The DMO Download

A weekly digest on economic development and cultural, heritage tourism news.

A Rock Climbing Coalition Helped Preserve This Iowa Park

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These Resources Can Help Make Your Destination a Better Place

Take a moment from the holiday craziness and get your weekly DMO news. This week, we discuss “brain drain” in rural communities, a unique approach to collaboration and conservation in Iowa, travel predictions for 2023 and so much more. Keep reading!

Do Your College Graduates Want to Return Home After College?

“Brain drain” is an ongoing problem for many rural communities. Hundreds of high school graduates leave their hometowns every year to move into colleges and universities far away. Many will never return after they earn their degrees, instead opting to move to large cities and metropolitan areas where they will earn higher wages and be surrounded by activity. And, each time this happens, their families feel their absence and so does the local economy.

What if your graduates couldn’t wait to come home? What could persuade them to return to their hometowns and help revive the community and economy of their origin? In this interview with Ph.D. candidate Stephanie Sowl, she addresses these very questions. Her study examined college graduates between the ages of 34 and 43 who returned to their communities after some years away to discover what brought them back. One of the biggest findings was that graduates were more likely to return if they had closer attachments to the area’s K-12 schools, their regions had lower population densities that fostered a close-knit environment and were lower-educated communities.

According to Sowl, these findings were “in direct contrast with how ‘brain drain’ communities have been described – that the lack of employment opportunities and fewer college degree holders have led to academically talented rural youth being pushed out permanently. In our case, youth who have earned at least a bachelor’s degree were more likely to return, not stay away.”

The study also affirmed some factors that are unsurprising to many. A large reason these young professionals returned home was because of the proximity to family, the safety of the community, affordable housing and opportunities to create a meaningful impact within the region.

Combining economic development and tourism is vital in attracting this audience. Both contribute to the overall appeal of any community. When this audience is researching your area, they aren’t just looking at your community as a possible destination. They’re essentially interviewing your community as a place to live. They need to know that you are doing all you can to make your town or city a quality place to work and play. Ensuring that your community is on the path towards a positive economic future as well as promoting recreation options will make your community a no-brainer for these potential residents. They want to live somewhere that offers them a well-rounded lifestyle, so keep this in mind when planning for your future.

Iowa Balances Recreation and Preservation

A local climbing group, the Iowa Climbers Coalition, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (Iowa DNR) collaborated to keep access to a popular climbing area and preserve the environment in eastern Iowa. Pictured Rocks, a county park within the state, has over 60 bolted climbing routes and other areas designated for bouldering and other climbing types. Today, the variety of options and scenic backdrop make this park a favorite spot for climbers of all experience levels.

But, less than 25 years ago, the relationship between climbers and the Iowa DNR was a strained one and threatened the future of climbing in the park altogether. The local authorities were concerned about the lack of moderation regarding safety and the activity’s impact on the surrounding environment. After hearing that the park could close to climbers, the Iowa Climbers Coalition proposed a collaboration between their group and environmental authorities to reach an agreement that would benefit all parties involved. Through open conversations about wildlife concerns, conservation priorities and climbing needs, the two groups were able to reach a peaceable conclusion that preserves both the environment and access to the climbing sites for years to come.

Maintaining positive stakeholder relationships can help DMOs and heritage areas reach similar agreements at their destinations. Preserving relationships and natural resources are vital to ensuring your destination is in top condition for years to come. Learn more about stakeholder relationships here.

Travel Trends and Predictions for 2023

Travel is back with a vengeance and much of the evidence is pointing to another busy year. Despite inflation hitting the travel sector with a vengeance of its own, Americans are still dreaming about and planning their next adventures. Luxury travel is likely to become even more popular with surveys showing that nearly half of respondents are willing to spend more on their next trip to make up for lost time. Another 43% reported that they are willing to go all out on spending to ensure they have an unforgettable experience. According to Forbes Advisor, with mid-range travel experiences diminishing their offerings to save costs, the luxury option will stand out even more to travelers. For DMOs, this is a great opportunity to focus on more upscale experiences and lodging in your promotional efforts. Encouraging your higher-end stakeholders to market themselves as luxury experiences could give them a leg up in marketing success.

