Washington, DC. Nov 1st, 2005 ---- It never ceases to amaze me how what is effectively the nations No 1 industry as regards employment is totally neglected in Washington, DC and relegated to the bottom of the Totem Pole in most States, and Cities. That of tourism, travel and leisure.
Most Congressmen and politicians can tell you how many villages we bombed in Iraq or Afghanistan last month, but haven't a clue how New Orleans is handling reconstructing its essential tourism industry. How will these essential Gulf Coast attraction open again if the workers are displaced? You could call the local Director of Tourism or Convention and Visitors Bureau, but be prepared for a sales pitch and nothing else. There needs to be oversight.
Many Directors of Tourism couldn't give accurate figures of relevance to investors, businesses or managers, or tell you the first rules about marketing, or competitive intelligence. Most just hand out brochures and make up numbers they think their bosses would like to hear. Nobody bothers to check their numbers, or their performance. Our own experiences on the Eastern Shore of Maryland makes us wonder where is the evaluation and oversight.
But the Federal Government is far from providing any leadership in this area. It really is "Dog Eat Dog" and let Big Business prevail. Of course this suits Disney, Six Flags, Annheuser Bush and Universal just fine. But is it in the interests of the American public, especially the thousands of small businesses in this sector?
The relevance of tourism and leisure marketing is more important than ever as 79,000,000 American Baby Boomers dispose of $3 Trillion of money they inherited, or earned. The successful marketing strategy can mean the difference between full and expanding restaurants, hotels and attractions, and those on the Auction block. Living for many years in Orlando, Florida, and next to Atlantic City and New York has given a valuable insight in the importance of due diligence in statistics, and competitive intelligence in selecting types of hotels, resorts, attractions and restaurants, and their siting and operation.
Even in rural Easton, hidden away in equally rural Talbot County on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake we see the results of flawed and unmonitored tourism marketing, and grossly inflated numbers and egos. The "Jewel of the Eastern Shore" the Tidewater Inn was recently sold again in a bankruptcy auction for less than half it's appraised value. It had been allowed to rot away for a quarter of a century, and needs millions to bring it up to date. The last owners, who had it for only a few months and spent millions believing there were thousands of tourists lining up looking for rooms. But the whole area is declining in it's tourist appeal, and the numbers attributed to tourist events are best described as "fictional". Many communities fool themselves and actually believe their PR. For example in Easton, the old local Cinema, the Avalon tries to function as a Theater, but many seats can't see the stage. An old cinema is still an old Cinema, even if you call it a Theater. It's a question of visual sight lines and how the seats are laid out. Those who want to invest in a tourism or hospitality business should look at the empty streets and shops before they digest publicity handouts.
What matters here of course is that any entrepreneur who did not do due diligence and opened a business would have a lot of explaining to do to their bank manager, or investors. Likewise any corporate formula restaurant or hotel should be doing due diligence and looking closely at the numbers. But managers quickly move on and usually it's too late before the facts are revealed. Staying with our case study of Talbot County, MD "We are expecting 25,000 at this years Waterfowl Festival" was the pitch given each year to a number of businessmen. The festival, declining in numbers, only reached around 10 - 12,000 for the past few years but as there is little chance of prosecution for inflating figures then all is well. Except if you fell for the ploy. Same with local Wine and Food shows. It's those invisible tourists again to get your dollars.
There are a lot of Baby Boomers looking to quit the rat race and open a Bed and Breakfast or restaurant who should be concerned at the gross inflating of tourism numbers, and the effectiveness of tourism marketing in the area they choose. The local Chambers of Commerce will not tell you that the area is declining. They want your membership fees, to pay their wages.
Tourism marketing will be even more important as manufacturing is outsourced, and communities have to again rely on what they have to bring in revenue. There is just as much need for reliable competitive intelligence in leisure industries, as there is in high technology industries. Maybe more.