Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, May 05, 2017

National Tourism Week (May 7th - 13th), Public Diplomacy, National Heritage Areas, etc.

National Tourism Week starts this Sunday.

Federal government actions threaten tourism.  I've been meaning to write about how the various machinations of the Trump Administration vis a vis other countries is likely to significantly decrease tourism visits on the part of international visitors, who tend to stay longer and spend more money compared to domestic tourists ("Trump travel ban hurts U.S. tourism, with billions at stake," Washington Post.

The concept of "public diplomacy" was all the rage back during the Bush Administration, when the government thought the largest part of the problem with the perception of the US amongst the peoples of the Mideast was due to a lack of understanding about the values and intentions of the US.

While that wasn't the root of "the problem," the idea of "public diplomacy" not just being a matter of government-initiated communications, but also people-to-people connections spurred in part through connections from and the economy of tourism, spurred a broader interest in the subject.

Brand America by AnholtTarnishing Brand America.  Simon Anholt, an author and consultant, has written many tomes on various elements of the subject, including a book, Brand America, about the US and its "brand promise."  The book is discussed in this 2005 Boston Globe article, "Re-branding America."  Also see "How to market a nation."

With the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment and a focus on enacting travel bans on Muslims, the idea of the US as the destination for strivers and a refuge for those who have been persecuted has been severely damaged ("Will Donald Trump Trash 'Brand America'?," Newsweek).

Richard Cohen, columnist for the Washington Post, recounts a story of an American volunteering in a refugee camp in the Sudan being told by refugees that they'd rather go back to Somalia than go to the US ("Lady Liberty's torch burns less bright").  From the article:
My friend, publicity shy but otherwise admirable, has an odd way of spending his free time. He flies to some of the world’s most Godforsaken places and tries to help some of the world’s most Godforsaken people. This is how he got to the Dadaab refugee camp on the Somalia-Kenya border, a moonscape of sun-blanched trees adorned with errant plastic bags, where young men, such as the ones my friend encountered, until recently dreamed of America. No longer though. “We are not wanted anymore,” one of the refugees said. “America is not a friendly place.” They said they’d prefer to go back to war-torn Somalia.

My friend was disbelieving.

“You’d rather go back to a war zone than go to America?” he asked.

“Yes,” the young man said. Yes, his friends nodded in agreement.

Their reason: Donald Trump.
Creating Brand USA.  For years, conservative legislators prevented the US Department of Commerce from developing marketing programs comparable to those of other countries, such as the effective Visit Britain program, but during the Obama Administration the private BrandUSA initiative was created to market the US to overseas audiences ("With Brand USA, a campaign to lure foreign tourists — and their money," Washington Post, 2013), now delivered through the Visit The USA website, marketing materials, and brand.

With the Trump Administration, and how key positions are filled by anti-spending/anti-government types, such as Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, it is likely that programs such as these are under threat, even though the program is mostly funded by the private sector.

National Heritage Area funding threatened.   This 2014 blog entry discusses "City Break Tourism." It also discusses the "Heritage Area" concept.  The FY2018 Federal Budget proposed by the Trump Administration calls for zeroing out funding ("The 62 agencies and programs Trump wants to eliminate," USA Today) for "National Heritage Areas."

Admittedly, it's a small amount of money.  Each of the 49 NHAs gets about $500,000 per year in funding, which is used to support tourism development initiatives on the part of local governments, nonprofits, and the private sector in the geographies of the heritage area.

Federal shutdowns, parks closures, and tourism.  During the Obama Administration, obstreperous Republicans refused to pass a budget, forcing the federal government to close up shop.  This impacted National Parks, which are a major anchor of the tourism economy across the nation. Localities were not pleased.

According to the US Travel Association ("Shutdown Would Cost U.S. Travel Economy At Least $185M per Day"), a federal government shutdown costs the U.S. travel sector at least $185 million per day in economic output due to lost activity and affect 530,000 travel-related jobs due to temporary layoffs, reduced wages and fewer hours worked.

Local residents complain about the closing of the Grand Canyon National Park
Protest: Locals complain about the Grand Canyon National Park closure which is costing the community in lost tourism.  Image via the Daily Mail.

In those parts of the country with federal parks and public lands that are key elements of local tourism, there are more specific and hard felt effects on local economies from shutdowns.

According to the NPS report Effects of the October 2013 Government Shutdown on National Park Service Visitor Spending in Gateway Communities:

• A 7.88 million decline in overall NPS October visitation resulting in a loss of $414 million NPS visitor spending within gateway communities across the country;
• Gateway communities near forty five parks experienced a loss of more than $2 million in NPS related October visitor spending;
• Five states experienced a decline of over $20 million in NPS October visitor spending;
• Each dollar of funding for the 14 parks opened with state funding before the end of the shutdown generated an estimated $10 in visitor spending.

This is why for some time I have argued that local and state parks and tourism planning needs to include contingency planning for federal shutdowns, and state and federal budget cutbacks ("Federal shutdown as another example of why local jurisdictions should have more robust contingency and master planning processes" and "Contingency planning in parks planning: Montgomery County Maryland edition").