Some other notable trends for DMOs to note include:

  • Despite the lure of international travel, American travelers will likely stick to domestic getaways.
  • More and more workers are trying out digital nomadism, but few are committing to this full-time. “Hush” trips have the highest potential in 2023.
  • Responsible and sustainable travel are no longer niche groups. Instead, travelers are expecting destinations to be mindful of their impact on the environment and local economies.
  • With the minimized threat of Covid-19, travelers are finally comfortable to start booking trips in advance.

As you work on planning your strategy for the new year, take time to inform yourself about visitors’ latest travel habits and preferences. Knowing what they’re looking for in the coming year will help you prepare your marketing efforts accordingly. Check out more travel trends and information for 2023 here.

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Could Offer Opportunities for DMOs

New federal funding opportunities for electric vehicle charging stations open up an avenue of possibilities for rural destinations, especially those located near major highways and thoroughfares. In February, the Biden Administration made five billion dollars available over the next five years to help states boost electric vehicle infrastructure. This will support a network of charging stations spaced at a maximum of 50 miles apart. As of this year, all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico are approved to participate in 2023.

Communities and private businesses can submit grants to help pay for these charging stations, which can cost up to $100,000 to complete. The high price tag has restricted charging station access primarily to cities and densely populated areas, leaving large portions of the country as EV deserts. This is a huge missed opportunity for rural destinations. It can take a significant amount of time for an electric vehicle to charge, meaning that this audience will be looking for something to do to pass the time.

“You’ve essentially got a captive audience when you have that person recharging. There’s an opportunity there for not just to sell a product,” Visit North Carolina’s Executive Director Wit Tuttell said. “If that charging station is, say, a local tourism office or a visitor center, it’s an opportunity to showcase different things in the area.”

The addition of EV charging stations can also contribute to an eco-friendly brand for your region and can attract a more affluent audience. While only nine percent of Americans own an electric or hybrid vehicle, it’s expected that this number will continue to grow as sustainability transitions from trend to daily practice. Getting your destination on the map as an EV charging station could be just the beginning of a new wave of high-spending visitors in your area.

Transform Your Destination’s Seasonal Events Into Annual Traditions

Each season has certain elements associated with it, such as fireworks in July, pumpkins in fall and romance in February. When thinking about Christmastime, we tend to associate it with Christmas trees, snow and… one particular song.

Ever since the release of her hit single “All I Want for Christmas is You” back in 1994, Mariah Carey has been associated with the holiday season. Every year at the end of Thanksgiving (or sometimes the beginning), the song rises to the top of the charts. From this single alone, Carey has earned a total of $60 million from 1994 to 2016, averaging $2.6 million per year. In fact, the song is such a holiday staple that Carey doesn’t actively promote her single at all.

Carey may have mastered Christmas, but one destination comes to mind for the New Year. New York City is famous across the country – and the globe – for its New Year’s Eve celebrations, especially the NYE ball drop. This massive outdoor event is a bucket list for many visitors and thousands flock to the city to experience this sight every year amd is also broadcasted on nationwide television for all Americans to watch.

So how can you incorporate seasonality into your destination? You don’t have to have a Mariah Carey up your sleeve or a population of millions to be successful. Keeping your seasonal events at the forefront of your marketing is a great way to facilitate the connection your visitors have with your destination. By promoting these unique, annual events — such as Christmas tree lightings, fall festivals, summer concert series, art shows and others — your visitors will see them as more than just events. Instead, you’ll begin to lay the groundwork for family traditions. Select each season’s key events and make them the focal point for your seasonal marketing efforts. Planning these efforts ahead of time allows you to meticulously craft and promote these events the best you can.

To learn more, check out our blog about maximizing your destination tourism marketing by using seasonality.

  • Content Production Manager at Bull Moose Marketing. A lover of literature and a sunshine enthusiast who probably drinks too much tea. Connect with me on LinkedIn @paigeschamberg

  • Marketing Specialist at Bull Moose Marketing. Art lover with an interest in outlandish conspiracies. Connect with me on LinkedIn @dianamirzayeva

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