Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Strategic Overhaul for North Carolina Marketing

In 1995 I was honored when I was nominated by my state for an appointment as a Presidential delegate to the White House Conference on Travel and Tourism, but it is clear today, some 17 years later, that many other attendees did not take notes.

One of the clear outcomes of that ground-breaking conference was an understanding that tourism isn’t an industry, never has been, never will be. It is, instead, a sector of 6 or 7 different industries.  When I got back to Durham and the community-destination marketing organization where I was an executive until several years ago, we flipped that switch immediately.

Seventeen years later, you can use someone’s reference to tourism as a sector vs. an industry to quickly determine how strategic they are.  Of course, being thought of as a strategic thinker is something almost everyone seeks but lamentably few qualify as such despite the best efforts to teach it in leading-edge programs today such as Appalachian State University’s Hospitality and Tourism Degree Program.

It is more a mindset than a matter of smarts and the difference is more than semantic.  Anyone who has flipped the switch from viewing tourism as an industry to a sector of industries is more likely able to take the long view of leadership which in the words of Dr. Roger B. Porter, a Harvard professor and classmate two years ahead of me at BYU means they:

“…are more concerned with investing in the future than in immediate gratification, and they value dynamism, change, and innovation over security and stability.”

North Carolina Governor-elect Pat McCrory has an opportunity to overhaul state government the way Governor Bill Umstead did in the early 1950s and nowhere more so than in travel and tourism and the way the state is marketed overall.

Like Umstead, a Durham native, who embedded the development of Research Triangle Park in his overhaul, which after his untimely death happened to be carved into Durham pinelands and the launch of what would become North Carolina’s transition into a powerhouse for research and development, especially in healthcare, McCrory has the opportunity to set the tone for North Carolina’s marketing for the next 50 years.

In the late 1950s, North Carolina’s approach to both development and  environmental conservation were fused into one department.  Similar to how these two forces have become under separate agencies, today the state’s marketing has become much too fragmented with many divisions and departments trying their hand at marketing with little or no strategic coordination with the state’s destination marketing agency.

A more strategic, forward approach to marketing the state won’t be a replica of what McCrory saw in Charlotte when he was Mayor.  They have done some novel things there but it is still essentially old-school, facility-driven community-destination marketing, the way it was practiced in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

At its core, destination marketing, regardless of whether it is for a community or a state, is about promoting a the destination as a whole.  As a destination, the State of North Carolina has had some remarkable leadership over the years, but those leaders’ hands have been tied by a mix of old-schoolers in the tourism sector and fragmentation within state government.

A first order of any strategic realignment in this state must recognize and adapt to the reality that over the past thirty years it has been the marketing agencies of North Carolina’s cities and counties, working in collaboration, that have collectively driven nearly 80% of the state’s tourism growth.

McCrory is in a position to generate synergistic realignment of the paradigm in North Carolina state government, just the way Governor Umstead did with the state’s approach to economic development 60 years ago.  Fortunate for North Carolina and especially Durham, a McKinsey Global Institute Report last year entitled An economy that works: Job creation and America’s Future, two of the three most potent sectors for job growth will be healthcare and tourism.

According to the report, the tourism sector alone, reported to be the nation’s fifth largest employment sector, is projected to generate one in seven jobs over the next decade, adding to sub-segments such as the 1.9 million in arts, entertainment and recreation and more than 11 million combined in sub-segments of foodservice and accommodations.

Ironically, soon-to-be Governor McCrory will need to look no further than the state constitution for an overarching strategy to guide any strategic overhaul of North Carolina’s marketing.  By a vote of more than 7 to 1, in 1972 North Carolinians embedded an oft-ignored constitutional amendment that reads in part:

“It shall be the policy of this State to conserve and protect its lands and waters for the benefit of all its citizenry, and to this end it shall be a proper function of the State of North Carolina and its political subdivisions to acquire and preserve park, recreational, and scenic areas, to control and limit the pollution of our air and water, to control excessive noise, and in every other appropriate way to preserve as a part of the common heritage of this State its forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, openlands, and places of beauty.”

Unfortunately, the following year responsibilities for economic development and environmental resource protection were segregated, leading to desecrations such as the recent legislative give-away of roadside beauty to out-of-state billboard companies, something McCrory lamented during the campaign.

North Carolinians have a very deep love for their state and its incredible and unique sense-of-place.  They deserve an overarching strategic direction for the state that puts the protection of its sense-of-place at the top of any list of development priorities, just as the state constitution requires.

Election rhetoric aside, no one has a proven track record of doing this more than Governor-elect McCrory!

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