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Tourism & Our Future Part 1
June 20, 2014 - Ernest Hohmeyer
In the 30 years I have been involved as an economic specialist in the Adirondack economy we have seem to have covered the spectrum with tourism.
When I began in the 1980’s, my economic mission was initially focused on “industrial recruitment.” Tourism was thought by many to be a step-child.
The industry was thought of in those days as providing only low paying jobs, requiring little education and skills. It was underemployment at its best.
I’m not sure it was even regarded as an industry. “Real industry” like manufacturing would save the Adirondacks and because it provided real jobs, tourism would grow as restaurants and motels would spring up to support them.
Without a lot of resounding success on the industrial development side, the birth of entrepreneurship in the 90’s, and where bottom-up approaches to community development became sheik, small became beautiful.
Quite reluctantly by many of our community leaders back then, their focus changed from the large companies that once dominated many of our Adirondack towns. Micro-enterprises, growing from within a community, and taking advantage of what was already here became acceptable. Arts, culture, home-based businesses and my goodness, even tourism became new members to the “business development club.”
Today according to the North Country Regional Economic Development Council Strategic Plan tourism can be “transformational.” According to this plan (http://regionalcouncils.ny.gov/themes/nyopenrc/rc-files/northcountry/NCREDC_SMALL.pdf) the “development of tourism” is able to “transform the region” and can serve as a “catalyst to drive economic development in the North Country…” They even created a “Community Transformation Tourism Program. And they have been downright serious about this too with many awards to local tourism projects.
Where Are We Going?
Can we use this new respect for tourism to be a catalyst for non-tourism growth?
I don’t want to get lost in the semantics of “what is tourism.” Its definition can be so broad; you can fit just about any business into it if you try hard enough. For the purpose of this conversation, I am talking about “traditional tourism” or those whose main mission is the visitor – that is why they were built and how they survive. I am not talking about the arts, culture and retail for example, whose key customers can also be focused on locals, businesses and second home owners.
In economic development 101, they will tell you that the healthiest community is one that is diverse. It has a mix of non-tourism, residential and tourism industries. The Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) that works all over the globe but was founded by former Vermont Governor Madeleine M. Kunin, also talks about “transformation.” According to their web site www.iscvt.org they are “in the business of unleashing the power of people to transform their communities.”
ISC’s concept of a sustainable community is one that provides a “framework to guide action.” Part of this is “economic security.”
One of these factors is a “diverse and financially viable economic base.”
We have seen in the Adirondacks how one industry dominated towns have been devastated when they left or shut down.
There are small Adirondack communities that do not have a wealth of tourism infrastructure. There is also the double whammy of where in the experience economy, folks are looking for a diverse set of – experiences.
Will one or two projects be enough “critical mass?” in some of these communities?
Is tourism still realistic for all Adirondack communities?
Plus, is it just tourism that brings visitors to our communities?
Can we concentrate the power of tourism not only to help that industry but to help diversify others?
Do we need to think more about an “integrated approach” that combines several industries and here is the kicker – several communities – using the power of tourism?
And I am not talking about just those that we may think are associated with tourism like arts and culture. What about other important Adirondack industries such as medical, education and even manufacturing?
Can these “clusters” working together on a common theme to attract jobs and develop their own niche brand? And can these “regional brands” be incorporated into an Adirondack business development message – using tourism?
All that we may need to do is combine seemingly separate elements of what’s going on today in the Adirondacks.
This does not have to be an either/or situation. ISC states that a sustainable community “meets challenges through integrated solutions rather than through fragmented approaches that meet one of those goals at the expense of the others.”
We may also need to consider and as Jim Croce would say not be afraid to “tug on Superman’s cape” and at least ask the question “Is tourism still a viable future for all communities?”
Can we take the best of what tourism can offer and have it be an important catalyst to create more of an integrated and economically diverse, regional approach?
Do we have some of the answers right in front of us?
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