle Week is extremely important to my business as it is for so many others in the region. That's why we must take action in order to restore this once-fabled rally.
My suggestion is to implement a Five Point Plan to revive Motorcycle Week
1. Create a vision for the rally. Currently there is no coherent brand for Motorcycle Week. We need to determine if it should be broader welcoming all motorcyclists including sport bikes or if we should expand it even further into a regional festival with an adult flare. We need a sense of what the rally should be about.
2. Develop a plan for stabilizing the rally — and rebuilding it to whatever level we believe is realistic and achievable with the resources the state, region and business are prepared to commit. This plan could include but is not limited to the following:
— Agree on permanent date of the rally. The fluctuating dates are confusing and hurt attendance. The Americade Motorcycle Rally in Lake George, NY often conflicts with our dates and decimates attendance because it draws important New York and Connecticut riders who also attend Bike Week. We could consider working with Americade to eliminate the conflicting dates.
— Take a hard look at rally activities. Laconia Motorcycle Week has grown to be a statewide event with numerous activities in every corner of New Hampshire. While we want the entire state to benefit, a thorough evaluation of activities must occur. Let's examine the strengths and weaknesses of each event, determine which should be dropped and brainstorm new events that will support the community and business.
— Engage the experts. We should secure a respected advertising agency and a communications firm from New Hampshire with proven track records for driving tourism to our state that has competencies in today's effective marketing. We need a cohesive marketing and communications plan, budget and executional strategy to drive riders to our state. Keep in mind, Motorcycle week also drives motorcycle tourism for the entire summer season.
— Develop a master calendar of events. Currently there are so many events that our consumers or confused on where to go and when to go there. Rather than compete with each other, let's work collectively so visitors have signature events to participate in between rides.
Once we have a plan:
3. Engage the state and request a strong commitment. Even with shrinking attendance, an event drawing 117,000 tourists is one of the state's largest events by far. We all need to protect and grow this asset — and that includes the state, which should provide financial and in-kind support.
4. Communicate our vision to local town officials. With declining attendance, towns that rely on fees collected from Bike Week need to more accurately assess the needs and expenses they believe are associated to the rally and correctly forecast for annual budgeting purposes.
5. Give the Rally News magazine to Charlie St. Clair. Bike Week is woven into the fabric of our community and no one has been a bigger champion than Charlie. He has worked long and hard on that publication, and believes in it. However, state funding for marketing should not be put towards the publication — not when there are so many other new and effective marketing tactics at our disposal. Sales of ad space should support the publication. Sponsors for the magazine should not be given sponsorship to Motorcycle Week. That should be separate and be handled under the auspices of perhaps an advertising agency.
Laconia Motorcycle Week is at a crossroads. Will we sit idly by and watch this iconic event wither away before our eyes? Or will state and local officials hear the plea of local businesses and take action? Before you know it, Laconia Motorcycle Week will be here. There is time to make some changes to 2016 and we should, but 2017 should be our goal for a totally revamped rally. This should start with a new statewide Laconia Motorcycle Week council conveyed and appointed by state officials to address the points above. I'll be the first to join and I hope others will consider as well.
(Anne Deli is co-owner and president of Laconia Harley-Davidson)
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