Many times in life as problems beset us we look around and inquire, "Who's in charge of that?" Almost as often (but probably not quite) we look around for a solution to something and wonder, "Who's in charge of this?" Funny how often we look outside ourselves for someone else to blame or to come up with the solution.
May is Tourism month. I look around and I wonder, "Who's in charge of Tourism?" The answer quite clearly, is ALL OF US! Tourism generates 100's of millions of dollars a year in sales tax revenue in Iowa. That's right, no typo there, so read that again -- Tourism generates 100's of millions of dollars a year in sales tax revenue in Iowa. (In 2007 the figure was $307.2 million.) I wonder how big a piece of that pie Emmetsburg is getting? Are we doing enough to bring some of those funds to our community? Let's face it, every locale is looking for ways to bring money into the community so they don't have to go back to the local citizenry with their hands out once again. Promoting Tourism is a wonderful way to bring valuable resources to our town. So, what do we have to do to do that? And, "Who's in Charge of It?"
We have many people and organizations locally that promote Tourism the Chamber of Commerce, the City and Community Developer, Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors, the Beautification Committee, St. Pat's Association, the Casino, as well as many others! While their efforts are valiant the bottom line is that it takes a grass roots effort to support all those folks. Each and every one of us has a part to play if indeed we want to obtain a bigger share of those Tourism dollars.
A great place to begin is with what I consider the 'front line' people those who work at the gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants and other places where people entering town or passing through will likely make first contact. It's those folks who are usually asked, "What's there to do here?", Where would you suggest we go?", and "Is there a _______ here?" If the responses are such things as, "Nothing", "I'm not sure", and "I don't know", those Tourism dollars will certainly be lost. If instead, our front line employees are well- informed and even trained in responses we could really benefit. Imagine if they told people, "We have an Iowa Welcome Center staffed with locals who will gladly help you plan your day or your stay", "My favorite place to eat/stay/play is the _______", "There's so many things to do here that I'm glad I have the current Visitor's Guide to help direct you", and "We have an active Chamber of Commerce who can assist you in finding that product/place/event/business/etc." We can all dream of those Tourism dollars flowing into our community as people stop and enjoy our amenities. The average travel party in Iowa spends over $200 a day (29% lodging, 27% transportation, 22% food, 11% entertainment, 11% retail).
Next we have our populace, that's right You and Me! We can all do our part in sprucing up our community, whether it's mowing our yard, smiling as someone passes by, volunteering to help at a local event or on a local committee, or just being positive when we speak of our town. While we may know the inner working of certain things and realize first-hand some of the struggles going on, it doesn't help if we advertise that to our Tourists. Instead we need to help where we can and then learn to promote the very best of what's available.
On the business front, we are fortunate to have several unique shops as well as interesting eateries where owners continue to strive to provide the best of service and goods. The 3/50 project (the350project.net) states that for every $100 spent in independently owned stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures. For money spent at a national chain, $43 stays here. (By the way, online spending brings nothing home.) Here's something to consider: If half the employed US population spent $50 each month in independently owned businesses, their purchased would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue. Imagine what that could do for Main Street! Secondly, local business employees need to continue and expand something that's already happening here in Emmetsburg that I call 'boomerang'. Boomerang is when a person visits one store and then that store sends them on to another business (and maybe even on to another business, etc). It's a concept of keeping people moving throughout the community for greater benefit. For instance, if I go to K. Jackson looking for a new blouse, they might suggest I go to A Heavenly Celebration for that birthday gift I'm looking for and they may mention that Don Jose's Mexican restaurant is having a great lunch special, after which I may see the sign for St. Pat's and stop in for some Irish charm, etc. Instead of going to one store, I've now visited four (and this concept works for Tourists and locals alike). Yes, it can be as easy as that but local stores need to be willing and able to also promote other local businesses, which fortunately several are already doing a great job at this.
Next comes our natural environments such as the river, the lake and our parks. These provide great attractions for Tourists and locals alike. We all need to take part in keeping them clean, protecting them from vandals and using them often so that they thrive. Driving by a park is nice but it can become a lovely experience when you view people gathered there enjoying an activity and even better if you join in the fun. Our community is fortunate to have many wonderful parks that are well-kept and well accommodated with bathrooms, picnic tables, playground equipment, etc. Perhaps this summer you'll make an effort to visit each local park so that you're familiar with these public assets. At this time I'd also like to add a plea for local pet owners to please carry refuse bags so that they are able to clean up after their pets as an otherwise wonderful park experience can so easily be spoiled.
Finally, we have our local organizations who are commissioned with promoting our region outside of our community through their work with Iowa Department of Tourism, Western Iowa Tourism and other such organizations that market our area on a larger scale throughout the state, the Midwest and our nation. Especially in this era when people are looking to vacation and recreate more closely to home we need to look for occasions to recommend our community to our neighboring towns, throughout our state and to nearby states.
Currently the Iowa Tourism office is running a fun promotion titled "I Dig Iowa". Now through August they are giving away monthly special Iowa vacation packages (valued up to $500 each). To enter the drawing, log-on to idigiowa.com, tell them what you dig about Iowa in 100 words or less. I encourage you to take the opportunity to type in the things you enjoy about our community as I'd love to see the site covered in the wonders of Emmetsburg and Palo Alto County. You can enter daily to increase your likelihood of winning as 'the more you dig, the more chances you have to win'. April's winner will receive a vacation package to Newton, May - Okoboji, June - Waterloo, July - Iowa City, August - Mason City. I want to win! But even more, I want to see Emmetsburg listed so many times on this site that we'll peak the interest of all the viewers and they'll soon be surfing to our sites for vacation options!
Yes, the answer to "Who's In Charge?" has to begin with each one of us! What will YOU do to promote Tourism for our town? I'd love to hear your responses!