Tourism IS economic development in small towns

I bring up tourism and economic development together for good reason. Tourism is a terrific strategy for small towns to stay alive, but people who are working on tourism in small towns tend to get looked down on by the traditional economic developers. 

“Tourism doesn’t count as economic development. We go after traded businesses,” the old-line ecodev guys say. 

My response? I quote economic development expert Ed Morrison: “Tourism is a traded business just as much as manufacturing.”

[Source, so you can quote it, too: Tourism is economic development.]

Tourism brings in money from the outside. It brings in new people who can fall in love with your place. It brings back former residents and people with family ties to your place who just need a good reason to “come home.” 

Is it really that simple? If you just get people into town, they’ll spend more money and they’ll want to move in? Well, no. Of course not. But… 

“If people think it’s a nice place to visit, they think it’s a nice place to live.” 

I heard that from Cynthia Reid who was Vice President of Marketing at the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. They figured this out while researching corporate relocations and expansions–you know, old line economic development. 

The old lines between economic development and tourism development and community development are blurred, if not smudged beyond recognition. 

So all the work you do to improve your town, to provide better services, to clean up your town, to become a better place to visit, also makes you a better place to live. And that really is economic development. 

Oklahoma City figured out that people only knew what they saw on the news about Oklahoma City, and that was bad weather and disasters. What their target market didn’t know was the investments OKC had made in recreation, amenities, infrastructure and quality of life improvements. So the Chamber spent over $1 million on rebranding and a very targeted campaign to show them. 

If you think you need to do a little rebranding of your town, but don’t have a cool million sitting around, you can use these ideas on how to market your small town.

And keep getting better every day.