Behind the Scenes at the Merriam Visitors Bureau…

Summer has come to an end, and while the visitor turnout may slow a bit during the fall and winter season, the Merriam Visitors Bureau is open year-round to welcome and service our guests. From meeting patrons to bridal parties, sports parents to motor coach travelers, the local visitors bureau office is often the first stop for visitors to any community.

Because no two days are alike inside the bureau office, we thought we’d give you a sneak peek into our to-do list and the top five visitor questions we receive from walk-in guests. We hope you enjoy this behind-the-scenes glimpse, and we welcome you to come see us on the East Frontage Road in Merriam.

Top 5 questions at the visitors bureau office:

  1. Why are there bears outside? — The bears are a fun play on Merriam’s history during the operational years of Merriam Park (1880s). A mama bear and her baby cubs roamed the zoo grounds that were located inside the park, and the superintendent would have to coax them back to their den in the evening. Interestingly enough, we also have an elementary school in Merriam with the bear as their mascot!
  2. I never knew this building was here. How long have you been here? — Merriam Historic Plaza and Visitors Bureau was built in 2006 and has been serving visitors from this location ever since. However, did you know we have had a visitors bureau office in Merriam since the late nineties?
  3. What is the difference between a visitors center and a visitors bureau? — Slight differences, but mostly in size, staffing and hours. Visitor centers are typically state funded, operated year-round and solely provide visitor service (maps, directions, restrooms, etc.) Some are located inside convenience stores and rest areas, others are free standing. Kansas has only two visitor centers—one in Belle Plaine and one in Goodland. The local visitors bureau is typically managed through the local city, chamber of commerce or contracted independently. A visitors bureau is often funded by guest tax dollars of visitors staying in that city’s hotels. More than just a walk-in facility, the visitors bureau is oftentimes the marketing branch for the destination, and handles sales and service too.
  4. Where do you get your beautiful flower baskets? — This question is our favorite because our Public Works department actually makes them in-house. They also host a basket making workshop in the early spring, so for around $40, you can make one too. We think Merriam has the most beautiful flower baskets in the metro!
  5. What should I do when I’m in town? — This one varies based on the visitor’s interest (and sometimes the weather). From history to art, food to festivals, we can certainly make some fun recommendations for everyone, but there’s nearly always a BBQ request.

In case these questions don’t quite explain what we do here at the visitors bureau office, we’ve also created the list below of what we might be working on any day of the week, but we’re always happy to customize the visitor experience! It’s one of the reasons we’re named a “top tourist-friendly city in the U.S.” by Expedia. So, if you’re looking for super amazing visitor assistance, please give us a shout!

Here’s a sampling of the CVB day in the life:
Restock visitor brochure racks; respond to visitor inquiries for local places to dine, shop and stay; maintain the bureau office, meeting room and historic plaza grounds; assist walk-in visitors with questions, maps, referrals and suggestions; attend meetings (regional, state, etc. that impact the tourism economy and industry); update website and online offers; conduct site inspections with local hotels and area businesses by request; provide step-on greeting for incoming buses and groups; escort motor coach tours; setup and attend industry trade shows; conduct sales calls and visits; design visitor promotions; market local and regional events; manage social media accounts; write travel blog posts (like this one); design and write the annual Merriam Visitors Guide (big job, lots of coffee); participate in City of Merriam events, employee activities and regional promotions; meet with local businesses to encourage visitor discounts and special offers; provide unified voice on issues related to tourism; connect local residents with visitor services for incoming guests; provide speaking engagements for local and regional groups (Kiwanis, Lions Club, etc.); other duties as assigned, and as the day dictates — this week, for example, we are turning our fountains pink for breast cancer awareness and next week is the annual tourism conference in Junction City.

10 TIPS TO SUCCESSFULLY SHOP IKEA!

All of Kansas City knows that the newest IKEA opens doors to the thousands of “some assembly required” experts (or novices) on Wednesday, September 10th in Merriam, Kansas.  No doubt the metro has been aching for this blue and yellow giant to come to Kansas City for a long-time.  There’s no shortage of “bring IKEA to (city, state)” groups all over Facebook.  There’s even a great following of IKEA Hacks on Pinterest where you can make tons of interesting projects from the inventory of items gracing the shelves at this long-awaited furnishings retailer. Soon, the masses will arrive and nearby restaurants, hotels and other businesses will see the ripple effect of shoppers ready to race their carts into the expanse of IKEA wonderland.  The CVB has compiled our list of shopping tips to help you navigate and enjoy the all-new Merriam IKEA.  Happy shopping!

