Can You Balance Tourism and Community Needs?

DSCN1171Last week I read two features that illustrate the issues cities and regions face when balancing tourism and community needs.

The first story was on Napa wine country. Napa is seeking a balance between being a rural wine region and major tourist destination. The Napa County Board of Supervisors and their Planning Commission met in March to discuss limits on new wineries plus the number of visitors each winery can host. The county is looking at limiting wine visitors and winery events for the sake of residents and to maintain rural character. But those visitors are critical for those wineries to stay open. According Napa Valley Vintners, the vast majority of their 500 plus member wineries produce less than 10,000 cases a year. Most of those wineries conduct their sales at the winery and limiting visitors would hurt their business. Balancing the needs of the wine industry, visitor and community in Napa obviously is a challenge.

Then there was the posting of a TEDx presentation given by travel writer Doug Lansky. In the program he opens with the question “Are we making travel better for the traveler, destination and stakeholders?” He pointed out that with improved access and affordability we are overcrowding many of our destinations and attractions. Our industry efforts have created a “superhighway of tourist friendly stuff” like signs in English, guide books, travel apps, etc. While intending to be useful, in essence these remove visitors from experiencing the unique and keeps them from interacting with the locals. He advocates that destinations should focus on preserving their authenticity and to encourage visitors to interact with locals for unique experiences.

As I, DMAI and others have advocated,  a key point Lansky stated was that Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) need to evolve to be Destination MANAGEMENT Organizations to ensure that destinations stay true and authentic.

Both stories illustrate that our job as DMOs and community leaders is to ensure that the quality and uniqueness of our destinations remain intact. We must strive to seek balance between competing needs to ensure that the visitor receives the unique experiences they crave. Likewise we need to preserve the local cultures, assets and environment for the benefit of our residents. Daunting goals, but they are necessary for the survival of our communities.


Destination Marketing: Shift Happens

dmaiThese are tumultuous days in destination marketing.  Quite simply, shift is happening in our industry.

Last week I attended Destination Marketing Association International’s 100th Anniversary Convention.  Underlying many of the educational sessions was a dual sense of urgency and excitement. The urgency was that the world is moving at a faster pace, largely driven by technology, and DMOs need to be solidly in the run. With the multitude of ways travelers get information and make decisions, many Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) are rightfully concerned about being relevant. But there are those (like me) who are excited with the opportunities technology brings and the many resources to inform and assist the people we serve- visitors, meeting planners, travel trade, local citizens, industry partners, civic leaders and others.

At the conference, DMAI unveiled the first phase of DestinationNEXT, a project that helps DMOs grasp the many travel trends affecting them and a variety of ways to capitalize on those trends. It’s an excellent document that will be followed up with best practices and strategies. It sets the path to deal with the ever changing landscape in which DMOs thrive. For a more detailed synopsis of the project read Greg Oates excellent feature he penned for Skift.

Another central theme was the need to nurture future leaders of our industry and communities. DMAI has a “30 under 30” program that recognizes 30 rising DMO professionals under the age of 30. I had a chance to casually chat with about ten of them at the end of the event. Wow, what a sharp group! I asked for their opinions and they were not shy with their answers. They enjoyed the conference and showed interest in additional ways to connect and learn. As a member of  DMAI’s Education Committee it was clear we had presented a good conference, but we need other ways to engage these future leaders after the convention is done. One idea they liked was a mentorship program with more experienced DMO professionals. Definitely we need to include them at the planning level to meet their future educational needs.

A highlight for me was the program that Lee Fisher of CEOs for Cities gave regarding what makes a vital city and how DMOs can be a catalyst and key player in making them so. His points reinforced my belief that we are actually Destination MANAGEMENT Organizations. CEOs for Cities is doing great work to help communities connect and engage.

The networking opportunities and discussions are always a favorite of mine. Getting a chance to chat with long time friends and colleagues is invaluable, priceless even. Technology is important but it will never replace or replicate one-on-one connections and conversations.

So as our industry turns the corner on 100 years, here’s to the next 100!

Tourism Product Development Is Going To The Dogs

relax2Earlier this week we announced that National Geographic Books had released The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel which includes dog friendly businesses, attractions and outdoor areas in 75 pet-friendly cities and regions across the United States and Canada. The Yakima Valley is one of them.

The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel was written by Kelly E. Carter, a New York Times best-selling author and pet travel expert for AOL’s Paw Nation and Elite Traveler. In each destination she highlights pet offerings including hotels, parks, pet shops and pet friendly businesses. Features of the book include walks to take with your dog, insider tips from local pet owners and sidebars detailing opportunities for people with a dog in tow.

Our office (Yakima Valley Tourism) approached Carter in early 2013 as the guidebook was being developed. The previous year we had created, an award winning program developed to help visitors traveling to our Valley with their dogs. In phone conversations with Ms. Carter I knew our region was going to be a good fit given all the work we had done on Wine Doggies. And our efforts paid off.  In addition to including the Wine Doggies website,  The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel highlights numerous Yakima Valley walking and hiking trails, local pet services, dog friendly wineries and pet events.

Our Valley is one of only six communities in the Pacific Northwest featured in the book. That in itself is an honor given that towns and regions all over the Northwest are well suited for dog travel. In most cases just one or two destinations were selected for each state or province to be in the book. I don’t mean to boast but we worked hard to be included. If we had not developed and worked with our community partners on being more pet friendly I’m not sure we would have been in the running.

People traveling with their dogs is a niche’ market worth pursuing. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spend $78 million was spent on travel that included their pet. Seattle and Portland, two prime in-bound markets for us, have more dogs per capita than children. In a national survey taken of more than 6,000 U.S. pet owners, most traveled at least once a year with their pets.

One of our primary goals with Wine Doggies is to cultivate a more dog-friendly destination. That effort involves our businesses, partners and communities working together to make that happen. Recognition of our efforts in a book of this stature helps us to reach that goal.