Local connections, tourism and economic development – take control!

Destination Management Cycle Maura Gast FCDME via Simpleview

Tourism and economic development in lockstep – “Maura’s Maxim” via Simpleview


What is your most important role in your community?

We’re thinking a lot these days about tourism in a rather chaotic time. It is very frustrating and discouraging to feel that you have no control over what is going on around you.

The fact is, even though there is a lot that is out of your control, some things you CAN get your arms around.

That’s what we said was one big trend for 2022 – focusing more attention on your own digital assets (website, blog, email list, SMS list) and maybe spending less time chasing after Likes on platforms that you do not own.

Your own assets come first, then you can let yourself get bounced around by whatever the Facebook or Instagram algorithm decides to do today.

You can also exert some measure of control of your own role in your community.

Let’s talk about that…

What Else Can You Control? Connecting With Locals and Helping Economic Development

For many years pre-pandemic, we argued that too many DMOs fail to connect enough with their local residents (who can be some of the best brand ambassadors.) The average tourism organization measured success by the number of out-of-towners putting “heads in beds” and when that suddenly dried up, what was left to prove your organization’s worth to local citizens?

Or how can you be considered successful if your destination deals with overtourism, and both your visitor and local experience is a rushed, crowded one because of too many heads in beds?

Some have forgotten what was always true – tourism is part of making a better place for people to visit AND to live, work, and thrive.

We asked tourism pro Maura Gast, FCDME, Executive Director of Visit Irving, Texas near Dallas, to give us her current thoughts on “Maura’s Maxim… ”

“Two years and counting of COVID chaos has once again reinforced the need for us all to figure out how to do more with less to make sure our destinations are viable and strong in the future. We must make sure that every single one of our stakeholders understands how much a part of the solution the work we do has to be.

Travel promotion – what we do – makes it possible for us to be that ‘first date of economic development’ as Bill Geist has often stated. We have to understand that the work we do is indeed economic development – it’s a key tenet and it makes cash-in-hand possible, because when travelers arrive, they don’t come with the promises of spending – they spend right now.

Today’s workforce – and now even more so with what may be a permanent part of the workforce functioning remotely – is looking for quality of life and quality of place, and it is visitor assets that make that quality possible. Restaurants and retail struggle to survive on just residential spending – visitors make the difference between operating in the red or the black for many of our businesses, businesses that make our communities both special and distinct for our residents and the businesses that call them home.”

Make sure you are always wearing your economic development hat.

Help your town with business retention by keeping tourism and downtown/Main Street/Chamber partners engaged; highlight what they do for your community. Help with business development – make sure you have website and blog content that tells a compelling story of your destination, downtown, or district. This will help entice both local entrepreneurship and prospective outside businesses to your area.

Be the “one stop shop” for all information about your destination, with a clear path on your website that leads people to additional relevant sites if they’re interested in relocating or starting/moving a business.

Being a dependable partner in economic development and building those strong local relationships is part of controlling what you can control. There is no disease variant or crisis or natural disaster or social platform that can stop you from doing it.

What are your thoughts about the role of tourism and economic development in your town? Let us know down in the comments – we’d love to hear from you.

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