Friday, March 27, 2009

Thank You Duke Basketball!

Kudos to both the Duke men’s and Duke women’s basketball teams both players and coaches for incredible seasons 30-7 and 27-6 respectively.

Lets also not forget to thank them for generating millions in fiscal impact for Durham, for generating millions of dollars in media exposure and bringing visibility and pride to their hometown.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

One News Source Bucking The Trend

More than 26 million listeners tune into NPR news each day, double the number in 1998, opposite the trend of most other news media according to a report by Anya Kamenetz this month in Fast Company magazine.

It is carried primarily on 860 member public radio stations like WUNC, broadcasting as North Carolina Public Radio and headquartered in nearby Chapel Hill, and also with a studio in Downtown Durham in the American Tobacco Campus.

NPR listenership is now greater than network TV news, which has dropped 28% to 23 million, but still half the combined 49.8 million circulation of all newspapers - which has also dropped by more than 11%.

To put it in perspective, 10 times more people tune into NPR radio news each morning and afternoon than read USA Today newspaper or watch Fox News according to the report. NPR now has more bureaus around the world than CNN.

When I first started to listen to NPR news in the early 1980’s, it was in its first decade and had around 5 to 7 million listeners. It was a great alternative because the coverage seemed deeper, less sensational and slick, and you could count on accuracy and alternative viewpoints. That’s still true today, but the larger it becomes the more it is pressured to mimic mainstream news.

I guess it has become mainstream now, but I hope it doesn’t lose its soul.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Job Skills Moving to the Right

Daniel Pink’s 247 page book (plus index) entitled A Whole New Mind is fascinating for many reasons. It really unwraps the way our minds work and it lays the groundwork for understanding skill sets that will dominate the future.

Essentially, even as computers take on more of the linear thinking or those jobs get outsourced abroad, we’ll still need left brain “ready aim fire” skills but a priority is emerging for right brain thinking. All of us use both, we’re just going to need more from the right as we move from the information age into the conceptual age.

Left and Right don’t have to do with political ideology. They are hemispheres of the brain. Pink lays the differences out better than I’ve ever read:
  • The Left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and the right controls the left side.

  • The left is sequential and the right simultaneous.

  • The left specializes in text, the right specializes in context.

  • The left analyzes details and the right synthesizes the big picture.

Pink gives wonderful examples. He then goes on to propose that six R-directed aptitudes are going to be critical in the workplace going forward:

  • Not just function but also Design,

  • Not just argument but also Story,

  • Not just focus but also Symphony,

  • Not just logic but also Empathy,

  • Not just seriousness but also Play and,

  • Not just accumulation but also Meaning.
Very useful and compelling book.

Monday, March 23, 2009

5 Secrets to Creativity

You might think I’m a fan of books like Crucial Confrontations, etc., because I graduated from Brigham Young University and the authors have connections to that school.

But only years after DCVB adopted these books as self-help primers for all new employees did I realize the BYU connection.

Dr. Kerry Patterson’s time as a student at BYU overlapped with mine but I don’t believe we ever met.

I do know that we both had the privilege of knowing and witnessing one of the pioneers of organizational behavior. Dr. Bill Dyer headed what at that time was the Department of Organizational Behavior. Another professor who taught in that department was Stephen Covey.

DCVB I’m told has a reputation as innovative and creative and that’s a compliment. We strive to be innovative by improving on things at the margins.

But Dr. Patterson in the eNews called Crucial Skills does a great job of demystified creativity.with these 5 keys.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Leaders Can’t Be Adrenaline Junkies

I wish we could say the millions of hours of lost productivity and distraction last week, caused by the sensationalized coverage of the AIG bonuses was unique.

Actually, for some time now, there has been a dance between the news media and elected officials. The news media seems to relish the opportunity to throw a bomb like this, watch everyone pull off task, run around making pronouncements and largely waste a lot of time.

