Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Recovery by 2014

It appears from projections that domestic visitor person-trips won’t claw back to ’06 and ’07 levels until 2014 according to projections by DK Shifflet and IHS Global Insight.

That doesn’t mean recovery won’t begin as early as 2010. It just means it will take that long to rehydrate. And even when the number of “bodies” increases, it will take revenues--which have a delayed supply and demand reaction--much longer to reach and surpass their earlier levels. Most of the recovery will be leisure driven. It may take much longer--if at all--for business travel including conventions to recover.

Durham visitation has fallen harder than most because Durham draws a much higher proportion of travelers via air than other more "rubber-tire" destination areas either nearby or in other parts of the state. That means our visitor-related indicators are more robust, often by double digits over say Raleigh-Cary NC or Greensboro-High Point.

But the higher you go, the further and faster you fall when things decelerate as Durham learned in 2001, even prior to 9/11 and now during this downturn.

Durham needs to do everything it can to accelerate the recovery. City and County budgets depend on visitors now for $40+ million to help fund everything from education and services to police and fire protection. This year just the room occupancy tax alone will be down $1 million.

Unfortunately, just when DCVB needed to be at its most vigorous, we had to begin cutting back on expenses as early as November. We’re down as well in staff resources by 30%. But that’s the down side of self-funding visitor promotion with a tax on visitors.

The good news…the decline has bottomed…still spongy and hasn’t started back up but it has bottomed.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Miscues A Result of Misuse of the Airport Name

Business Week is the latest victim of indiscriminate use of the airport name as the name of a place.

By perpetuating the myth that RTP is located “between Durham and Raleigh”, it ends up being nowhere, e.g. “located “outside Raleigh-Durham, NC” as it was in an otherwise insightful article by Peter Engardio. In fact there is no such place as Raleigh-Durham.

And RTP has never been located between Durham and Raleigh. A retired RTP official told me that purposeful “mis-positioning” was originally hatched by the Raleigh Chamber several decades ago when he worked there as a way to distract relocating executives from the true location.

But as happens with these things, instead of rectifying it when discovered, the duped often try to restructure reality to safe face. And Durham may have been much too deferential and polite.

Indeed, RTP is mid-way between Atlanta and Philadelphia or Boston and Miami or Greensboro and Wilson. But it isn’t midway between Raleigh and Durham.

RTP’s actual physical location is Durham NC, four miles from Downtown, encompassed on three sides by the City in a special Durham County District. There is a small portion that spills over into Wake County near Morrisville. If the Park has to be midway between two points, it is in Durham, close to midway between Raleigh and Chapel Hill or more accurately Cary and Chapel Hill.

It is time to humble ourselves and take some advice from branding experts and refrain from ever misusing or permitting misuse of Raleigh-Durham as anything other than the name of the airport.

But is also long overdue for other parts of this family of communities, to “accept” the fact that Durham is the primary location of RTP or to paraphrase Garrison Keillor, they risk being increasingly viewed as small man in a toupe who thinks he’s Tom Cruise and makes you want to say “Stop That!”

To recognize the true location doesn’t require a mea culpa…every community in a 100 mile radius has benefited from RTP…now let’s just give it a home.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

List Checkers

I affectionately refer to people whose work style or collaboration culture has little patience for discussion of concepts or process. They want to move immediately to alignment on key action items. That makes them pretty good at executing tactical things but more often than not, they rush off without any process or strategy in mind.

We’re all list checkers in the end; we just get to that point using very different styles. List checkers to me are people who use it as a dominant style. And there is nothing wrong with list checking; especially when you’re working alone and your actions don’t impact others. You can spot these individuals in a group because they tend to rush through discussions and have little patience for questions or alignment.

While I do my share of list checking, I come from a dominant style that tends to frame things in ideas, so I frame proposals in concepts. Then when aligned is achieved, for me the process and key actions seem easy and derivative. Makes me pretty fair at strategy, consistency and finding win/wins, but for a list checkers I’ve learned it is pure torture to have me in the discussion.

I can--and do--work with a lot of list checkers but I’ve seen the damage that results when list checking dominates or bullies a discussion prior to alignment on concepts and process.
  • Too often, it results in actions that are unfair or imbalanced because they don’t take into account whether they are equitable, consistent or justifiable.

  • Too often it leads to fragmented, “little picture” achievements that don’t add up to any coherent strategy.

  • And it ultimately leads to not "listening” which often turns the discussion at hand into the politics of push and shove vs. collaboration. Oh there are achievements for sure, but at what cost?

But while most concept and process people can easily move to tasks, more often than not, list checkers find concept and process inscrutable. That’s probably why they are impatient. They don’t seem to know how or aren’t willing to ask the questions or clarifications important for alignment. Or worse, they don’t have any justification other than pure opinion.

