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Transforming Your City With Destination Development

I'm not a destination developer... but I've played one on TV.

Dane Carlson
Dane Carlson
3 min read
Transforming Your City With Destination Development
Photo by Ross Sneddon / Unsplash

Table of Contents

As an economic developer, I've always been intrigued by the concept of destination development, and over time, it's grown into an engaging hobby and thought exercise for me.

While traveling through small towns with untapped potential, I pondered what strategies could turn these hidden gems into thriving hubs for locals and tourists alike.

If you’re a fellow enthusiast, a city official, or simply someone interested in revitalizing your town, here are ten essential tips inspired by successful cities across the US. With just a bit of effort and strategic planning, your city can transform into an irresistible destination for residents and visitors to explore and cherish.

  1. Community Branding: A Unique Identity
    If there’s one thing that can set a city apart from various competitors, it’s a strong and unique brand identity. Consider Austin, Texas with its "Keep Austin Weird" slogan - it embraces an authentic, quirky vibe that resonates with both residents and visitors, making the city a highly sought-after destination for music enthusiasts and fans of independent culture.
  2. Gateway to Adventure: Enhancing Entry Points
    Your city's gateways and wayfinding systems should offer attractive, cohesive signage that effectively welcomes guests while providing straightforward directions. Take Portland, Oregon, for example—its well-placed signs and plaza maps guide visitors effortlessly through the city.
  3. A Vibrant Center: Establishing a Walkable Downtown
    A great example of a walkable downtown is Savannah, Georgia, with its tree-lined, cobblestone streets, abundant shops, and public squares designed for leisurely strolls. Creating an inviting, pedestrian-friendly downtown area engages visitors and makes exploring your city a pleasure.
  4. Authentic Experiences: Embracing Local Stories
    Emphasizing immersive experiences in your city allows visitors to fully discover what makes it unique. Think about New Orleans and its intriguing blend of French, Spanish, African, and American culture—this rich history captivates travelers and makes it a destination unlike any other.
  5. Collaboration Across Businesses: Strengthening the Local Community
    Working closely with local businesses strengthens the entire city ecosystem, such as Asheville, North Carolina, whose thriving brewery scene stemmed from collaborations with independent craft beer entrepreneurs. Together, they have transformed the city into a beer-lover's paradise.
  6. Celebrate Your Roots: Hosting Meaningful Events and Festivals
    Cities like Albuquerque, New Mexico are renowned for their lively events, such as the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which celebrates a unique aspect of the region's culture and history. Organizing events and festivals that highlight your city's distinctiveness gives travelers more reasons to visit and create lasting memories.
  7. Aesthetic Charm: Ensuring Cleanliness and Beautification
    A clean and beautiful city enhances visitors' experiences tremendously. Examples like Charleston, South Carolina, with its immaculately preserved historic homes, pristine gardens, and picture-perfect scenery, showcase that aesthetics and cleanliness are integral elements of a city's allure.
  8. Meet the Needs: Catering to Target Markets
    Recognizing and catering to various travel segments is key to a city's success. Look at Orlando, Florida—it caters to families by offering unforgettable theme parks and family-friendly activities, which has effectively made it a mecca for family vacations.
  9. Measure to Manage: Evaluating Success
    Setting key performance indicators and evaluating initiatives regularly ensures long-term success. One city that continually builds on its existing appeal is New York, which regularly assesses its tourism trends and readjusts its strategies to maintain its status as a world-class destination.
  10. Community Pride: Involving Local Citizens
    Inspiring residents to take pride in their city is crucial in successful destination development. As showcased by Portland, Maine—their thrive to preserve and promote their historic waterfront district and burgeoning culinary scene demonstrates the power of a dedicated and involved local community.

Perfecting destination development involves moving from just attracting visitors to creating meaningful and memorable experiences, engaging local stakeholders, and constantly adapting to the ever-changing wants and needs of travelers.

When you follow these essential principles, your city can reach its fullest potential and become an irresistible destination that both residents and visitors can take pride in.

Destination Development

Dane Carlson Twitter

Founder/Host of Econ Dev Show. Also: Sitehunt CEO and economic development consultant in Greater Houston, Texas.