Wednesday, February 05, 2014

In The Beginning

Twenty-five years ago, as Durham’s new Tourism Development Authority sorted through more than a hundred resumes to find its start-up CEO,  approximately two million overnight and day-trip visitors that year were already finding their way to the Bull City.

That’s right.  The visitation spigot had been dripping along for years.

Durham wasn’t forming the community’s first destination marketing agency (DMO) to pursue its first visitors.  In fact, even if it had never drawn a single new visitor it would have still been able to fuel visitor-centric economic and cultural development by:

  • Improving visitor satisfaction, stimulating better word of mouth and lowering barriers to entry such as misinformation,
  • Increasing circulation of existing visitors to see, do and spend more while curbing leakage when visitors are misdirected elsewhere,
  • Telling the Durham story to provide congruity, reinforce community identity and reveal place-based authenticity,
  • Gathering data and establishing metrics by which to measure future efforts and to inform future investment, and
  • Optimizing tax yield from visitors to enable local governments to then reinvest in organic, place-based assets to make Durham sustainable as a destination.

Of course, there is no such thing as a “visitor base” like there is with say, building occupancies which have longer term leases.  Every single visitor must be earned by a destination each and every year.  So the challenge is far greater than just building on last year’s total volume.

But my point is that these five elemental things are what every community DMO should make a priority at the beginning.  Unfortunately, they are often skipped over in a rush to do the things that are much more visible, often just activity traps.

If a community doesn’t have the resources for its DMO to do more, these alone will fuel the foundation of good visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

I helped start these DMOs as a demand-driven economic development spearhead for three communities, one from scratch, one as a resurrection and the third from a point where only the basics were in place.

Each time I felt such an incredible sense of urgency that I tried to do too many things that I could have staged later.  It is so clear now, but communities are usually either clueless about what to expect at the beginning, or they have unrealistic expectations or they have pet projects or interests, all of which make hard to control the focus.

If I had it to do over again (and I am not interested,) these are the five anchors I would stress up front.

I was always known for how rapidly I could leapfrog a newly organized community over more established destinations when it came to visitor-centric economic and cultural development.

But I bet this approach would have made that leap even more rapid.

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