It’s all about community

by Kalene Griffith ([email protected]) 533 views 

As we kick off our 2023 tourism campaigns, it’s an ideal moment of reflection on what we’ve learned from the past few years.

Today, travelers crave more meaningful and authentic connections with the places they visit. That’s why it’s crucial for tourism bureaus to prioritize the quality of life of the communities they represent. By investing in local cultural events, public spaces, and one-of-a-kind adventures, tourism bureaus can create attractive places to live and unforgettable experiences that leave a lasting impact on visitors.

When a tourism bureau supports a community’s quality of life, it can create a virtuous cycle of growth and development. The investment serves as a catalyst to attract more visitors, which will, in turn, drive economic growth and job creation. Such growth can further incentivize tourism bureaus to invest in their communities, creating a positive feedback loop that benefits everyone.

Tourism leaders must direct their efforts and dollars toward creating vibrant and welcoming environments for locals and guests alike to achieve these results. That might involve preserving and promoting your area’s natural beauty and cultural heritage, supporting access to the arts and outdoor recreation, or investing in public infrastructure, which makes your community more accessible and enjoyable.

On the one hand, these efforts can directly support tourism while supporting local businesses, artists, organizations and community development initiatives. On the other hand, they promote overall satisfaction among residents and foster community pride. That can result in a friendlier and more welcoming environment, which has the potential to enhance the visitor experience and set the stage for affordable, sustainable tourism that can weather economic downturns and continue to attract visitors year-round.

Data suggest travel will rebound to near pre-pandemic levels in 2023, but it is also anticipated that cost will be a significant consideration for most travelers. According to a tourism recovery outlook issued by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, travel should reach 80-95% of what it was in 2019. A survey by tourism research firm Longwoods International found that nearly 90% of U.S. residents plan to travel in the next six months. Still, half said their financial situation had led them to scale back their vacation plans.

Kalene Griffith

In light of this shift, communities that have invested in public spaces, cultural events, and outdoor recreation are well-placed to attract visitors seeking affordable tourism in 2023 and beyond. The key is to lean into free or low-cost events and public spaces that showcase your community’s uniqueness. That is the only way to stand out.

Consider overlooked or untapped features, from historical events that occurred in town to natural resources like rivers, hiking trails or parks. Explore how those features might be leveraged to attract niche regional audiences.

For example, here in Bentonville, our community built upon its natural attributes to establish itself as the Mountain Biking Capital of the World and create an outdoor recreation industry contributing $137 million to the local economy. Mountain biking attractions have undoubtedly brought new visitors to the area. At the same time, residents enjoy the benefits of amenities that add more fun and pleasure to their lives while improving mental and physical health at little to no cost.

When you start by working to build a community people love to call home, you end up with a destination that travelers love to visit and explore.

Editor’s note: Kalene Griffith is president and CEO of Visit Bentonville, chairwoman of the Northwest Arkansas Tourism Association, former chairwoman of the Arkansas State Parks and Tourism Commission, and a board member at the Arkansas Hospitality Association Travel Council. The opinions expressed are those of the author.