It turns out that the National Park Service does allow states to step in and pay for operation of facilities during shutdowns ("Feds will let states pay to reopen national parks," Associated Press).

Public lands, threats of deaccession, and tourism.  Public lands owned by the federal government are also key assets for tourism.  Public lands are managed by many different agencies: the National Park Service; the Bureau of Land Management; the US Fish and Wildlife Service--all in the Department of Interior; the US Forest Service which is part of the Department of Agriculture; and various recreation areas in association with dams run by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Every year the NPS releases data on the economic value of their various park assets to local communities, and I believe the other agencies produce similar reports.

-- Visitor Spending Effects - Economic Contributions of National Parks, NPS
-- Economic Analysis for Planning, USDA Forest Service
-- Value to the Nation | Recreation | Economic Impact, US Army Corps of Engineers
-- he Economic Impacts of Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife Watching in Colorado, State of Colorado

Because western states have a preponderance of federally-owned land, right-leaning legislators are particularly worked up over "federal"--distant--control over these lands.  And yes, sometimes the rules seem arbitrary, but most often they are not.

With the Republican control of the House and Senate as well as the Presidency, there are many proposals ("threats") for devolving federally owned lands to the states, removing development controls presently in force on the properties.

One such initiative is the recently announced review of "National Monuments" ("What You Need to Know About Trump's National Monument Rethink," National Geographic Magazine). From the article:
In a sweeping executive order with few precedents, Trump instructed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review as many as 40 national monuments created over the past 21 years to determine if any of his three predecessors exceeded their authority in setting aside large tracts beyond the land that needed protection. The review is targeted on monuments that are at least 100,000 acres in size and reaches back to 1996, midway through the Clinton administration, when Bill Clinton’s creation of the 1.7-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah stirred such fury that opponents still search for ways to shrink it two decades later.

Trump, in remarks at the Interior Department, characterized the creation of national monuments by Obama as “an egregious abuse of power” and suggested the review could result in turning some federal lands, or monuments, back over to the states.
This issue is likely to get worse over the course of the Trump Administration.

State and Local Tourism Efforts.  Most states, but not all depending on how libertarian is their Governor and Legislature, understand the value of tourism as an economic development initiative and provide funding and marketing to support it.  Some states are particularly good at this.  I am especially fond of efforts by Utah and Michigan.  This blog entry discusses various local and state tourism marketing initiatives.

Tourism as an urban planning discipline.  Some jurisdictions are much better than others in terms of focused planning efforts concerning the development of the tourism sector and the management of the impact of visitors.  While DC does not have a "tourism plan," there is a Visitor Element as part of the Federal Elements of the DC Comprehensive Plan, which are produced by the National Capital Planning Commission.

Charleston, South Carolina is at the forefront of cities that have created wide ranging tourism plans. The first plan they created was more of a transportation plan, focused on managing tour buses, horse carriages, and the like, and the congestion caused within the Old Historic District.  The current plan has a more rigorous and comprehensive framework.

As mentioned above, because of federal and state budget issues, increasingly state or national parks can close unexpectedly, with devastating impacts on local economies.  Planning for the possibility gives communities the ability to be proactive and respond.

Another issue is the use of the tourism tax revenue stream, which is usually captured to pay for destination marketing activities, convention centers, and sometimes stadiums and arenas (e.g., "San Diego Council Considers Hotel Tax For Convention Center," KPBS-TV).

Airbnb and the Hotel Industry.  Over the past decade, as part of the expansion of collaborative consumption, also called "sharing," a thriving sector within the accommodations sector has developed around visitors staying in local homes, either fractionally (the owner/lessor rents out rooms, couch access, etc.) or whole house/apartment.

The industry ("Airbnb vs. the hotel industry," Travel Weekly), especially hotel workers unions tend to be vociferously opposed ("Hotel workers in D.C. propose some of the strictest Airbnb regulations," Washington Post).  I myself am supportive generally of the concept, as it allows people to consume different types of experiences, and it is a way for people to make some money off fallow resources.

And the reality is that it won't "totally transform" the hotel industry.  The fact is that a majority of the travel market's consumer segments aren't comfortable staying in home-type properties ("10 Reasons Why a Hotel Is Better Than Airbnb," Travel Market Report)..

The hotel industry should acknowledge that some segments of the market prefer alternatives, didn't have access to such as an option before, resulting in fewer travelers, and that for the good of the tourism sector overall, the availability of non-standard accommodations (bed and breakfasts, hostels, and "sharing" options) should be supported from the standpoint of robust planning for tourism.

However, it should regulated, and stays shouldn't be exempt from visitor taxation assessed against traditional hotel and motel properties.

It's also reasonable for communities to impose restrictions on how many units can be put on the market in this way, especially in areas with extremely low vacancy rates, when such properties end up reducing the supply of rental housing ("D.C. sues company for allegedly treating rent-control apartments like 'hotel rooms'," Washington Post). The reality is that most of the properties offered in these ways are by professional operators ("Airbnb gets most of its Chicago revenue from professional operators," Crain's Chicago Business and "The professionalization of Airbnb hosts," Skift).

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