What has happened to culture in so many destinations is that capitalism has taken it for a ride. Market forces, particularly franchises, have placed the same successful formulas just about everywhere. The result is that destinations are not only trying to provide something for everyone; they’re often doing it with the very same companies that people can get at home. Airplanes once felt like these amazing cultural transporters. But now you can fly for 12 hours in any direction, step off the plane and chances are you’ll still be face to face with Starbucks, Burger King and Hooters.
You want to get people to come and visit you. Consider what it would take to get you just to drive past your nearest large shopping mall and head to another one 20 minutes further away. Maybe that mall would need to have the city’s largest tile shop or an amazing electric go-cart track or an award-winning restaurant or a huge sale — in other words, something special that fits your interests. To get you to pay for a plane ticket, hotel room, use up your vacation time, and stand in airport security queues, it better be epic.
Do you have that epic experience(s) that can’t be found anywhere else?
Typically, what’s needed is a unique vision and some development to back it up. But how do you pick a direction?
I was thinking about a passage from Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great” and how it applied to destination development. In terms of defining your direction and vision, he was talking about the intersection between 3 key things: what you can be best at, what drives your economic engine and what your passion is. That last one needs a bit of a tweak to make it work for tourism, but I think a decent substitute for “passion” is “a direction that locals can appreciate.” (eg if locals all enjoy playing beach volleyball, trying to turn it into a golf destination isn’t perhaps a great fit.)
So step one is to figure out what you’re world’s best at or have the potential to be the world’s best at with a minimal amount of development. This also involves looking around at the competition. You may want to be the world’s best shopping destination, but you’ll have to be prepared to go up against Dubai, New York, and the Mall of America to name a few. So the more narrowly you can define your niche, the better chance you can be the world’s best at it.
Step two is to look at the economic engine. Think of it this way: imagine you had to pick one thing to focus on. One aspect of your tourism to develop that you think is going to have the most growth potential and be the most lucrative and sustainable and that takes your destination in a direction you want to go. What is that one thing? And does it fit with your theme of what you can be best at?
When you workshop through all of these elements, you’ll find there’s a theme that unites them, often more than one. And that’s your way forward.