But politicians often use that same technique and use glib one-liners to get the media mojo moving.

But who is well served? We’re stuck in a whirlpool of short-term-itis, obsessing with putting out fires at the neglect of dealing with strategic issues which then results in more short-term fires, a vicious cycle. Our leaders need to be dealing with the huge, overarching issues facing our cities, towns, counties and countries. No one can do a good job of that if every 3 seconds they are pulled into the drama of the day.

We have smart people who can deal with those short-term issues and put out those fires…let’s just let them do their job. They will make mistakes but who doesn’t. If it is a question of capability then replace them. If it is bad faith, then fire them.

Let the elected officials lead.

But to break this cycle, we all need to realize that the news media is as flawed, agenda ridden, mistake laden as the rest of us…we’re all human. Let’s take them off that pedestal stop turning into a mob of finger pointers every time we see a headline.

We need to pay attention to news as just one small fragment of information available and get back to the serious, strategic work of finding solutions to problems long before they occur….instead of rushing around with Band-Aids every time a sensational news grenade rolls across the room.

If we need an example to follow, let’s take our lead from President Obama.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My DNA is R1b1b2

Yup, I had my DNA traced as part of a very cool project by The Genographic Project, a partnership by National Geographic and IBM (the number at the top is just the beginning).

But then I was also given the option of putting it in a database called Family Tree DNA where I’ve had it deepened, as well as having my Mother’s side done.

The first project traces migration and the second helps me identify people to help fill in gaps in genealogy. I’ve learned that part of me lived in Africa at one time, as well as the land of the Teutonic Knights, France, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Wales, French Canada and England…

Personally, I’ve lived in Idaho, Utah, Washington, California, Alaska as well as North Carolina. But dating from the early years of the 1600’s, part of me also lived in Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, Alabama, Missouri, South Carolina and Quebec. And I’m just getting started.

Yup, in the words of both the Animals and Hank Williams Jr., “I’ve been around.” Let me know if we crossed paths.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Day-Tripper, Yeah!

Okay, so the Beatles weren’t singing about the same kind of day-tripper. It is still a song that is unmistakable and seared into my memory.

But DCVB has long seized a competitive advantage by knowing as much as we can about day-trip visitors. I understand we’re still one of a handful of DMO’s helping to pioneer discovery of what can be 80% of a community’s visitation.

I don’t mind sharing some of the take-aways from the 2008 study performed for us by DK Shifflet because they are unique to Durham anyway. For instance even nearby destinations like Raleigh and Chapel Hill have a much different mix of day-trip visitors.

As Durham’s marketing agency, DCVB deploys the findings to benchmark progress, empower stakeholders and calibrate messages to wrap into telling Durham’s story and getting on the list for consideration by day-trippers.

Below are 11 preliminary take-aways about day-trip visitors to Durham during 2008:

  • More than 6 out of 10 households within 100 miles of Durham take day-trips to various communities during the year.

  • Of those who took a day trip, 34% considered Durham as a destination and 57% actually visited Durham on a day-trip.

  • The main purpose of day-trip travel to Durham was 51% leisure, 17.1% both business and leisure and 12.2% for personal reasons like healthcare.

  • Dining and cuisine was an activity for 46.1% and the main reason for the trip for 17.3%.

  • Shopping was an activity for 44.3% and the main reason for the trip for 28.5%.

  • Conventions and meetings were an activity for 11% and the main reason for the trip for 8.7%.

  • Watching sports events was an activity for 10.6% and the main reason for the trip for 8.2%.

  • Nightlife and entertainment was an activity for 10.3% and the main reason for the trip for 2.1%.

  • Concerts, plays, dance and performing arts was an activity for 9.7% and the main reason for the trip for 5.8%.

  • Museums, Art exhibitions and visual arts were an activity for 9% and the main reason for the trip for 5%.

  • Visiting friends and relatives was an activity for 29.7% and the main reason for 15.8%.

