To make any significant change, we have to change the system in which things operate.

Leadership Conversations

Use These Conversations to Engage New Leadership Ideas for Improvement

Can Tourism Do More For Your Place?     All industries on the globe are experiencing significant structural changes beginning with disintermediation, the rise of the digital universe and branding to try to cope, the primacy of “the space of flows” (in the digital worlds) over “the space of places” (as described by Sociologist Manuel Castells). This has placed increasing value on tourism in a community at the same time as major players in the tourism industry have become place agnostic. Often, to people who look at the economic impact of tourism they find it unbelievable. The real question for the future is to whom does tourism belong, the industry or the community? In this candid conversation among leadership, we will share industry information, impact models for tourism, branding and its benefits/concerns, how a community can better leverage tourism. For each topic, will provide well researched documents on the context and possible approaches to create a community ownership which benefits tourism and the community to which people are invited.

How to Intervene in Your Place System for Maximum Impact     This conversation has some homework to be completed in advance of the meeting, namely getting a start on the system map of place. This is not too onerous, but necessary if we want to forego the group process of creating a system map. This system map is the basis for searching down intervention points to create systems change. “Systems” scholars have proved that it is almost never a direct intervention that can impact a system. Rather, indirect processes create systems change. Why frame work as creating systems change? Sustainability. The systems map and an understanding of where intervening in the system will create the most impact, is a critical set of tools. We can no longer accomplish what we want through individual effort. All the easy things have been done. Now we have to learn how to work in systems, and the value of doing so (including creating better places).


There Are Lots of Places Where You Can Expend Energy and Devote Resources, We Help You Understand What Will Give You the Greatest Impact

In our work, we have always focused on the areas where a place could make significant progress. In the beginning that focus was square on how to get more bang for the marketing dollars and opportunities to attract leisure visitors to New Orleans. We argued for and set-up (with much support in the community, in the tourism industry and in city government) a separate leisure tourism organization. We developed new methods of ROI measurement for campaigns and for spending, we sought out new methods of marketing and tested them against ROI and if they made the cut, included them in our planning. We developed and used story, image and video libraries (digital when most were still using film). We stayed on top of knowledge about our market, visitors, the competition. We set up very active organizations to engage more people in tourism, develop more businesses, create a stronger place identity, and gather useful feedback, but we always checked against national research and projectable sample research (where we spent more money than most and benefitted far more than our competition). Modern tourism organizations do most of this, though the separate leisure organization has happened in New Orleans, Philadelphia (where we worked with them to launch their organization and program) and a few other places. The ROI per campaign is still an unusual practice and so is the digital library. How tourism is organized and how it benefits the general community is wide ranging. However, much more of all of the above are increasingly done by successful destinations.

However, there are areas which are not well developed at all in most places, with or without an involvement from tourism as an economic driver. Here are the areas which every place/destination has had conversations about in the past few years. They are areas where we have focused our work (oddly we included all these elements from the beginning). Once we got the basic marketing areas into a framework of measurability, these were places we could work and recognize outsized results.

Story of Place, Authenticity, Brand     Branding has become a hot topic in city and tourism where agencies have migrated their expertise in product branding to places. The practice of branding in the US is quite different from Europe. In the US there is a focus on competitive advantages, simplified messaging, and is often defended with expand the marketing budget and the new branding will drive stronger place outcomes. Branding does work as a marketing tool on the network, where much of the competition is. It often does little to build social capital, authenticity or expand and develop the story of place. These to us are shortcomings of current strategies, which have negative consequences which are not necessary.

Systems Planning, Agile Design and Execution Across “Silos”    People are becoming skilled at linear planning, need more visitors in the fall, develop a reason in your destination and do a campaign (how much, what kind?). Or cities decide to build an arena (in support of a team), and they assess the land opportunities, get feasibility done and decide how to fund it.

What no one is good at is developing plans for an place, a system because components of place operate in silos. Transportation makes a linear plans, so does city planning, and tourism, and each event, parks and rec, museums and other cultural assets all do linear plans. Some are ambitious, some are budget or vision limited, none take in the whole. It turns out (from our work) that tourism provides a good place to survey a wholistic approach to creating a plan that bridges silos with the added benefit that implementing the plan drives significant new revenues.

Experience Development     Experiences of place are what makes a place are what makes a place memorable and desirable. Infrastructure of all kinds: roads, hotels, restaurants, museums, etc, luxury offerings, a well-designed downtown, are all important in raising the value and attractiveness of a place. But it is increasingly experiences which set places apart. Sociologist Manuel Castels, an expert in the digital age, when describing places (he calls it the space of places) says that places will become increasingly valuable when what they offer cannot exist in the network (the space of flows).  In our heightened environment of competition around place, experiences, small and large are how places become real to people. Even more so if they have shared the stories of place and understand the place to be authentic. An experience rich place taps tourism businesses, community institutions, even local to provide rich stories and experiences in what we call an authentic approach to destination development. Downtowns, struggling for their place in the networked world benefit from this approach boost tourism since there is a desire for more “urban” experiences among travelers (we describe “urban” as the place with the greatest concentration of people and offerings). This approach also supports important elements of place which are usually loosely engage with tourism:  Ecology, Heritage, Culture, Arts. And we have special place development experience through food.

Regional Tourism     Many smaller places benefit from a larger marketing region offering more product and pooling more marketing resources. It is hard to develop a regional approach to tourism marketing, unless you develop an approach to tourism development at the same time. Tourism is too close to the local pride elements of a community and no matter the argument about expanding marketing resources, there is always the problem of local competition, the next county or town may get more than we do. If experience development is part of tourism development, this can grow and deepen local pride. If a comprehensive plan is developed which creates multiple interests and access points to those interests, and if the tools to encourage visiting a region are developed, the result is more visitors moving throughout the region.

Story and Image Libraries and Digital Asset Management     The approach to storytelling, image and video libraries was foundational in our first tourism work. Perhaps because the principals of the company come from media, one was a newspaper publisher, the other a documentarist, this was part of bringing our experiences into tourism. When we started story ideas for travel writers were ubiquitous and still are. The art of creating promotional copy and collecting images which show the place in a good light is quite good. Video libraries, are not usually kept as much video is still shot for a purpose (an ad, a web video, etc.) Here is the opportunity we see left on the table. Communication delivery systems, the frequency of communications, the number of organizations within a place that can extend communications are significant. But all of that is uncoordinated, and the quality of the ideas, writing, imagery, video is not shared raising the quality baseline higher and the exponentially increasing the communications reach, all in a loosely coordinated way through the use of a library.

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