Friday, May 30, 2008

Questions Aren’t Criticism

In the Southeast at least, people tend to take questions as criticism. Granted it is sometimes in the way they are asked but in my observations, it is a pretty universal reaction.

My job is to ask good questions, raise issues etc. in the community. City Manager, soon-to-be City Attorney is a good friend. In fact we first met when he called to fire me as Chair of the Durham Workforce Development Board because someone had questioned whether my role qualified under the stipulations of the law.

When we were discussing the “questions as criticism” issue, Patrick pointed out that in the legal world, asking good questions is also expected. Rather than being offended anyone would ask, it is a key part of preparing for trial to anticipate questions.

I’m not immune. I have a strong bias for action and it has taken me a good part of my career to come to appreciate the importance of due process and due diligence even though there is a cost involved. In fact, that is why DCVB embraced information-based decision making a decade before it was vogue. There is peace of mind in not having every decision made by a contest of “wills” or anecdotal opinions.

But I read once that a group becomes dysfunctional when anyone can say “no” but it takes everyone to say “yes.” I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve regretted not voting “no” to something, even after passionately making an argument in question of an emotion. For some reason we all hide behind consensus. Maybe the pendulum has swung too far in that direction.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Durham’s College Drag

When I first moved to Durham, people would comment that Durham didn’t have a college drag like Hillsborough Street in Raleigh and Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.

But that isn’t true. Durham may not have a street as long as those adjacent to a campus but it has something even better.

Duke East Campus is embraced by two shopping and dining districts with bars, restaurants, book stores, galleries etc. One is the Ninth Street District on the west side and the other the Brightleaf District on the east.

They are better than one long drag because they are distinct and compact.

Amazing the things people say to feel superior.

View Ninth Street Dining & Shopping Map Here

Friday, May 16, 2008

Why Everyone Gets Upgraded And You Don’t by Daniel Ward Craig (former hotel executive, now author)

We’ve all been in line and watched someone pushy and boisterous try to demand an upgrade. I think I know some people on the “flagged” list. My thanks to blogger friend Bill Geist for bringing Daniel Ward Craig’s hilarious but oh so true blog to my attention.

Why you don’t get upgraded:

1. You’re obnoxious. Did you demand an upgrade rather than ask nicely? Did you drop the owner’s name—and mispronounce it? Were you wearing sunglasses?

2. You slipped the bellman a $20. An article I came across makes this ludicrous suggestion. First of all, you tipped the wrong person. Bellmen have no control over hotel inventory. But don’t tip the front desk either. That’s not tipping, it’s bribery. You’re asking the employee to do something that could get her in trouble.

3. You’re obsequious. Another article recommends informing the desk agent you’ll write a note to management about how helpful he was if he upgrades you. This is as unsavory as slipping him a $20 and will likely produce the same result. If you’re happy with his service, write the letter, but don’t use it as a bribing tool.

4. You’re staying too long. One- and two-nighters have a better chance of getting upgraded because they tie the suite up for less time. If you’re staying longer, being willing to take a suite for a night or two and then switching back might help your chances.

5. You’re cheap. Many hotels give upsell incentives to front desk staff, so don’t be surprised if you inquire about a better room and get a sales pitch. The differential can cost far less than through reservations. It’s not an upgrade, but it’s still a great deal. If you can’t afford it, politely decline. You might get bumped up anyway.

6. You called the general manager. Several “travel gurus” recommend this tactic. As a former GM I assure you it’s no way to ingratiate yourself. GMs love hearing from guests, but not if they’re angling for a free upgrade.

7. Your profile is flagged “do not upgrade”. Guest profiles record more than your favourite colour of M&Ms, they also record bad behavior, like when you wigged out when you didn’t get an upgrade on your last stay. If you’re abusive, rest assured your profile will be permanently red-flagged.

8. You arrived with a trunk-load of booze and a four-piece band. Hotels covet their suites and will not upgrade if they think you won’t respect the space. In the past I’ve upgraded people and they’ve held a raucous party in the suite. Not cool.