Some day-trippers even revisited Durham on overnight trips during the year.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sheraton Imperial #1

Durham’s Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center was just named #1 among all 212 Sheraton’s in North America.

I’ve had the good fortune to work with a lot of great hoteliers…and Mike Martino, GM at the Sheraton is incredible. He and his staff are proof that Durham is Where Great Things Happen.

Durham’s emergence as a visitor destination is a credit not only to DCVB as Durham’s marketing agency, but to the visitor related businesses and organizations here,many of which have earned national accolades like the Sheraton’s. Here is a list of just 20 or so.

Monday, March 16, 2009

So Why Trivialize Rehabbing The National Mall?

Why did a Republican official who, I assume, wanted to politicize the stimulus package, trivialize the long overdue expenditure to rehabilitate the National Mall? Because he could; and it worked. Taking shots at the expense of Washington played on people’s stereotypes. Not the greatest motive but it worked. Or maybe I’m being too harsh and he’s just against grass or the color green.

What isn’t clear is why proponents caved and took it out of the stimulus bill. Is creating landscaping, architectural and planning jobs any less significant than creating jobs to construct bridges?

A job is a job. Why not create a bunch of them restoring America’s front yard which has suffered through a decade of neglect?

After all, we want to restore America’s image abroad, so why not start with some curb appeal for those currently making the effort to visit and see what we’re all about?

Same thing comes to mind as we see governmental departments bullied by politicians and news stories into slashing conventions and meetings. Do we really think the thousands of jobs this will cost retail stores, hotels, meeting facilities, theaters, ballparks and restaurants will take the economy in the right direction? Not to mention that most conventions and meeting delegates are visitors and by definition visitors are a stimulus.

One TV station even went out of its way recently to term a story about a meeting by a state agency as an “undercover investigation.” Believe me the only reason it would be “undercover” is to keep another media outlet from scooping the idea. But we all know why the insinuation was made. And viewers are suckers for intrigue.

But in each of these instances, are we really doing the country and the public a service by politicizing issues in such a way that they create more job losses?

Wholesale cutting of travel including conferences is as dumb as suggesting that because there is a downturn we shouldn’t pay our taxes this year or watch television.

And let’s find a way to get busy rehabilitating and restoring the National Mall to something American’s can point to with proud. Washington D.C. belongs to all of us. And those jobs are every bit as important as mine or yours.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Travel Plays An Important Role In A Down Economy

You have to scratch your head listing to some government officials and news media stories trivializing the $800 billion a year travel sector while at the same time desperate to see who gets which slice of the pie from a stimulus package of about the same amount. But regardless of how irrational it is, playing on class issues has sure intimidated some government department heads.

If wisdom prevails over polemics, government will heed the advice given in a USTA survey of businesses with $50 million or more in sales. Seven in ten believe it is important to sustain or increase travel in times like these. Experts warn that during times like these, many organizations will go overboard in cost cutting and risk permanent impairment.

In the survey:

  • 82 percent of companies surveyed believe that business travel is important to achieving their business results;

  • 81 percent believe that more client contact is necessary in a slow economy;

  • 59 percent strongly agree that in-person contact grows their business; and

  • 72 percent of businesses believe that increasing travel while others are cutting back creates an opportunity to build market share and new customer relationships.

Dr. Suzanne Cook, U.S. Travel's Senior Vice President of Research nailed it when she was quoted, "it's also clear from our survey results that the old maxim remains true; if you don't take care of your customers, someone else will."

Government doesn’t have a profit motive and it may not think it has competition. But it faces challenges nonetheless, like sustaining productivity, effectiveness and efficiency. Both business and government are under pressure to quickly identify cost reductions in this downturn. But trivializing travel could very well sacrifice longer-term strength and vitality.

Thanks to my friends at Travelmole for reminding me of this study.

