Want to improve tourism? Focus on building a vibrant community.

By Quint Studer

Here’s the thing about visitors: They love the same things that citizens love. So when you’re looking to boost tourism, think first about the people who live in your community.

Palafox Street at night

When a community has a great quality of life—a booming economy; fun events; great shops and restaurants; a walkable, livable downtown or other common areas; cool streets and neighborhoods; and a young, hip vibe—it feeds tourism and vice versa. 

You want to attract people to the community, make sure they have a good time, and give them something to talk about. Not only will they come back, they’ll generate great word of mouth that makes others want to visit too.

In advertising, testimonials have always been powerful. And of course with social media, there’s no shortage of people sharing their experiences and options. When your community is vibrant, what they have to say is more likely to be favorable!

So how do you create a vibrant community? It’s a journey with many different facets, but here are just a few of the high spots.

First, create a great place for people to spend time. Often this is downtown, but if your area doesn’t have a downtown, it’s still possible to create that “Main Street” feel. Start with strong programming to bring people out: baseball games, farmer’s markets, festivals, outdoor concerts. Once they get there, they need plenty of great places to eat and shop. There should be office space so people can work there and residential developments so they can live there. (Young people, especially, want to live, work, and play in the same place.)

Also, invest in small business. Make it as easy as possible for entrepreneurs to start new ventures. But don’t stop there: Figure out how to make sure these new business owners get the training and development they need to thrive long-term. This level of business friendliness will spawn lots of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, independent bookstores, music venues, and more. These will naturally generate tourism dollars.

Get everyone engaged in creating a vibrant community. You’re going to need full buy-in when you’re trying to drive growth. Make sure everyone—men, women, minorities, young people, business owners—has a voice and a say. Proposals will be more likely to pass—but more important, it’s the right thing to do.

Finally, always be telling your city’s story. Be positive and enthusiastic. Really talk it up. If you’re a tourism professional, hopefully, this is second nature for you already. Every community has a culture, and every citizen’s voice adds to that culture.

These factors create a great community to live in and an exciting one to visit. Vibrancy attracts everyone. Citizens will be happy, and tourists will visit. Word will spread, and more tourists will visit. More people will want to live there…and so on.

This is how growth—real, organic, sustainable growth—gains momentum and perpetuates itself. It’s great to see and even greater to experience. You’re creating a better place for everyone…whether they’re there for a weekend or a lifetime.

About the Author:

Quint Studer is author of Building a Vibrant Community and founder of Pensacola’s Studer Community Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the community’s quality of life and moving Escambia and Santa Rosa counties forward. For more information, visit www.vibrantcommunityblueprint.com and www.studeri.org.