Changing Values Creating SC Tourism Opportunities

ImageI just got back from listening to SC Governor Nikki Haley, SCPRT Head Duane Parrish and Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt talk about where tourism and economic development are going in SC and I feel encouraged that these folks get it.  They understand that quality of place is essential in building sustainable livable communities that benefit from a strong tourism and traditional economies.  While they will continue to successfully recruit and retain the major economic drivers, they are also focusing on the undiscovered places in SC and how these small towns and unincorporated rural communities can also have tourism as an important economic driver. To take advantage of these opportunities, we must educate our local officials and business communities to understand how hospitality, tourism product development, traditional economic development and quality urban/rural planning design must be done in collaboration to build quality of place.

First we need to understand that we are now faced with creating and recreating destination communities to meet a new set of values that have rapidly shifted from the pre-recession model.  Perhaps it was the financial reality check that accelerated the already growing shift in values into the mainstream.  Many have shifted from seeking a tourist experience to wanting to feel belonging and experience self discovery when traveling.

In 2009, Kurt Anderson began the conversation about a great reset in American values.  He and others speak of a “new frugality” that has resulted from values being shifted away from a consumption-based mentality. Conspicuous consumption has lost favor as a value proposition and is being replaced with a value for simpler honest and authentic experience.  This includes a shift away from credit-based lifestyle, which may slow our traditional metrics for economic growth but those metrics do not clearly recognize the vitality that can come from formally marginalized places being rediscovered and appreciated.  It doesn’t directly show the benefit of the local shops, restaurants, cafes and services being supported by a shift from corporate destination tourism to destination community based tourism patterns.

When we speak of a value shift, it begs the question “from what.”  My favorite vulnerability expert, Dr. Brene Brown (brenebrown.com,) speaks of moving away from a culture where being preoccupied, over scheduled and over connected has become a status symbol and into a state of living wholeheartedly. Technological advances allowing industrialization and automation of tasks that formally were part of basic home economics has created a lifestyle free from much preindustrial “drudgery” but it has also a disconnected us from the basic human processes of thousands of years.  Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, described this as our losing the “craft of being a creature. “

In the past, many tourist experiences were designed to allow us escape into artificial environments. Destination communities now are asked to bring us into a different rhythm, show as another lifestyle point of view or seek to connect us to nature and the basic systems of being human. The common denominator in this value shift for a more authentic experience is a desire for greater understanding, physical and spiritual growth and renewal. For some this may be a place for adventure, meditation, or learning.  In looking at how to grow tourism in your community, understand it is not trying to be a Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head or Greenville. You are not trying to attract everyone, you want those visitors and new residents that appreciate the authentic culture of your community and only in numbers that allow you to keep a livable community with local prosperity.  Be who you are.

David Twiggs

Organic Destination Community Systems

Lodge at Santa Lucia Preserve

Lodge at Santa Lucia Preserve

 

A destination community is defined as a place that uses its quality of place to motivate economic growth, in-migration, tourism with the assurance of access to recreation, entertainment, and leisure opportunities that fall within their interests and values. There are as many definitions of theses needs as there are potential visitors.

 

This is not striving to become a pure destination. A destination can be a corporately manufactured monoculture such as a Disney or Vegas. These can be highly orchestrated and controlled artificial environments. These are not always the most livable of locations but are typically dominated by large corporations with the financial resources to control and draw a local or recruited workforce.  Who would want to live in a monoculture? Being a destination community is far more desirable from the residents and returning visitor point of view.

 

The question is what kind of destination community can you authentically be. What will protect values of the area and bring economic vibrancy.  Systems must remain authentic to the nature of the area while also keeping relevant with their chosen recreation subculture trends.  This allows systems to develop that are unique to the municipality or region the system is being designed for. The resulting destination must strive to deliver a triple bottom line: Economics – Conservation –Quality of Life.

David Twiggs

 

South Carolina’s Overlooked Economic Giant, Ian Sanchez

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The following is from our Charleston SC  friend, Ian Sanchez.  He is a high energy environmental educator and proponent of  sustainable tourism.  You can check him out at:

 

 

 

South Carolina’s Overlooked Economic Giant 

This giant is wide awake and active right through the recession.

South Carolina’s wealth has always been derived from her natural resources.  Rice, indigo, cotton and lumber created the wealthiest people in the North American colonies.  Then devastating wars, boll weevils, hurricanes, earthquakes and unfortunate circumstances changed the economic landscape.  Over the past 150 years, nature has reclaimed much of the state’s agricultural land and industrial pockets.  Now that she is again in control, her charming aesthetic qualities are creating a new kind of economic giant that is growing despite economic challenges. 

