Friday, February 23, 2007

I Marvel

I marvel at what a dedicated group of folks I work with. They do a lot of things better than I do. They are just as resilient but process let-downs or failure better than I do. They are dedicated and determined. If I try to relieve pressure, they put it back on themselves. I also don’t know another group of people that can perform like they are two or three times the number of staff they are.

Durham is very fortunate to have DCVB staff, and I’m incredibly blessed to work with them.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Challenge of A Non-Resident Workforce

You’d think creating so many jobs that half your local workforce are non-residents would be an accomplishment. But it doesn’t come out that way.

A hyper-cynical reporter or editor (or both) twists this to mean that Durham is so unpopular that people who work here don’t want to live here. This fuels a condescension among these non-residents, or maybe it’s the other way around—reporters are hired from this population and therefore condescending? But for sure it’s then in the arena of “word of mouth,” upon which news outlets have little influence.

News media can squeeze toothpaste out of a tube, but they have little influence on putting it back in. :-) They can generate temporary buzz like they did for The Streets at Southpoint or American Tobacco Campus that can also generate an equally temporary blip in public opinion, but word of mouth is face-to-face communication. It can be launched by news, but that is rarely what propels or perpetuates it.

The circumstance complicates the job of DCVB in four ways:
  1. It intensifies the amount of destination awareness training we have to do with frontline, visitor-contact employees in restaurants, hotels, shopping malls etc.
  2. It fuels other negative word of mouth around the water cooler, as non-residents attempt to get validation for why they have to endure that commute. This in turn infects or puzzles and confuses newcomers, who are often visitors first.
  3. It requires DCVB to split time between shaping and promoting Durham’s brand to defending and protecting it. No amount of positive information can alone overcome the power of negative word of mouth. You have to turn into the wind.
  4. It contaminates the populations from which we also draw day-trip visitors.
So we’re forced to pull together information and perspective like this comparison of public school systems and then labor to explain to residents how to use this information to first step up to this type of bashing but also turn the paradigm around.

But I wouldn’t trade places for the world. I wouldn’t trade a genuine, high-performing destination with an image issue for an underperforming, over-reaching destination with a pristine image.

Give me an image issue to tackle any day over a well-perceived destination with “no there-there.”

Thursday, February 08, 2007

We'll Always Need Visitor Centers

In the late '90s I visited my daughter when she lived in a cool part of Portland. The layout of that city makes Durham look like it’s on a grid.

I rented my first Hertz with Neverlost… it was one of the initial in-auto navigation systems. Within two years, it was an option in a car I bought. Today I have a palm-sized unit that is transportable. In a couple of years or less, it will be standard with most cars.

Why? Because getting lost or trying to find new places in either familiar or unfamiliar communities is a universal condition.

So we won’t need Visitor Information Centers, right? No, there will always be a shrinking group of techno-phobes or techno-rebels who will require face-to-face counseling with a new destination.

But the work of a CVB has expanded, not diminished, with navigational systems. Now we are the gatekeepers for several layers in GIS maps at the local level. We have to make sure updates get distributed to the companies that provide the maps to the navigation systems. Streets change, points of interest go in and out of business, landmarks change, and every time they do, they will trip up someone using those maps. The only way to keep them accurate is someone here on the ground every day to monitor and update.

It’s like the Internet itself. It didn’t make our work easier: it added an entirely new dimension, made work faster, and created a whole new level of urgency.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

High School Never Ends

High school was full of politics, and everything seemed personal. Cliques, who’s cool, what you’re supposed to wear, gossip about personal relationships, an intense concentration of bluff and hot air. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed high school, largely because I was never invited and didn’t try to be part of that scene.

Then you go back 10 years later, and none of that was of consequence anyway. Most of it had no bearing on the years that followed.

In the freshness of our 20s and 30s, it seemed as adults we might outgrow those things we hated about high school.

But as time goes on, things more and more resemble high school again. Things are still that personal (vs. logical), and those same games get played every day but with more at stake.

If you’re too logical, you get labeled as negative. If you’re too passionate, you’re labeled as too intense. If you’re persistent, you get labeled a PITA (pain in the derriere). If you’re focused, you get labeled as insensitive. If you don’t gossip, you get labeled as aloof. If you aren’t theatrical, you’re labeled as cold.

Those cliques in high school… they are replaced by golf foursomes. If you don’t go along to get along, you get left off invitations to events or frozen out of decisions. If you aren’t theatrical or flamboyant about your personal life, people say you don’t have a life.

But just like high school… you can ignore all that and still succeed. To focus on it drains your energy and, in 10 years, none of it will be of consequence.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Decline of Sports in Popular Culture

Hard to believe less than half the US population views themselves as sports fans, but it’s true. The South is a point below the average, and the West comes in at 40% sports fans. It’s not all about gender either, because 38% of women consider themselves sports fans.

These findings come from an opinion poll by Opinion Research Corporation, and while the survey didn’t ask, I believe sports fans as a proportion of the population are in decline, largely due to access to opportunity. This can and often does lead to less participation or viewing in every form of entertainment.

What concerns me most is this could be indicative of less access to opportunity to learn through things like sports, music and art in secondary school. As adults we view sports as entertainment, but to children they are a way to teach teamwork, cooperation, goal setting, focus, strategy and how to succeed.

We need to get back to basics in our schools, but those basics must include sports, music and art.