Visitor Bureau’s Top 10 Tips for IKEA Shoppers:

IKEA Catalog

  1. Wear comfy shoes! This is #1 for a reason.  Big store, lots of items.  You’ll probably hit your 10,000 minimum daily step requirement.
  2. Check out the catalog before you visit to jot down potential items and departments you’d like to visit. Create a wish list so you won’t forget your favorites.  Of course, IKEA makes it super easy for you by providing a catalog app for iOS or Android.  In store, write down (or snap a label pic) of aisle and product numbers so you know where to pick-up items in the self-serve area after checkout.
  3. Map out the store to maximize your shopping experience. Grab your cart first—you will be distracted by shiny objects and the wafting scent of Swedish meatballs.  Be strong and focus–the meatballs are patient and will wait for you.
  4. Make sure you know where the restrooms are located. No one can shop peacefully with a nagging bladder.
  5. Come hungry…where else can you have breakfast for 99 cents?  IKEA serves breakfast to dinner daily.  No time to stay?  Take it home and serve up an affordable and fantastic meal from IKEA.  Kids also eat free in the restaurant on Tuesdays.  Errands, shopping, dinner—DONE!
  6. Utilize IKEA’s supervised play area for the kiddos. Make sure to check the store for details on height restrictions and keep an eye on your time.
  7. Join the IKEA family. You’ll get sneak peeks, an e-mail newsletter, money-saving offers, inspiring home furnishings workshops and more—and, it’s FREE.  Visit IKEA-USA.com/FAMILY to join today!
  8. What do you mean the couch you just purchased won’t fit in your FIAT? No worries…Great Day Moving has a delivery offer just for you!
  9. Look for the yellow striped shirts that say IKEA.  Those people can help you.  Surely, you’ve seen the commercials?  If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, know your colors.  Red tags = self-pick up items; yellow tags = need a store associate to help.  Keep notes on aisles and product numbers to make your pick-up simple and easy.
  10. Be patient.  When the store first opens, it will be busy.  Smile instead of smirk, wait instead of push ahead, or hold a door for another shopper.  Kindness goes a long way and makes for a more enjoyable experience for all!  Above everything else, have a great time shopping at the all-new Merriam IKEA. We’re glad you’re here!

2015 IKEA Catalog
Ten Fall Picks in Merriam
Special Offers in Merriam
Download a Merriam Visitors Guide
Stay in Merriam
Contact the Visitors Bureau!

Should You STAY or Should You Go?

Summer has finally arrived and millions of people are considering their summer vacation plans.  Problem is…the temps aren’t the only thing rising these days.  It seems the cost of an20-Things-THUMB annual family vacation is getting a bit pricier too. At an average cost of $1,180 per person, for some, it’s just not in the budget to fly across the country on vacation to sunny beaches, mountain resorts or amusement parks. But, you can still enjoy the summer with your friends and family without breaking the bank!  Enter the buzzword “staycation”—a growing movement in leisure travel.  Defined as an activity where an individual or family stays home and participates in leisure activities within driving distance, sleeping in their own beds at night,” staycations are on the rise in popularity and can often result in great fun and remarkable savings.  In fact, in 2012, Living Social reported over 2/3 of Americans took a staycation opting for local favorites and budget-friendly alternatives over the typical vacation.  Also, 60% of staycationers do so for the main purpose of saving money.  Lastly and sadly, Americans earn the least amount of paid vacation time annually (14 days compared to 30 in countries like France, Spain, Brazil and Denmark) so we must use our time wisely.  Rather than stress about letting your family down because you simply cannot afford to jet-set across the globe, start planning now to take a trip in your own backyard and make your staycation one to remember.

Did you know that most people don’t even bother to discover the unique attractions and amenities offered in their own home-town or region?  It’s time to change that and explore the KC region on staycation this summer!  Here’s a few tips to get started…

  1. Get the whole family involved.  Decide on your budget, theme and schedule so you can plan around what works for your crew.
  2. Call your local CVB (Convention & Visitors Bureau) office to obtain a community map, visitors guide, insider tips, coupons, referrals or upcoming special event suggestions.  Before you head out, make sure to check special offers such as 2-for Tuesday, etc.—many attractions offer discounts during the non-peak attendance days. Yelp is a great resource and has a search filter for special offers.
  3. Make it fun by adding a summer staycation countdown calendar and let the kids mark off the days until the fun begins.
  4. If you can afford one-night at a local campground or hotel, go ahead and splurge on the final night so the kids will feel like they really left home and got to experience the vacay feel.  Check out Merriam’s lineup of lodging!   If not, throw a tent in the backyard to add to the experience right at home.
  5. Based on your activity of the day, make a packing list of items you’ll need.  Don’t forget the staples such as sunscreen and bug spray, wipes, band aids, water bottles, sunglasses, etc.
  6. Get everyone their own disposable camera and after the fun is done, create a scrapbook from the pics of your time together.
  7. Unplug—just because you’re staying local, your friends, neighbors and coworkers don’t need to interrupt your family time.  Only keep the tech live if you need directions or want to call ahead a reservation or ask questions.
  8. If dining out for each meal isn’t possible, pack a lunch and splurge for ice-cream to save a little cash.  Or, if you chose a themed itinerary, return home after your excursions each evening and cook a family dinner centered around that theme (Italian, Greek, Mexican, etc.)
  9. Just because you’re at home, you can still “check out” by letting the phone ring, the mail pile up or the chores go by the wayside.  This is your time—enjoy every minute!

If Merriam is your home-base for a staycation, check out the CVB’s list of 20 Things to Do in Merriam this Summer!  Happy local travels from the Merriam Visitors Bureau!