Skip to main content
Tourism is Economic Development

The relationships that we see between economic development and tourism are as varied and unique as the individuals running those departments. Some counties have both under one roof while some areas have trouble with getting two departments to work together. What’s often surprisingly overlooked within localities is that economic development is tourism – and vice versa.

I titled this post as a reminder because we’re all taught at some point or another that these two departments – while quite different in their pursuits, responsibilities, etc. – are inextricably linked. However, the fact remains that as the two departments are working toward those pursuits and responsibilities, they become increasingly misaligned.

Economic development, as I’ve said before, needs a certain brand positioning to attract business relocation and growth, workforce development, and so on. Tourism typically needs a more light-hearted approach to focus on leisure experiences and a brand that sends that message. You can see where conflicting messages can creep into the mix over time.

And it happens often. Roughly half of the destinations we speak to and work with, from smaller, rural counties to larger metropolitan regions, show a detrimental conflict in their messaging. Tourism may have a relaxed, “get away from it all” feel while economic development is trying to establish the same place as a commercial “hub of innovation”. Ultimately, it gets confusing and the departments are at each other’s throats – in as professional of a way as possible.

Really, it comes down to an issue of poor brand alignment and it’s relatively easy to get things back on track. It just takes a reset, a re-alignment of objectives, and an understanding that you’re both on the same team and should work together in order to succeed.

A more robust tourism strategy brings in more visitors. Visitors fall in love with the place and relocate. If you’re attracting the right visitors, your workforce improves. Some of those who have relocated may even start new businesses or bring existing businesses to the area.

One could also argue that economic development is tourism. The greater the hospitality market, the greater the visitation you’re capable of getting. Greater economic development efforts also provide investment in your infrastructure. Public services are enhanced, and the area is more attractive to visitors. It’s a bit of a jurisdictional yin-and-yang.

The path to brand re-alignment is usually – and should be – customized to each relationship, department structure, etc. There’s no single approach for getting these two groups to enhance and strengthen one another, but there is a basic discovery process that can help guide you.

Economic Development and Tourism Alignment Worksheet

A brand alignment strategy works to bridge the gaps between departments. Our approach consists of nine focus areas with a combination of workshops and guided documentation for each focus area.

Section One: Brand Core

The first column establishes many of your non-negotiables:

  • Purpose: your ultimate charge; your mission.
  • Vision: your big, hairy, audacious goal for the future.
  • Values: how you conduct business and treat one another; your core principles.

Section Two: Brand Positioning

The second column identifies the traits that make your destination unique, and who you’re targeting:

  • Audiences: the target personas you’re working to attract. Establish 6-8 unique personas.
  • Points of Difference: what does your destination offer that’s hard to find elsewhere? It’s typically a combination of things.
  • Objectives: how do you intend to communicate those points of difference to those personas?

Section Three: Brand Personality

In the third column, we unify the verbal and visual brand.

  • Voice/Tone: should your messaging be casual or professional? How in-depth should your content be?
  • Brand Promise: what can you (reasonably) guarantee when someone encounters your destination, either online or in-person?
  • Visual Brand: what is your brand aesthetic (logos/brand graphics, photo/video direction, brand standards)?

To get some insight out of this exercise, have each department complete this simple matrix. You’ll probably find that your departments are shockingly similar when it comes to the fundamentals. You can then work to create campaigns that support and enhance each other.

No two destinations are the same.

We can help you solve your unique challenges. Schedule a call today.

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

© 2004-2023, Imagine. All rights reserved, whatever that means...