Through the ages social changes have affected small communities in many ways and not always for the better. Just a few decades ago, small towns were reeling from the economic evolution of the big box stores. Today, success depends solely on the reaction by communities to that very economic evolution.
The US economy has become much like a Chinese baseball game where the bases are always moving. The real problem may not lie, however, with the fact that the bases move but, rather, with our lack of ingenuity in response to the moves.
Will you be victims of your circumstances or take control of your future?
Historians may someday write that the act of 9/11 did not affect the American economy as much as our response to that terrible act – how slow we were to be resilient and creative! In other words, we licked our wounds far too long. We should learn from our experience and move forward with creativity and ingenuity to changes. 9/11 was a wake-up call to take us from our naively invincible way of thinking to a realistic approach of greater resiliency.
Let’s bring IT home! Take ‘blame the economy’ out of your vocabulary.
Blaming the economy gets you nowhere – but tourism can take you on a path to revitalization. Deteriorating and disappearing towns do not have to be victims of change and with very simple solutions can attract more tourists and increase population at the same time. It can be done but not without a reality check.
Start with the image your community wants to project.
Unlike larger communities with concerts, sporting events, heavy traffic, and crowds, the atmosphere in small towns can be just what people are looking for. These choices can be determined by the community and controlled by tourism leaders representing the community’s comfort level.
What kind of tourist does your community want?
Community preservation attracts educated tourists – tourists who respect cultural, historical and natural resources. Preservation attracts new dollars with little to no collateral damage to the town. Tourists typically don’t write graffiti on your walls, your fences, your tunnels, or your signs. They don’t leave trash in the parks. They come and they go, often with just a shadow of their presence and it’s usually in the form of revenue.
What does it take?
It takes a community coming together and understanding what needs to be done and how everyone can contribute. To accomplish a full revenue-generating tourism profile more quickly, a neutral facilitator – a professional who “doesn’t have a dog in the hunt” - will be your best and fastest route to success. Good facilitators have their focus on what they can do for you over the long term – NOT what you can do for them in the short term. An experienced neutral facilitator will walk you through the process of professional and sustainable tourism development and you will experience new revenue within months.
Consultants who just make an appearance and develop “your brand” are a dime a dozen.
Don’t buy into it - IF your village is on the bay and they suggest your brand should be something really unique like - "Little Village on the Bay." The community should be intimately involved in every step of the process because it is the locals who are going to be working with (and affecting) the plan after the consultant leaves. More importantly, it is the locals who really know the community, each from his/her own intimate perspective. A good consultant will work with these different perspectives to help develop the true marketable picture of the community so you are not using a tagline with which every other little village down the shoreline could identify.
Find a consultant who works with your entire community, listens to the community's ideas and concerns, and awakens them to what they didn’t know they had. Find a consultant who helps them formulate a tourism profile that is not only marketable to tourists but, at the same time, is comfortable for the entire community – not just the leaders.
Find someone who can take your marketing to a regional level and beyond. With extensive research, there may even be a zinger discovered and marketable to international tourists. The key is contracting a professional with a broad view of what the world already has and who can guide your community down the right path of tourism development. The right professional can identify whether your profile is marketable internationally, nationally, regionally or only locally – all with varying success for economic development.
The post 9/11 era is still like a Chinese baseball game where the bases are forever moving.
Small towns across America have experienced enormous social changes, but learning how to play the game and how to successfully pivot when the bases start moving (again, and yet again) is the answer to developing a successful tourism profile.
Small towns can either play yesterday’s game of blame or play today’s game to win. The former is a no-win situation. The latter is a game where everyone wins and is really the only successful game in the town.
UPCOMING SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS:
North Dakota Travel Industry Conference April 15 - 17, 2013:
- Workshop: Growing Tourism through Business Development
- Keynote: Heritage Tourism Development
Called "The Patron Saint of Small Towns" by Iowa Commerce Magazine
John Poimiroo, Deputy Secretary of (CA) Tourism said:
"I was so impressed by your emphasis on sustaining heritage tourism as an economic development tool."