Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tourism Must Be A Steward of Place

While tourism is possibly the highest form of economic development or adding value to a local economy, it has an even more significant role.

A community Destination Marketing Organization must not only spearhead visitor centric economic and cultural development but it must also be the steward of place and place-based assets, cultural, built and natural, so integral to a community’s identity.

While a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) must focus on marketing to drive visitation to make a community’s assets sustainable, a key DMO role is around stimulating and convening discussions and planning in a community that will help residents, neighborhoods and local governments work with the private sector to enhance what they love about their community.


This involves convening forums like Durham, North Carolina’s Annual Tribute Luncheon to focus attention and discussion on the ingredients of place (cultural, built, natural) and how they can be integrated to create and sustain distinctive, dynamic and prosperous communities.

This was relatively new to me when in March 2006 I attended the first-ever “civic tourism” conference hosted by the founder Dr. Dan Schilling.  I’ve probably attended hundreds of local, state and national conferences in my career but none has been as immediately thought-provoking as that one.

It is there I heard Dr. Scott Russell Sanders read from his extraordinary essay, "The Geography of Somewhere.

The two subsequent conferences (the third is in Fort Collins CO August 11-14, 2010) have drifted away from the concept and more toward mobile labs, I’m sure as a bow to “left brainers” (97% of right handed people) who become frustrated with concepts and the originality often required to make each community distinct.

Labs can be good as long as people aren’t too literal and try to copy-cat.  It typically isn’t hard to get communities to invest in tourism-related product.  But it is very hard to avoid becoming like everywhere else and to use a description coined by Louise Stevens, look like they went shopping for cultural or sports one day and came back with one of everything.

A DMO’s challenge is to junk any notion of keeping up with the “Joneses” and to focus instead on each communities unique, inherent assets and how they can be integrated and leveraged to sustain the reasons people live in and love their community.  The reasons vary by community, but the key word is “distinctive.”

I encourage every DMO to attend.  I also encourage Dr. Richard Florida, of whom I am definitely an advocate, to attend.  He’s come a long way since dissing tourism in his first book and will find “civic tourism” right on target with his book Who's Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life.

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