If you are lucky enough to get upgraded, don’t forget to acknowledge the people who made it happen. If you do all the right things and still never get upgraded, don’t get all paranoid, sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw. And remember, the only surefire way of getting that suite or heart-shaped vibrating bed is to cough up.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dangerous Cultural Driving Habits

Okay, there are some crazy things that differentiate us as places.

In Idaho
growing up, it was incredible how many people would turn onto a two lane road where the speed limit was high and then putt putt up to speed….didn’t matter how far away you were when they did it, you had to slam on the brakes.

In Utah, where I went to college, drivers are even worse. They never know which way to turn….they are liable to turn right out of the left lane as they are left….

In Washington State, at least Eastern Washington, drivers are incredible polite. But when they turn onto a street, they require about a mile of open space….

In Alaska, where I lived in the ‘80’s, drivers would hug the center line. Kind of a form of playing “chicken” or fear the borrow pit at the edge of the side of road will be “into the wild.”

But in North Carolina, my adopted home the last 19 years, we top it all. Drivers here come to a full halt in the middle of the street and then turn ever so slowly into a driveway or parking lot. No matter how you gauge your speed to make sure they are out of the way, you’re always at risk. Not only do they turn slowly they are just as liable to stop several times during the turn. Drives me crazy. Maybe people forget the car extends back from the driver’s seat…or maybe they read the rule wrong and believe they are supposed to create as much interference with traffic as possible.

It is a wonder road rage isn’t epidemic.

Our parking lot entries are as good as anywhere in the country…for goodness sakes lets be considerate of traffic and get the heck out of the roadway as quickly as possible. Everyone is afraid to honk the horn…people might throw it in reverse and back – back out on to the street.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

50 Years

By 2010, the City of Durham will have grown 75% in population since I arrived in 1980. The County of Durham will have grown 50%. And still the community has managed to retain its sense of place, in fact deepen it. This is testament that sense of place can be temporal.

Since 1960, by then a 50 year span, the number of hotel guest rooms in Durham, one indicator in the growth of visitation, will have grown from 562 to nearly 9,000.

In that span, the number of hotel guest rooms in Durham will have multiplied 15 times while the population of the City will have grown 2.6 times over and the County 2.3 times.

With a healthy share of open space and low density development, Durham is rapidly running low on developable land. Of course gentrification will then take up the slack, hopefully not to the point that it destroys Durham’s unique blend.

But it is clear that tourism will play an even greater role in Durham’s future, not as an end but as a means to an end, as a way to safeguard and protect and sustain place-based assets, cultural, built and natural.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

DCVB Is Rain Harvesting

For anyone wondering why a backhoe was busy digging out the west side of the Visitor Information Center, DCVB is officially in the rain harvesting business. Sustainable Building Solutions installed the 3,000-gallon system so it will directly feed the landscape irrigation system.

The roof on this building would feed much more than 3,000 gallons, but it wasn’t cost-effective for us to dig up any more than we did. This is much smaller than the cistern American Tobacco is installing to feed its “river,” which evaporates 8,000 gallons a week or about the capacity of a tanker truck. It is also much less ambitious than the solar water-heating system Greenfire is installing in Rogers Alley.

Sustainable is doing large and small systems all over Durham and surrounding communities.

Now the big question! When everyone is harvesting, what will that do to ground water? Or will it just remove water from the storm runoff system? Both I suspect.

Maybe in the future, the City will purchase water from harvesters, much like the power companies purchase power from facilities and homes with solar systems?

Friday, May 09, 2008


This month Fast Company magazine published a chart showing the origins of the $295 billion Americans gave to charity in 2006. Sources given included Giving USA Foundation and Charities Aid Association.

A dilemma often noted in Durham is the demise of corporate or business philanthropy, further exaggerated by the decision of many corporations based here to give what they do donate based on where commuter employees live, rather than to their hometown.

But the Fast Company chart reveals that only 4.3% of charitable giving in 2006 came from corporations, compared to 75.6% from individuals. I suspect the rest came from smaller businesses. Other interesting details were that only 32.8% went to religious organizations and that 65% came from households making less than $100,000 a year.