Friday, March 13, 2009

More Looking Ahead, Less Whining

I’m a little worried that whenever something impacts any of the 7+ industries we collectively refer to as travel and tourism, we get better at speaking with one voice but it comes across as a defensive, self-centered, whiny voice.

Maybe we should not only set the record straight and express concern, but also spend some time examining more closely the truths behind some comments and discussing how to adapt to realities.

For instance, rather than just rallying to block earlier school start dates, maybe tourism should come to terms with the proven correlation between better student achievement and longer school days combined with short summer school terms and the proven popularity of year round schools with parents, students and communities.

We should be discussing how to adapt and change…not just stonewall. Better student achievement is also very important to tourism and there are always opportunities behind every paradigm shift.

In another example, when a researcher pointed to the incredible over-expansion of meeting space, tourism took it personally and raged in denial. Fact is he made some valid points overall that had already been voiced for sometime within tourism circles.

There are some serious problems with the way communities make facility decisions. Technological alternatives to face-to-face meetings have been percolating for decades. Rather than just quibbling, shouldn’t we be thinking of how to adapt, how to avoid the inevitable facility churn that will come as meetings continue to decline as a proportion of overall travel and discuss how to pursue opportunities within that paradigm shift?

And the long slow decline in business travel as a proportion of overall travel has been underway for decades. Travel experts have warned that we need to shift gears and diversify. Maybe this downturn will push us into doing that.

We’re right to be indignant that travel is being trivialized as an economic engine during the downturn. Especially conventions and meetings. But we put the wrong face on the victim. It isn’t just hotels, airlines, etc. It is people and communities. Travel by nature is an economic stimulus, because it imports tax revenues and spending. Annually travelers generate as much spending as the recently passed stimulus package.

Lopping it off or stigmatizing it as a luxury is like shooting ourselves in the foot. Would it be any smarter to encourage people not to pay taxes or to watch television during the downturn? No, it would worsen the deficit.

As the recent ad in USToday warned…”Want to Lose 1 Million More Jobs – Just Keep Talking.”

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Nice article in a Raleigh pub this month, entitled COOL COMES TO THE BULL CITY

Overall, a very positive article about Downtown Durham, although it will be news to a lot of people that cool just arrived.

But characteristic of a lot of news published about Durham in Raleigh it couldn’t resist the obligatory backhanded compliments such as:
  • Durham has always been a city of multiple personalities…“

  • Blacks and whites, business and labor, white collar and white trash, Marxists, misfits and academic crackpots...

  • For years the city was basically ungovernable.

  • While Raleigh and Cary grew and prospered, Durham fell into a deep and paralyzing funk.”

Hmmm! Are we talking about the Durham that anchored the region’s initial rankings as best place to live…and the Durham that consistently ranks in the top echelon of communities nationwide across a wide spectrum of measures?

Is this the Durham that has outperformed all counties in the state economically for several years…and the Durham that was the fastest growing major city in North Carolina in the last census? Oh, you mean that Durham?

Durham Image Watchers basically log comments like these under something called “tudes.” As in “attitude,” as in “condescending.”

Actually, while they may have been intended as pejoratives, in Durham, the first two are a proud part of the community’s personality or brand.

Durham is just as proud of those attributes as it is being home to Research Triangle Park, Duke and NCCU universities.

Durham definitely has a very different cultural identity than Raleigh and Cary and as happy we are to have them as neighbors…Durham is glad it’s different.

I guess we’ll know that all members of the family of communities we call the Triangle have matured and are well adjusted and secure in themselves, when journalists in one don’t feel the need to put the others down..

As one Cary leader said years ago, “it gives the entire Triangle a black eye.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I first experienced SuperShuttle in the late ‘80’s on a trip to San Francisco. It has always been something missing in Durham. What a great concept.

It has been a long time coming but RDU International and at least three of the destination communities it serves are now served by SuperShuttle. No easy task because the area is polycentric, meaning there is no dominant center or community.

