Engage the locals first; results will include tourism

I recently had the opportunity to participate in several discussions regarding economic development and tourism. The focus of these conversations is usually on attracting new businesses and/or visitors or tourists. I would like to change these themes a little, starting with the following quote: “A city built for locals will always attract new visitors, but a city built for visitors may never attract new locals.”

Often we do not see the forest for the trees in matters so obvious that they are overlooked in planning and implementation.

When community leaders make plans to implement long-term strategies, they must focus on those who call their community home. Your villagers, more often than not, will always be your harshest critics. As a city leader, learn to harness the power of your constructive critics. Listen to those who are not always your favorite ally. While it may not always point you in the right direction, your locals are the ultimate goal to win over. When you can take steps to win them over, your tourism endeavors will be successful.

Striving to develop local tourism before pleasing your community has always been a lost cause, akin to putting the cart before the horse. When you can create an environment that inspires your local community and brings vitality to the core of your community, the chain reaction of success won’t be long in coming.

Unfortunately, communities too often put the cart before the horse in their tourism efforts. Communities spend huge amounts of taxes on their tourism efforts while their downtown closes at 5 or 6 p.m. They put a lot of effort into tourism boards and committees, while the heart, soul and energy of the communities is in the hospices. They advertise their communities to outsiders while locals get out of town for the weekend in search of quality restaurants, entertainment and unique experiences not available locally. They stigmatize their communities as something they are not really ready for yet.

Except in rare cases, tourism is the result of uniqueness. The oft-used and well-known quote “If you build it, they will come” from the classic movie Field of Dreams is an accurate description of what should be happening in a community. Tourism is a by-product when a community creates a living heart and soul. Tourism is a by-product of a community that takes pride in its appearance. Tourism is a by-product of a society that is confident and believes in itself. After all, if you can’t believe in your own community, how can you expect outsiders to believe? For most communities, tourism is a by-product of the success of other critical endeavors that make up a dynamic and unique community. Build a core, create a heart and soul, create a vibration, and the tourists will come!

Don’t get me wrong: Finding ways to target future or potential tourists is a noble, important, and important task for local communities. Like mine…

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