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Tourism & Our Future Part 2
July 1, 2014 - Ernest Hohmeyer
As we embark on the beginning of the summer, tourism has been, is and will continue to be an important part of our Adirondack economy. Going forward though should it, and can it – at least the way we currently think about it – be the cornerstone of our future?
I am not suggesting we abandon tourism, but do we need to think about it differently as an economic engine?
Are there some significant changes brewing about that may affect traditional tourism industry as we look to plan our future?
1. Diversity Key? As we discussed last tme, a diverse local economy is often a key ingredient to stability. No matter how you feel about tourism, it is still one industry.
2. Rising consumer expectations? The “great recession” had some lasting impacts in the travel industry. As money became tight, when people did decide to vacation, many wanted to be sure they were getting something better or at least different than home. In general, tourism facilities today need to be sure they have at least some updated “creature comforts.” What does this mean for our current tourism environment from public facilities to private?
3. Increasing Competition? Visitor patterns have changed. When my parents were in the business, they didn’t even have a brochure – the same people came back for the same 2 weeks every year. Many were also part of an “allegiance to the Adirondacks” where generations of families vacationed here – it was tradition. Return guests are still vital, but is this “allegiance” vanishing with the Baby Boomers? Those that seek that “mountain-lake” experience have so much more opportunity they can access easily. Trips are shorter. Does all of this mean, an increasingly larger effort to find a constant new source of people?
4. Climate change? Most agree that our climate is changing. What will this mean to our winter season 20 years from now and how will this impact skiing and snowmobiling for example? Will changes in weather patterns affect the backbone of our tourism economy – summer?
5. Quality of life for Tourism Owners To own a business can be a great thing. To own a business in the Adirondacks can be a tough thing. To operate a tourism business subject to so many “uncontrollable factors” from seasonality to gas and food spikes to weather reports blasting an “advisory” doesn’t do much for healthy finger nails or financial health. The Adirondacks are dominated by independent small operators where providing health insurance and saving money for a rainy day is often very difficult. Selling a seasonal business can be a tough retirement plan option. 2nd and 3rd generational tourism businesses are disappearing as the long hours, the difficulty of building equity and a lack of security is not a cycle many of the younger generation want – or can afford.
Again, tourism will continue to be important.
I’m Not You
For many other Adirondack communities that do not have the amenities or the resources, should we take a different approach to their future? One that perhaps does not call for tourism alone but integrates it with several industries?
This idea that one industry can lead the way is not new. It harkens back when corporate America and big business ruled the day. The Adirondacks had many similar experiences with mining and wood products. It was only natural to pursue other complimentary businesses within these industries.
So efforts to attract several different industries often take on a very separate life on their own. They often have different needs and even how you talk to them can have its own vernacular.
Too much for too Few?
Does this approach make sense in the Adirondacks?
Many of our different industries are small. It is often difficult to get business and community volunteers to assist with each effort and the same volunteers often sit on several committees on several different organizations – doing the same thing. Due to a lack of resources and money, our efforts to recruit these separate industries often can’t get too involved with fancy marketing materials, site visits and targeted recruitment efforts.
So when we look to the future of our economy can we combine these efforts? Can we look to approaches that integrate several industries?
How you decide this would be based on several factors including:
•Existing industries in the community • Potential growth areas • Compatibility • Local interest
For example, in our region, there is an interest in wellness. As we have talked recently, the “new wellness” includes the medical industry, out-door recreation, the arts, care-givers, veterans organizations, educational institutions and of course traditional tourism.
There may be a way to combine the search for new tourism facilities, with expanding the arts and health industries by creating a “Wellness Jobs Campaign.” In our efforts to become a “wellness destination” AND a “Healing Center” we have identified a diverse set of needs. For example, this may range from additional tourism amenities to the related needs of the health and cultural industries.
One for All
This may help to galvanize broader participation among several industries in the community under a common theme, leverage resources and create a powerful branding message for investment.
Creating an “integrated economic development” approach may take the onus off one industry. If there are changes within that industry, there may be a better chance it will not devastate the overall effort.
In turn this may assist the tourism industry. As visitors continue to want diverse experiences would an integrated approach assist their varied interests?
We have the opportunity to “integrate” the best of several key industries in the Adirondacks to spur investment and create job growth. Tourism and wellness are two historical industries that we may need to look at differently.
Just integrating these two can be incredible. For example, the Global Wellness Institute published the “Global Wellness Tourism Economy” prepared by SRI International, October 2013.” Wellness tourism is an “explosive new travel category” they state that includes the “$2-trillion wellness economy and the $3.2-trillion global tourism industry.”
We are asking our governments to consolidate, merge and “blur” the lines. More and more on the business side we hear about the need to “network” and “link.”
Do we need to think the same way on the job creating front?
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