Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Sneaking 1,000 People Into Durham Undetected!

In 1989 I had never heard of Research Triangle Park but I knew by looking at a map that it was located in Durham, North Carolina. Little did I know as I arrived here to help jump-start the community’s first official marketing agency that another community, two towns over, named Raleigh North Carolina had been steadily and successfully usurping the identity for that part of Durham, right up to within four miles of Downtown Durham.

The news media had fallen victim, business executives had fallen victim, visitors and convention planners had fallen victim and the national news media had fallen victim to the charade. Even the Raleigh Chamber had fallen victim to the misinformation it perpetuated at the time and tried to hold its annual membership banquet in Durham but of course without admitting it was in Durham.

Even the destination marketing counterpart there had in violation of a mutual code of ethics played along with the myth.

Can you say “in your face.” You can see why over the years I was always a little susicious about the real intentions of people who preached regionalism when so many used it merely to justify this type of win/lose “over-reaching.”

Job #1 for the fledgling Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau was to back that nearby community off and reclaim southeast Durham including not only the world class research facilities but thousands of hotel rooms, stores, restaurants and residences that were actually, physically located in the City of Durham encompassing three sides of the special Durham district created for Research Triangle Park.

We came a long way before I retired twenty years later to the next stage of my life but a sense of Déjà vu came rushing back this week. Once a bully feels entitled, you can never turn your back.

If you believe the Raleigh-based state associations hosting the event, the Raleigh newspaper, nation-wide disseminations by the Raleigh-based Associated Press office for North Carolina and statewide WUNC public radio, the 1,000 people attending the prestigious North Carolina Economics Forum met this week in Research Triangle Park somehow without ever stepping foot in Durham.

Only one problem, the hotel in which the event was held is located in the City of Durham. It merely uses the also Durham-based RTP as a locator. But Durham was kept invisible by the event and hosts and the news media covering it with only the Durham Herald-Sun newspaper publishing the accurate location.

So a prestigious State-wide event with national news coverage visits Durham, meets in Durham, drinks Durham water, uses Durham streets, seeks relief in Durham “facilities,” eats Durham food, drinks Durham booze but pretends the location isn't Durham.

What does it matter, some will scoff? Others may try to dismiss the snub by suggesting that somehow the head of the Raleigh-based host for more than 20 years now somehow never grasped where Durham is?

No, this fiction is perpetuated purposefully. What’s newsworthy is that the hoax is now so rarely pulled off. If you want to test the validity of the concern, just try suggesting in reverse that the State Capitol be identified without noting it is located in Raleigh. Oh, now it makes sense!

Unless you count the Raleigh organizer of the Martin Luther King prayer breakfast held at the same Durham hotel. Although “clued in” many times over the years by attendees to the event including the Mayor of Durham, he insists on being even more egregious by publicizing that same Durham hotel as being in Research Triangle Park in Raleigh, North Carolina, as though his hometown is a state of mind that supersedes his actual physical location at any given moment.

Need I say that his arrogance regarding another community is ironically contrary to the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King? His feeble argument one year was that people in Raleigh wouldn’t know where the location is if he publicized that it is in Durham. Obviously he gives attendees from other communities more credit for geographic acumen.

Others who feel stupid or embarrassed will ask what difference it makes which in turn should make them feel stupid and embarrassed but here are a few obvious reasons this makes a huge difference:

  • Durham is robbed of association with a prestigious event
  • It signals that it is okay to treat Durham “differently” from all other host communities
  • Realizing RTP is a business park not a city, people grasping for the location will assume it is in Raleigh
  • National and regional meeting planners will be confused into thinking the communities are one and the same and deny Durham a rotation
  • Executives relocating here will get the impression they are going to work in Raleigh
  • Businesses relocating here will assume Durham assets should be attributed to Raleigh or attributed to specific locations in Durham without actually acknowledging the community in which they are located
  • Travelers will be confused if not inconvenienced when arrangers assume they should stay in Raleigh
  • Databases will be polluted with misinformation and in turn they will pollute maps and other resources

I could list a hundred more and regardless, the issue is that there is absolutely no excuse for purposely misidentifying a location for failing to accurately identify a location…ever.

Unfortunately while many people or organizations who should speak up on behalf of Durham sit back instead and equivocate or worry about the consequences of demanding the truth, it will probably fall to DCVB to continue to do the the heavy lifting because that organzation is the defender of Durham’s image and brand and unique sense of place and this responsibility is at the heart of visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

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