The chart uses the term America, but I assume they really mean the United States of America, not Canada or Mexico (or Latin America), because it notes 1.7% of GDP goes to charity here, #1 in the world, followed by Britain at 0.73%.

Philanthropy has changed everywhere. So the next time someone says, “let the private sector pay for it,” keep in mind who we’re really talking about.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Feedback Surveys

It is often difficult to get people to fill out comment cards and surveys at the end of an event like the Annual Tribute Luncheon (ATL). People are rushing to catch someone or to share the excitement of the event.

And it is always more difficult to get someone positive to fill one out than it is someone negative.

But the ATL succeeded on both counts. More than a third of the audience filled out the cards. And of the several hundred surveys, they were positive by a ratio of 90 to 1. In fact, only two people gave negative replies to the question about whether or not the event left them feeling energized about Durham.

The biggest complaint I foresaw, because I did a double-take as well. The chicken was meant to be room temperature on purpose. One person complained it was served late, which is odd because it was “pre-set.”

Valuable feedback nonetheless.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Beware - "One Size Fits All" Regionalism Can Be Very Expensive

Many businesses like hotels pay companies like AT&T for clicks from advertising on their search engines.

But because AT&T views the entire world in a centric model, it can be hugely expensive.

In a centric area, say, like Atlanta or Charlotte, it is still unlikely but more probable that a guest may stay in one of the cities ringing that city in the center.

But in a polycentric region like the Triangle, where there is no dominant center, research has shown it is highly unlikely that guests would stay in a city other than their true destination. When it does happen, it is often through obfuscation and results in very unhappy guests who don’t visit somewhere to be a commuter.

But the real cost is when a company like AT&T dings a hotel in one area for searches in another. For example, one hotelier in the far west part of the Triangle reported being dinged for searches in Raleigh in the far east part of the Triangle and again for searches in communities halfway to Greensboro.

It all comes down to misuse and misunderstandings about regionalism… that all regions aren’t alike and formulas can’t be applied universally. It is also because phone companies like this long ago abandoned the genius of the original “yellow pages,” where people could count on finding nearby businesses. Today, a listing is typically a mishmash of things close by and things from anyone from anywhere who buys in to appear located close by.

If you dismiss the inconvenience to travelers, try staying in Newark or Stamford next time you travel to the heart of New York City… or San Jose when you want to visit San Francisco… or Tacoma when you visit Seattle and don’t want to miss the parking lot they call Interstate 5.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Vintage Bull Durham Signs

I didn’t realize it until recently, but brands have always been significant to me, and (who knows?) maybe that interested me to go from law school to marketing places. In fact, one of the first brands I was exposed to is literally a brand. It is still registered in Idaho.

A few years ago, I got a copy of that page of the brand registry. We used HB (with the H and the B sharing the same horizontal bar). Hyrum Bowman is the name of both my great-great- and great-grandfathers. There were other brands like Winchester 30-30, Jeep, Oliver, Farmall, Case, Quarter Horse, Henry’s Fork, Belgian, Hereford, Percheron, Island Park, Morgan, Black Angus, Appaloosa, IGA, Monkey Wards and many more.

Bull Durham may have put Durham on the map. It did with me as a kid growing up in Northeast-Eastern Idaho. My Uncle Lewis, who had a place several miles closer to town, was a “rock star,” because he had one of the few John Deere Model M tractors making the distinctive sound of a two-cycle engine. He also carried a Bull Durham tobacco pouch in his shirt pocket. He could also spit further than anybody I’ve ever known, an ability impressive to little boys everywhere.

When I was drawn to Durham nearly two decades ago, I knew Bull Durham as a movie, but I quickly became familiar with the history of the company and the brand. The Old Bull Building is a national historic landmark, and the company gave Durham its first legacy brand tagline and one of my favorites, “The Bull City.” And after Lord Tennyson was introduced to Bull Durham, the company added the tagline “The Town Renowned the World Around.”

I also learned that signs had been hand-painted on walls, rooftops and other locations all over the world. Mark Twain is said to have complained that he could hardly see the pyramids in Egypt for the Bull Durham signs.