The outdoor recreation industry has contributed $646 billion dollars to the US economy and created over 6.1 million American jobs according to a 2012 report by the Outdoor Industry Association.  The significance of that is really driven home when one realizes the automotive, pharmaceutical and fuel industries each accounted for less than $360 billion and nearly half the number of jobs.

Back in 2009, the USC Moore School of Business produced a report showing the “Underappreciated Assets” clearly tied to South Carolina’s natural resources (not including agriculture), accounted for $30 billion dollars of the state’s economic output and was responsible for employing over 230,000 people.

These numbers show no signs of slowing down.

When the economic crash of 2008 happened, I called my friends in the outdoor industry and warned them: “You better plan to tighten up in the coming years.  This is going to be serious”.  When I spoke to Charlton Durant, a senior guide who had worked in various parts of the outdoor industry for over 30 years, he was calm.  He said the outdoor industry usually does well in a poor economy. 

He was right.

“Confluence Water Sports has prospered during the economic crisis over the last several years” said CEO Sue Rechner during our interview for the Outdoor Economy segment of SCETV’s The Big Picture in July of last year. 

Confluence Water Sports is the largest manufacturer of kayaks in the world and has been located in the upstate of South Carolina for over 30 years.

“99.6% of our products are manufactured right here in Greenville, South Carolina” Sue said. “We, as a company within this broader industry, spend over $5 million in the state of South Carolina to support our organization. We generate another $11 million in revenue by the goods and services we sell in South Carolina that turn into consumer purchases.  People who engage in outdoor activities continue to buy products, goods and services because it is the kind of lifestyle they like to celebrate.”

When the going gets tough, the tough go camping. 

“We are seeing more visitors who are driving here from as far away as Michigan,” said my friends Anne Goold and Scott Kennedy with Carolina Heritage Outfitters, which offers tree houses rentals, canoes and camping on the Edisto River in Canadys, SC.

Many new businesses that offer camping, hiking, biking, sailing and paddlesports have sprung up all over South Carolina. The outdoor industry as a whole has continued to grow 5% a year across the US since 2008. Why is South Carolina in such a great position to take advantage of the growth of the outdoor industry?

South Carolina is a leader in land conservation and historic preservation. The state is blessed with majestic landscapes and vast expanses of protected lands that support some of the most diverse wildlife in the world.

Wildlife viewing is one of the strongest segments of the outdoor economy with birders making up the largest group.  The film “The Big Year” featuring Jack Black and Steve Martin has inspired even more interest in feathered species.  South Carolina is located right on the Atlantic flyway where thousands of migratory birds pass through every year on their way back and forth from their breeding grounds.  Birders have reported seeing over “50 species in an afternoon” at wildlife refuges such as Cape Romain, Santee, Waccamaw and the ACE Basin.

Birds are just one example of the diverse wildlife that can be found in huge tracts of protected land in South Carolina’s county, state and national parks and wildlife refuges.  From elk and black bear in the mountains to alligators and dolphins on the coast, animals that require a wide range to survive still roam through the South Carolina wilderness. 

As habitats in other parts of the country continue to shrink back in the face of human development, South Carolina’s conservation areas will continue to grow in value and be a desirable destination for animals and nature enthusiasts alike. The protected swamps, rivers, lakes, mountains, forests, barriers islands and the creatures that inhabit them may serve as renewable fuel for South Carolina’s economy for years to come.

It does not seem to matter what happens on Wall Street. Wealth may once again be derived from the natural assets of South Carolina in a way that preserves them for future generations.

 

Some Sources:

 

Quality of Place for Destination

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A destination community is multi-faceted community focusing on the unique cultural and natural resources authentic to the area.  These are often centralized in a region of complementary values and resources. These can be metropolitan size areas, small towns or large-scale unincorporated communities.  They are typically natural resource or culturally based with a varied mixture of corporate and local entrepreneurial businesses.  The term destination community comes from the fact that these communities become a destination for visitors, in migration, and both tourism based and traditional economic growth.  It has independent relevance entailing far more than being a suburb or bedroom community for a larger area.  As community leaders, we must focus on building and protecting these destination communities.

Placemaking is obviously place based.  Our lives are intensely local.  The quality of the place we inhabit and the relationships it fosters are the greatest impacts to our quality of life.  We want to be a destination community for:

  • Livability and Belonging
  • Protection of Community Values
  • Business Growth Opportunities and Jobs
  • Controlled and Appropriate Growth

I believe that for several decades our local governments, particularly community planning, economic development, arts/recreation and tourism development functions, have suffered from a type of artificial dualism.  They have been taught to separate things that are inherently part of a single system.

What should these “departments” truly be focused on at their core?