Communities have dominant styles as a part of their brand. Durham’s dominant style is to work through concepts and processes because it tries to be fair and equitable. Often that means people need to be flexible about the end result and trust it can be win/win. But we also have our share of impatient list checkers who I’m sure feel frustrated and irritated at the dialogue necessary for alignment. They are also dismayed when ramming things through isn’t appreciated, regardless of the outcome.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fast & Loose with Metro Areas

The inherent cultural differences between Durham and Raleigh can be seen in how respective news media located in these two respective metro areas depict them.

Raleigh is in the three-county Raleigh-Cary MSA, but the media over there often appears to ignore that and for some reason drops Cary.

They are probably some of the people who say that “everyone” calls it Raleigh. But if they could see some of the research on that point that I’ve seen over the years, they would realize it is obnoxious to most.

This is also an excellent example of why any branding expert will tell you being on the back end of a hyphen is the first step to being invisible.

On the other hand, the four-county Durham, NC MSA, which includes Chapel Hill, was not assigned a hyphenated designation by the Census - but the news media here often modifies the designation and adds a hyphen anyway.

Interesting juxtaposition. One very exclusive. The other inclusive.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"A Neighborhood With A Soul Can Make A Vibrant City Even Better"

The new ranking for Durham in Men’s Journal reminded me of an exchange with a consultant a few years back. I was cornered in a small office in City Hall and this guy had clearly been brought in to shore up a project.

Because my job is to ask questions, I was perceived as a threat to the project. Dismissively, he told me we needed the project because Durham didn’t have any entertainment districts. I replied, “that will sure be news to Brightleaf, Ninth Street and The Streets at Southpoint.”

This guy snapped back, “I mean something upscale, like a real city. Those places are for kids.” He obviously wasn’t at all familiar with organic, eclectic districts like Brightleaf and Ninth Street or had been greatly misinformed.

I suspect he was smarter than that and was here with one mission and that wasn’t to tell his clients what they didn’t want to hear. I got the impression he was following an approach enthusiasts often use to build support for a project by diminishing, denying, and denigrating any viewpoint that sheds light to the contrary.

Very un-Durham and we’re very fortunate the project got done at all. As an aside, this is why it is imperative for cities and counties to have a peer review of any feasibility work or at the least of third-party analysis by public authorities like DCVB.

But regardless of agenda or intent, this guy was also dead wrong and he must have known it. In Richard Florida’s first book, he literally describes places like Ninth Street and Brightleaf as indispensible draws for the Creative Class. And Creative Class and upscale certainly aren’t mutually exclusive.

If that didn’t connect the dots, now Watts-Hillandale, which noted along with Ninth Street District actually located in adjacent Old West Durham, has been ranked one of the best neighborhoods in the Southeast and one of only two in North Carolina (the other is in Asheville).

But the article leading off the rankings included a quote that also sums up why that consultant was dead wrong:

“A neighborhood with real soul can make a vibrant city even better. And enclaves of unique vitality can breathe life into unsung workaday towns – Men’s Journal.”

That says it all.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Twitter, The New Socialism?

Thom Mount told a great story about his parents recently. His Mom required he and his two sisters to each have a new word to discuss when they came down to breakfast each morning. Meaning, use in a sentence, etc. His Dad required them to each discuss over dinner an article they had read that day in the newspaper. Thom of course is a very successful Hollywood producer and Durham native.

My Dad taught me to view and debate both sides of an issue. Not traits common in the ranch-farm-forestry culture of Eastern Idaho, but ones his family (four older sisters) practiced around the Sunday dinner table. I never got away with an opinion without having to back it up with some critical thinking. Those skills have served me probably as well as anything I learned in school.

But I think I scared him when it came to political ideology. If he ran out of argument he’d begin labeling me a socialist or communist or tell me I might just as well jump off a bridge or move to Russia. Never understood the bridge thing, but my sisters and I kidded him mercilessly about that.

That’s why I smile when rabid talk show hosts run out of ways to label President Obama, so they call him a socialist.

I know my Dad was relieved to see as I moved into adulthood that my embracement of the values of this incredible country were as firm as his.

At the same time, I came to respect that his viewpoints were informed by the horror he witnessed at liberated Nazi concentration camps and the terror he recalled in the eyes of liberated Russian POW’s as they were forced to return to Russia. These experiences gave him a visceral reaction to the totalitarian perversions and extremes of socialism.

But on the lighter side, I saw the term in a new light recently in a Wired magazine article by Kevin Kelly about the Internet and The New Socialism created by Blogger, Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. Kelly helped found Wired and is author of several books on technology.

This comparison chart of old and new socialism gives you an idea of what he means.

In the interests of full disclosure, Kelly also helped found Mother Earth which my Dad I’m sure viewed as socialist. But then again apparently Rush Limbaugh is now a socialist, a new socialist anyway.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Tethered to the Telephone!

The world is moving so fast now that people who insist on communicating by telephone are not only obviously anachronistic but at times downright annoying.

I don’t mean the type of communication so sensitive it requires nuance in voice and clarification through a rapid exchange of follow up questions and answers. I mean people who call and leave a message to call back, maybe even telling you what they need.

