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had some time to think this through, but it appears the time has come to bring forward those folks still stuck with outdated definitions of a visitor.

When the outdated notion of the 50 miles-one way definition was adopted, it wasn’t methodologically practical to scrub out people who commuted for work or school.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.

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