Friday, August 25, 2006

Durham's Sense of Place Increasingly At Risk

I think this guest editorial by Shelly Green offers some excellent insights on how to preserve and sustain Durham's unique sense of place.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

No Wonder People Are Confused

You have to pity travelers sometimes. Some things are just not customer-friendly, and the bigger they are, the slower they are to adapt. Take Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, for example. Recently it was noted that, on arrival/departure monitors, DFW was just listing "Raleigh." There is no airport in Raleigh, and the airport that serves that community equally serves many other destinations. You would think an airport with a name as long as DFW's would have room to put Raleigh-Durham Int., but the best they could do was Raleigh-Dur. Progress but not friendly either to destinations or travelers.

Similarly, Sabre, a huge operation providing travel data to travel agents and other intermediaries, is based around the old notion that there must be one airport for each community; therefore Raleigh and Durham are one place. Only users with intimate understanding of the geography here will get good search results. For example, a search on "Raleigh-Durham" doesn't bring up hotels near the airport but instead a hodgepodge of properties randomly drawn from 10 different communities--giving users the potential of being 60 miles round trip from where they truly are visiting.

Smith Travel Research is another hugely popular and essential service that isn't friendly to developers. It was never set up to reflect destinations or even MSAs. So pulling up Raleigh pulls up all of the scores of cities in Wake County and several north and south, and an area called Outer Raleigh circles around Durham to include Hillsborough--two counties and 60 miles away. Using this information, a developer or feasibility consultant will have seriously polluted performance data.

What do all of these have in common? Inflexibility and a one-size-must-fit-all approach. Good people in each operation are now struggling to adapt, and it's up to destination marketing organizations both to keep the heat on and to be of assistance.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Friendly Fire

Image is important to a community, but it's crucial to a destination marketing organization like DCVB. The issue of Durham’s image is complex, because half of the people working in Durham (and likely to influence newcomers, visitors and relocating executives) are residents of other communities, some of them rivals.

This means that, to determine information diffusion (how it moves from person to person, community to community), DCVB has had to unwrap and document:
  • Durham’s self-image among residents,
  • Durham’s image among residents of neighboring communities (because they hold jobs in Durham and "look like a Durhamite" but also because they control most of the jobs in news media covering Durham, at the co-owned airport, in State Government and in the regional namesake, Research Triangle Park),
  • Durham’s image nationwide, in the Northeast and Southeast.
The good news is that, by nearly 8 to 1, Durham residents have a good self-image of the community. By a 6 to 1 ratio, Durham enjoys a positive reputation nationwide, and it's higher in the South and Northeast. The problem begins next door in Orange County, where the ratio of people with a positive to negative image of Durham is 2 to 1.

It gets worse yet in Wake County, the second most populous in the State, where the ratio is barely 1 to 1. It's about the same in a 100-mile radius but worse to the east, following the footprint of the new viewing and readership area that includes Durham.

So, the problem of image is pinpointed. Its focus is in Raleigh and Wake County. The challenge is at best how to improve that image or at least to inoculate newcomers and visitors from negative word of mouth that emanates from there.

But the title "Friendly Fire" comes from a military term to be shot or wounded by friendly forces vs. the enemy. It's hard enough to back people off who want to overreach and claim RTP for Raleigh or who encourage or tolerate truncation of the name of the airport to the city Raleigh, but it's even more complex when one realizes that half of the people on Durham boards, running Durham non-profits and running Durham-based businesses are non-residents, who are likely to be contaminated by people back where they live.

This means traditional advertising isn’t a solution, and the solutions that will work are much more complex and time-consuming.