RDU is not only co-owned by Durham and Raleigh and their respective counties, Durham and Wake, but it is located midway between with Raleigh to the east and south and Durham to the west and north.

SuperShuttle is a shared-ride van for transportation to/from RDU and in the case of Durham to/from Durham hotels, individual businesses, business or research parks and universities, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

And residents or visitors can schedule service online. Hotels each have a special extranet where they can schedule guest requests.

It really fills a missing piece of the puzzle and SuperShuttle is giving RDU a chance even though the largest destinations it serves, Durham and Raleigh are just mid-size.

It will be $20 each way for one passenger, $10 each for each additional passenger. A highly sophisticated computer system, working with GPS and algorhythms computes the fastest route and the quickest sequent of drop offs or pickups.

Taxis can still be quicker but at three to four times the cost in most instances.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Should News Enlighten or Dumb Us Down?

A news story last week misreferrenced a 3 diamond-rated hotel as a luxury hotel. When I explained to a journalist friend that luxury is a specific designation and considerably higher rated than a 3 diamond, he said something that has been running across my mind most of today.

He justified misusing the term luxury because he felt it would be perceived as such by his audience because they average around $50,000 income.

Whoa! Maybe I expect too much of news media but I’ve always felt it aspired to inform and enlighten. But how can it enlighten us if news substitutes misperceptions for facts, no matter how common they are held?

I have great respect for the person who said it…and maybe it was a defensive reaction to my observation that luxury sensationalized the story by appealing to class.

Granted news coverage wouldn’t attract viewers, listeners and readers if its terminology is over our heads…but does that mean the news doesn't have a responsibility to correct our misperceptions, rather than reinforce them?

To me there must be a higher purpose to news other than entertainment.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Credit Crisis – Made Simple

A colleague of mine got an interesting question the other day. What do we do to defuse people haranguing at local officials about the downturn?

“Mad” and “Sad” can be viewed as nearly the same emotion, just different expressions. But as Rick Amme, a crisis management expert here in North Carolina has warned, “always try to avoid using facts to counter emotion.”

Though venting is normal, it can easily become grandstanding and rarely leads to problem solving. Many news media and some politicians feed on assigning blame. But problems as vast as the current credit crisis that is log jamming the world’s economy rarely have so much blame to go around that everyone is a victim and no one individual or group is responsible.

Sometimes life just isn’t that simple.

Sometime we all have responsibility…and who cares. Solving the problem is much more important.

But for anyone truly interested in solving this crisis, by better understanding how it came about, here are two entertaining and very informative sources.

One a six minute graphical explanation by Jonathan Jarvis

Another is very funny and informative transcript of an American Life that ran on NPR

So let’s all take a deep breath…bone up on the problem, put a moratorium on finger pointing….and solve this problem. But there I go, using facts to counter emotion.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

And The Location is?????

This is a posting out of a PR office in Michigan for an event being held in Durham, NC. You don’t have to be involved in destination marketing and community branding to see how confusing this would be to attendees as well as unfair to the host community.

  • Durham is never mentioned as the location, here or in any description in the release.

  • RTP (misidentified as RTC) is a business park based in Durham but that is never mentioned, nor of course, would RTP show up as a city on navigational aids as a community because that part of Durham only has post office boxes.

  • Raleigh/Durham is, as the editor who shared this with me described, a non-existent place and only the name of the airport. But as you drive out of the airport, the arrows for Durham and Raleigh point in opposite directions.

My guess is someone is either very geographically challenged or was given the misimpression that Raleigh/Durham is a general area. And that giving a general area the size of a state or two, would be better than just giving the name of the community where the event is being held…Durham NC.

People traveling to an event…even if from only 25 miles away, want the specific location…the name of the place, the city, the county, the physical location.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Why does the Term “Convention” Get Naming Rights in Public Meeting Facilities?

Could be the term convention as in convention center is a bit of a misnomer. Turns out the vast proportion of occupancy is generated by local events or consumer shows, e.g., a home or boat show.