  • Community Development – Creating and protecting “place” that is livable, sustainable and inherently satisfying.
  • Recreation and Arts– Filling “place” with opportunities for renewal, self-expression, physical and spiritual growth.
  • Tourism Development – Sharing “place” by way of hospitably allowing entry into the nature of community.
  • Economic Development – Attracting appropriate businesses that fit “place” and provides opportunities for local prosperity at all levels.

As community leaders, either elected, professional, or volunteer, our goal should be to break down these artificial separations.  Why did we decide to use our particular passions and skills to lead communities?  What is the ultimate goal?  There is a personal satisfaction in the multifaceted roles we must play. Our leadership skills are tested.  We are challenged to understand the politics, culture and values of the demographic we serve.  We grow and develop the people that we work with. Doing these things well has great satisfaction, but what is the bottom line need of our communities? I believe our purpose is to leave a legacy of place.

To build on some of my favorite architect Steve Mouzon’s concepts (original green.org,) we must build a legacy of places that are lovable, flexible, durable and frugal. In short, we must build relevant places; relevant to our unique vernacular of place.  As a destination community we are blessed to do this from a cultural/nature/heritage base geography.

Our community systems must be lovable so that our citizens and visitors will care. If the resources are not loved, they will not be relevant, valued or protected.  Flexible so we can meet present demands and meet future needs. Durable requires quality and timelessness so they will last. Frugal so our systems only use our resources at a pace we can sustain them.  This takes vision and a sustained effort towards that vision.  It takes systemic decision-making that brings the community closer to its values each day.  This should be ingrained in the organizational culture.

Lovable is a particular challenge in system creation.  So many communities, like people, seek to be someone different than who they are.  It must stem from innate and authentic values of place that the destination community holds but also must celebrate individualism within that value framework and foster belonging and acceptance.  People do not connect with a place where they feel a visitor; they become emotionally attached to a destination where they feel belonging.

Tourism Seriously

Jackopierce Asheville NC

Jackopierce Jam Session Asheville NC

Tourism, are you serious?”  It has taken many years for tourism to be taken seriously as an economic development tool and recognized as one of the top economic drivers worldwide. I learned this lesson in a more personal manner. To many economic development officials, community developers, and local politicians, tourism has always seemed to be artsy, tree hugging, guitar strumming outsider they caught glimpses of on the way to their seriously important business meetings.

In some cases that was just what we were.  Living in the North Carolina High Country, we were place based.  Many of us were “native” and others committed the time and energy to be considered “locals.”  Exploring our own passions, we became committed to the places that we felt this belonging.  Places of natural beauty, challenging adventures, diverse interests and a feeling of connection with nature.  To some it was the rivers and woods, others the stages, the kitchens, and studios that allowed us to purse our serious passions and celebrate the simple pleasures we enjoy.  It was the opportunities for self-expression with sport, food, music, and the arts while feeling the companionship of accepting neighbors.  We did what ever it took to stay near our passion. Taking folks fishing.  Playing our band at the lodge. Riding our horses over to let visiting school kids trail ride for the day.  Paddling first timers down rivers. Writing, making our pottery, music, woodwork, and paintings,   we created a community because we were bound together by love of place; a place that we understood and belonged.

I also began to understand the many visitors that came to our place.  They felt the connection and love for the place also.  They were interested in our passion activities.  Wanted to try or watch our passions and would listen to our stories for hours.  They felt the connection to the community and the timelessness of losing oneself in belonging if only for a short stay.  They came back over and over bringing friends and family.  They did not detract from the place but added to the richness and the opportunity.  These opportunities allowed many to make good livings and build businesses based on this destination economy.

Of my cohort of passionate sportsmen, many have expanded their entrepreneurial opportunities in their chosen environment.  Some opened restaurants, lodges, guide services, and wine shops.  Others also opened stores, garbage collection services, engineering firms, accounting firms, and many other type businesses. All of these businesses are passionate about the local resources and contribute far beyond the considerable tax revenues and payrolls they supply their region.  They are where they are because of the unique quality of the community.

Watching the success and failures of controlling the growth and protecting these local resources, I set out to learn the factors for building communities celebrating local culture.  What was really going on beyond our individual experiences was the creation of a community system that was based on our unique values.  While so many communities were building homogenized monocultures to be like other places, we were building an economy based on unique sense of place.  We were creating and attracting businesses and not just what most consider tourism businesses.  We attracted industrial and high tech because we were a different type of place.  And these businesses were sensitive and protective over our sense of place.  That is why they came here.  We had created a destination community that was livable and loveable.  Not the place trying to attract just anyone for the sake of volume but a place that called to those that really would care about our community.

David Twiggs