You can still see them on a brick wall in Downtown Durham and in Rochester, NY, and… my friend Jane Goodridge was recently traveling through New Mexico, and in a small, two-road town called Socorro, 60 miles south of Albuquerque, she snapped this photo of a Bull Durham sign, painted in the 1950s, a resident told her.

There are a lot of reasons Durham is a good fit for me, but maybe it all began with Bull Durham on that pouch in my uncle’s shirt pocket.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Durham in a Nutshell

It was a real treat to sit by movie writer/director Ron Shelton at the Annual Tribute Luncheon, which this year honored the film-making family for Bull Durham.

It is very down to earth and epitomizes his writing--smart, witty, unpretentious.

Maybe that’s why he was able to capture the essence of Durham. Part of the community’s brand is that its “top 10” rankings don’t go to its head. It is as unpretentious a community as others are “over-reaching.”

But no one captured it better than producer and Durham native Thom Mount:
"Ron captured, most beautifully I thought, the kind of spirit of Durham, which in those days was very much the kind of black sheep of North Carolina cities, a city where the tobacco industry and the cotton industry were fading, a city which had had a very tough civil rights struggle, and a kind of disastrously miscalculated urban renewal program and a number of things that didn’t serve the city very well.

"And yet despite all that, in that Durham at that day, you could sit on a picnic bench at Kings Sandwich Shop, with men and women of color, men and women of different classes and occupations, and you could have a barbeque sandwich and a hotdog and talk about life, and in that moment on that picnic bench, there was something that annealed the better qualities of the human spirit, and it existed in Durham, and Ron was able to find it in the movie. I was incredibly proud of that."

Friday, May 02, 2008

Annual Tribute Luncheon

I’m proud of the Durham Annual Tribute Luncheon and DCVB’s role in innovating the concept and event. I always have second thoughts when I see how much it takes out of staff who are already stretched just marketing Durham, but when it is finished each year, it is clear there is no more important and worthwhile event.

But there is no way DCVB could pull off an event of this quality without our partners. They are also true believers in Durham and prove it with their dedication and financial resources.

First of all, while DCVB does some of the heavy-lifting, we couldn’t do it without our partner The Special Event Company as pro bono co-producer. Sally Webb is one of the best, and we’re so lucky Durham is the company’s East Coast home. (They have offices in London, LA and Durham.)

Next, it wouldn’t be possible without the sponsors this year--many of them repeat sponsors like Duke University Health System, The Sarah P. Duke Gardens, U.S. FoodService, SunTrust and American Airlines--which make it possible for DCVB to dedicate the proceeds of the event to Durham Careers In Hospitality, an award-winning partnership of DCVB and Durham Public Schools to educate and encourage tomorrow’s hospitality workforce.

Former Mayor and State Senator Wib Gulley is perfect as the emcee. He’s a member of the Tourism Development Authority, but that’s not why he’s emcee. Durham launched DCVB and its first community marketing effort during his tenure.

There really isn’t a more appropriate organization than DCVB to sponsor the event that celebrates Durham’s sense of place. It doesn’t serve as an annual luncheon or meeting, nor is it all about visitors or visitor promotion. It is about Durham and reminding all of us why it is such a special place.

We were all disappointed that the actors for Bull Durham couldn’t come. Mike Fitzgerald in Thom Mount’s office helped them battle through obstacles for almost a year, and right up to a week prior to the event, it looked like we’d be able to have at least one attend.

In the end, we were done in by the Hollywood writer’s strike. Apparently another strike by another group is pending, so everyone is rushing to get multi-million dollar productions completed in this brief window.

That’s all the more reason it is extremely special that Thom, who is Chairman and CEO of Reliant Pictures, was able to attend. He produced Bull Durham. And with him was the man who created and directed the film, Ron Shelton.

All in all, it helped us honor the 20th anniversary of the movie Bull Durham in style… nearly 700 people, sitting for a phenomenal luncheon on Coach K Court at Cameron Indoor Stadium.