Conventions and meetings on average, generate 16% of the occupancy in the smallest category of centers like Durham’s, and potentially up to 28.9% in midsized facilities like Charlotte’s or Raleigh’s.

The smaller and mid size facilities average 31.3% to 42.5% in overall occupancy so the proportion generated by conventions/meetings is better than it appears. By comparison, performing arts theaters and ballparks usually measure “occupied days” but typical occupancy is 25-45% as well.

Before anyone hyperventilates, the practical maximum occupancy for a convention center is 70% overall to allow for move-in, move-out days and the efficient range is 50-60% according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, a firm that has tracked these indicators for decades.

So typically the facilities are running 50-70% occupied using the efficient maximum of 60%. Conventions and meetings are then driving anywhere from 2 to 3 up to nearly 5 sf occupied out of every 10 efficiently available in small or mid-sized facilities.

The Durham Convention Center is one third the size of the small cohort’s bracket. When incorporating the overall Civic Center complex though, it reaches the maximum size for its cohort. The drawback is that it has only a fraction of the guest rooms in close proximity.

Still, using 2007, the most current stats available, the Durham Convention Center draws 18.37% of its occupancy from conventions and meetings, and 53.84% occupancy overall, both higher than its benchmark group and the occupancy is nearing the efficient occupancy potential.

But occupancy inside the facility is only part of the rationale for these facilities. “Conventions and meetings” add more value to the local economy than the other convention center users. A greater proportion of attendees are from out of town on day or overnight trips so the dollars they spend on fuel, cabs, restaurants, hotel rooms, entertainment etc. outside the building have more impact on the local business climate and tax base.

And that, after all, is the primary rationale behind construction of public convention centers and why the term “convention” gets top billing in the name. But it is important for any oversight to keep in mind what really keeps the lights on inside these facilities.

Kudos to PricewaterhouseCoopers for laboriously tracking benchmarks like this over several decades. The truly smart communities are substituting benchmarks like these for the hyperbole and hot air often infused when making decisions on these facilities.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

It’s Time to Update the Old 50 Mile Definition

Durham is one of a handful of destinations over the last two decades to map out ways to measure all day-trippers. So granted I’ve had some time to think this through, but it appears the time has come to bring forward those folks still stuck with outdated definitions of a visitor.

When the outdated notion of the 50 miles-one way definition was adopted, it wasn’t methodologically practical to scrub out people who commuted for work or school. So the 50 mile definition of a visitor was developed theoretically, to rule out the commuters. That was in an age when data-driven decision making, customer behavior-driven marketing and performance measurement weren’t nearly as prevalent as they have become in the last three decades.

It was also felt that 50 miles would get you far enough outside the boundaries of most communities to avoid residents, say in a community that considers itself the dominant center for an area made up for an area, treating other communities as their own residents for the purposes of appearing larger than they are.

Three things have happened that make that no longer relevant, necessary, practical or accurate.
  • One, people commute much vastly further distances for school and work so 50 mile definition if it ever did, doesn’t effectively rule out commuters (if it ever did.

  • Two, communities primarily pursue visitors as a way to expand their tax base so even in a area centered around a dominant community, smaller communities see nearby communities as a source of visitation and they should be able to quantify it. A taxable dollar from nearby visitors can be even more powerful than one 50 miles away because it is easier to create repeat visits.

  • And three, people who travel as day-trip visitors from 50 miles or less are the largest source of visitor commerce for many visitor related components outside of transportation, e.g., restaurants, retail shopping, nightlife and entertainment, sports events, concerts, dance, plays and performing arts, museums, historic sites, golf and visual arts and festivals, etc.

There are many other reasons for sure. But of course, any change requires a transition and some indexing to preserve trend lines and of course there is that inertia thing. But the time has come to expand the definition to include all non-residents other than those commuting for school or work.