I 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.