South Texas Nature Marketing Coop, Inc. is a 501 c 6 organization. Its members are representatives of various tourism officials from (currently) 15 cities and organizations, although this number varies from year to year. It has been in existence since 2001.
The cooperative was first formed to give the RGV a presence among international birders. At the time, most Valley cities were advertising and marketing to wildlife watchers individually in the U.S., and the members felt that the U.S. was therefore adequately covered. However, as the advertising and marketing in the various cities declined and in some cases disappeared, STN members realized that it was necessary to include the U.S. in its program.
For the first nine years, South Texas Nature was comprised exclusively of Rio Grande Valley cities. However, in 2012, the organization broadened its scope and invited other South Texas cities in order to increase its budget and program. South Texas Nature recently welcomed new members Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas from the upper Gulf Coast region in addition to Corpus Christi and Port Arthur from the mid Gulf Coast region.
The goal of STN is to grow our membership in order to strengthen our presence in the United States, Canada and Europe and to position the area as the U.S.’s premier birding and wildlife watching destination. STN seeks to represent the nature tourism resources of the entire region and to strengthen brand visibility in social media outlets.
For a List of the 2015-2016 members please refer to our membership menu on the home page.
Chair: Nancy Millar, McAllen Chamber of Commerce/CVB
Advisory Member: Keith Hackland, Alamo Inn Chamber representative
Treasurer: Martha Noell, Weslaco Chamber of Commerce
Director: Nydia Tapia-Gonzales – Nydia@rgvtourism.com – (956) 202-1392
Bookkeeper: Veronica Montemayor- Veronica@rgvtourism.com – (956) 968-2102
Advertising Sales: Fawn Foudray – Golich – firstname.lastname@example.org – (956) 453-6205
STN tourism marketing coop is managed by a director and overseen by the board which generally meets monthly. STN maintains D&O and liability insurance, and utilizes a CPA for bookkeeping services.
Membership fees are fixed by the board according to the destination marketing organization’s tourism budget and location.
Program and Results
STN has been extremely successful. There has been a dramatic increase in international birders since the program began. This is good news economically, since international travelers tend to stay longer and spend more money. One Rio Grande Valley B&B owner who specializes in birders estimated that he has experienced a 1,000% increase in international visitors that he attributes to STN’s program.
It has also been abundantly clear while attending the Birding Fairs that the awareness of the Valley and the Texas Gulf Coast has been strengthened considerably among foreign birders. One birding fair worker described the difference as a “180 degree turnaround from no knowledge of the Valley to being considered a real destination.”
www.southtexasnature.com continues to be an important tool used by birders for first time visits to the Valley. STN Coop also has a Facebook page: www.facebook.com/SouthTexasNature.
The website facilitates communication and showcases hotels, itineraries and general travel information.
Journalist visits continue to be an active resource for the coop. Just in the past 7 years, the coop has generated more than $4 million worth of free, positive publicity for its members from these international journalists.
Journalists hosted this year were from Denmark, Sweden, England, and The Netherlands. Over the years STN has hosted dozens of journalists and travel writers from Great Britain, Scandinavia, Germany, the United States and Canada.
STN has partnered with both Houston, and The Office of the Governor Economic Development and Tourism (“Texas Tourism”) to host journalists. This has successfully allowed STN to stretch its budget.
Tour Operator Hosting
STN also has hosted tour operators from companies specializing in nature tours. Many of these from Great Britain, and northern Europe. We are also beginning to host tour operators from Scandinavia as we open that market. We have seen dozens of birding groups visit from these efforts.
Internet, Television Programs
Other projects include sponsoring five Rio Grande Valley episodes of a YouTube birding series by the well-known blogger Birdchick and three episodes in the Rio Grande Valley of “Birding Adventures TV” shown on Fox Sports Network.
Media/sales missions have concentrated on the UK, Scandinavia and Germany through the years, and, along with media efforts at the bird shows, have resulted in a minimum of 36 international journalist visits, 17 international stories worth $1,316,000 in coverage, and 36 international birding tour groups representing over $463,000 in local spending.
There are many more international birders who have also visited without joining birding tours, and very likely many tours of which STN members never were aware.
At one point in 2013 the region was hosting five separate birding tours from Sweden at the same time.
The coop retains the services of an independent representative in the UK. This representative attends trade shows, contacts media and tour operators, presents slide shows to local European birding clubs, creates content for the STN Facebook page and performs other duties that create more of an awareness of STN members.
The previous survey information regarding economic impact of wildlife watching in the Valley had been conducted in 1995, and showed and annual impact of $100 million from 100,000 wildlife watchers and the sustaining of 2,000 jobs.
The most recent survey, conducted in 2011 by Texas A&M University and commissioned by STN, showed the wildlife watching impact at $463 million from 2.3 million visitor days (23.4% of all leisure tourism visits in Cameron and Hidalgo Counties), sustaining 6,613 jobs.
Since little advertising and marketing has been created by individual cities, it seems logical to conclude that STN’s program has had much to do with these increases.
European Birding Fairs
STN has been represented at the Scottish Birding Fair, attracting 6,000 attendees; and the British Birding Fair which attracts over 24,000 attendees. STN has added two more birding fairs to its roster, one in Norfolk, England and one in The Netherlands, Madrid and Hamburg, Germany. Another in Sweden is under consideration for this fiscal year.
These fairs are extremely productive, giving STN as one of only three or four North American booths, and offer access directly to thousands of serious birders who are looking for destinations to visit. These fairs are comprised exclusively of destination booths.
The RGV and the gulf coast’s notoriety among these birders has changed dramatically over the years. The first year (2002) was spent explaining where South Texas is located and why it is such a popular birding destination. Now, however, the booth is sought out by attendees, so much so that STN has had to ask several local British birder couples who are familiar with the area to volunteer at the booth to handle the crowds.
U.S. Birding Events
This 2015-2016 season, STN attended birding festivals and events in Cape May, Florida, Ohio and Arizona, and is considering attendance at several more. STN also was represented at the Albuquerque Balloon Festival in 2012.
Twin Areas Project and World’s Best Birding
The coop is working on a global project to market South Texas. Various areas around the world will be approached about becoming Twin Areas, patterned after the Sister City plan. Twin areas will cross-market with various approaches beginning with a portal website. The entire project will be administered by South Texas Nature Coop. Norfolk, England has been approached to be the first partner, and the proposal has been accepted in concept. Other areas in consideration include Extremadura, Spain; Quito, Ecuador; Costa Rica; Veracruz, Mexico; and Hawaii among others.
Proposal: South Texas Nature will grow its program in 2017-2018 to include more international exposure and national marketing and advertising of South Texas and the Gulf Coast by reaching out to new members across the region.