Sunday, April 18, 2010

Time For Tourism To Put Up Or Shut Up

When summer season tourism interests in North Carolina persuaded legislators to curb the school year, arguments seemed logical enough, e.g. free up students as part time workers and free up families to go on vacation.

But by now we should be able to see scientific, generalizable research that proves the logic and quantifies the benefit because there certainly research on the other side compelling research supporting longer school years, longer school days and summer sessions.bus

A few of us spoke up and opposed the movement from the outset because 1) there are inherent risks in telling educators how to do their job (I could hear the hue and cry now if the shoe was on the other foot) and 2) such a significant step should be based on far more than than anecdotal huff and puff. 

There are so many reasons business might be up or down and there was and still is no research revealing the societal  costs of limiting the school year.  Even if as an official did in Texas years ago, there is a quantification of what it means to tourism and taxes, that must also be balanced with a quantification of the costs  to educating young people.

When asked, lobbyists and proponents still get defensive, intimate they have seen information but it isn’t public?  To me that means that we’re still stuck looking at anecdotal information, which is not generalizable.  And as things often do, apparently this has now turned personal and therefore political, not logical.

My bet is tourism is going to pay a huge price for this when the pendulum swings back and it always swings back.  Because there is ample research that keeping kids in school longer, for more of the day and for summers has a huge payoff in closing achievement gaps and accelerating performance.

The letter-to-the-editor in the Herald-Sun, Saturday, April 17th, is also anecdotal but I hear anger like that building among parents, school officials and residents and volunteers interested in school performance.  My guess is that when the damn breaks and the pendulum swings the other way, it isn’t going to be pretty for tourism and the costs will far outweigh any benefit.

Tourism interests who have been dogged and inflexible and even crowing a bit over being able to tell someone else “what do do” are going to pay a price if not in backlash at the cash register then certainly in terms of political capital.

I think the majority of tourism interests are lukewarm at best if not opposed to curbing the school year.  A few have spoken out but far more just keep their head down and have said nothing. Oh yes, the “good ole boy” system is alive and well in tourism where critical thinking often takes a back seat to the mighty knee jerk and the fear of conflict or argument is palpable.

The time has come to either put up (as in put up some good supportive cost/benefit data) or shut up.  Within tourism circles, there is still time for those who share the concern about the long term consequences to pull some others “down off their horses” for a strategic conversation about the future of consumer behavior and how to work with the schools, not against them.

Tourism needs an intelligent, well-educated workforce.  And Tourism offers some great careers in interesting, well-paid jobs.  Tourism needs to be big enough to start the dialogue and seek a win-win, now that it has made its point.

Sometimes you have to adapt to societal change.  I’m sure people stayed at the beach longer on trips before their were cars or four lane highways too….but looking at the great arch of historical tourism development, tourism’s strength has always been more about adapting to consumer behavior than chest-beating for a return to the past.

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