Maybe from the message they left, you can email the answer to them. But some still call back and leave a voice mail to call them back. You call back and track them down, only to learn that essentially they had nothing else to say but pleasantries or a thank you, things easily done in reply to the email.

I feel badly in a way for these folks. They can’t hide behind age, some of the worst offenders are just 35+…and besides my Mom is 80, legally blind and proficient in email. Some of the most efficient email communicators are in their late 50’s or ‘60’s.

I fear these folks who insist on staying in the world of telephone and voice mail will go the way of the fax machine and eventually only have one another to call.

I don’t think their failure to adapt to new technologies is about age or about being able to interpret email communication. I think it has to do more with being stuck in a rut…or maybe working at an extremely slow pace. Then again, maybe they don’t have a clue how much the world has changed and continues to change or how maddeningly slow telephones can be.

Or maybe they are just being stubborn. Like one of my Grandfathers who insisted the only way to properly rake hay was with a team of draft horses. I can still remember my Grandfather on that horse drawn rake with his head and Stetson tipped back while my Father followed with a tractor-pulled baler at a snail’s pace three feet behind.

But that had more to do with nostalgia because he didn’t insist my Father use a horse drawn baler.

Old school sales people are also really losing out now. It is maddening, for instance, to the majority of meeting planners now when every destination community or worse—every hotel in the world—insists on a telephone call or a face to face meeting. Few have the time for that anymore, and insisting on it is a good way not to make the list at all. And don’t even get me started on the folks who sell advertising…

But maybe these telephone-only people live in a world that isn’t even aware that communication mediums have changed and people have switched gears. Or maybe they think email is only one way…you receive it, then use the phone to return?

Don’t know which is worse…being oblivious or just very, very slow to adapt. But either way, the world is passing them by.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Can Boosters Save “News-sters?”

About 8 years ago, a group over in Raleigh formed a group to pre-sell enough season tickets for its Hurricanes hockey team to double from a base of 6,000 to about 12,000. This was pre-Stanley Cup and ostensibly there was fear there that the NHL Hurricanes might relocate.

The group set its sights on Durham of course not only because Durham has its share of hockey fans but because of the major employers based here. They played the “R” card, arguing the team was a “regional” asset because people from miles around attend. (Using that logic of course, everything in Durham would be a regional asset.)

Any questions asked or critical thinking was deemed unpatriotic. What questions should have been asked? “Is this free money or will it be diverted from another cause? “What will Raleigh do in return for Durham?” “Is this a precedent and will any business or organizations in need be able to use the same approach?”

The tickets were sold and the Hurricanes are safely nestled over in Raleigh. Durham hockey fans can easily run over there for games. Even though hockey lags far behind basketball, football and baseball (MLB and MiLB) in attendance, the Raleigh team has earned a loyal following.

Today, local newspapers seem to be in trouble everywhere. And believe me, losing the local paper is far more damaging than losing a sports team. I wonder why groups aren’t forming to do something similar for that type of business. That would likely mean doubling the advertising base or subscriptions, a type of “season ticket.”

Of course, there is one hairy little problem…while it is true, daily papers are community assets, the Raleigh paper continues to try to divert support from the Durham paper. Maybe a cease fire is in order while both papers focus on their respective primary coverage areas and get back on their feet.

The local newspaper is a powerful part of a community’s identity.

So come on Raleigh, help us save Durham’s local newspaper. Purchase some advertising, buy a subscription. Joking…that just wouldn’t be Durham.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Due Process or “Do What’s Best?”

Due process seems to go out the window when people get “uncomfortable.” Take the recent news frenzy over Mary Easley’s contract at NC State University down in Raleigh. It is typical of what I’ve seen happen to many people, even myself.

Something occurs that on the face of it raises questions, or maybe in this case jealousy. Gossip eventually spawns news coverage. News coverage leads to formal inquiry - but of course the news is never really patient for formal inquiry, so it keeps the issue alive by reworking it over and over and typically interfering with the inquiry...

Insinuations if hammered long enough transform into perception. Perceptions make people uncomfortable. Factions form to push for one action or another creating gridlock. A few people argue for due process, but far more often than not these days, due process quickly becomes a victim as well.

Because eventually someone says…long before all of the facts are out, let alone both sides…“I hope she’ll do the right thing,” and by “right’’ they don’t mean stick by her guns until the facts are truly out. They mean, resign so we can all get back to feeling comfortable. Sometimes the comment is, “I hope she’ll resign so we can move on?” Move on is another euphemism for get back to being comfortable.

People’s lives and reputations are being ruined on a daily basis so we can all be “comfortable!”

Makes me gag when I see this cycle repeated over and over…in fact it is by far the norm now…And now it has become a well worn strategy. If an individual or faction wants to get rid of someone without actually having to confront issues face to face or make a case based on the facts or go through the established procedure...they just set this cycle in motion and sit back and wait.

Because eventually, rather than sticking up for due process…people will get tired and just want it to go away…meaning throw someone under the bus.

So why even go through the charade about due process?