Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The same thing year after year?

I just got back from a meeting of group travel leaders in Kansas City that was very interesting. I think I made some solid contacts but I also heard some thought-provoking comments.
One veteran planner responded to my comment that our Scottish Festival just celebrated its 17th year this year that it must be the same thing year after year and then pretended to fall asleep. I had to point out to him how untrue that assumption was -- this year alone we tried two new components for the first time -- a Scotch tasting hosted by the McPherson Museum (which sold out) and A Scottish Evening at the McPherson Opera House with a buffet, live entertainment and a Scottish country dance that more than 100 people attended.
The festival has been so successful because the mainstays are consistent from one year to the next. The big events like entertainment, clan tents, Highland athletics, dancing and drum and pipe competitions are well run. I've only been to the last three festivals but I've seen new offerings every year like the Highland cow exhibit and a rugby match.
I've been thinking of the whole reinvention idea. Performers like Madonna will reinvent themselves with each new song. Web sites like eBay are constantly tweaking and improving their business model. If you don't hone your act you become dated, kitsch and stale. Basically Madonna is still a singer and eBay is still an auction web site, but they manage to stay relevant.
The Scottish Festival has some of the most dedicated volunteers in McPherson and trust me they don't like it when you tinker with their proven formula for success. This year we tried something different and it worked. I think everyone was pleased with the Opera House event. Hopefully the festival will continue to embrace new ideas and stay fresh for years to come.

Monday, September 20, 2010

What makes a town cool?

I recently read an interesting article at budgettravel.com about the coolest small towns in America. Budget Travel has run this feature on the top 10 small towns under 10,000 in population for the last five years. The towns are nominated and voted on by readers. After perusing the lists I’ve noticed some recurring features that make these towns “cool.”
• Scenery: Beautiful beaches, tall pine trees, lakes, mountains and rivers can be found in most every “cool” town. What’s cool about this scenery is not simply that the town is conveniently located in a scenic area, the town has taken steps to make the scenery accessible. Parks have been built along waterways, wildlife centers funded in natural areas, biking and hiking paths explore the great outdoors. These small towns haven’t just built large hotels to take advantage of the scenic views, they’ve made the scenery an integral part of their identity.
• Culture: Outdoor music festivals, buildings repurposed as art galleries, paintings on the sides of barns and building for the public to view and renovated theaters all help distinguish these towns as culture-friendly communities.
• Food: Sea salt cookie bakeries, regional barbecue, wines from local vineyards – the food is as unique as the towns themselves.
• Shopping: Nearly every cool town boasted a vibrant downtown with unusual locally owned businesses. Stores that sell locally made products and cater to visitors that yearn for originality stand out like the goat cheese shop in Waitsburg, Wash., or a gift shop celebrating Kennett Square’s top agriculture export – mushrooms.
• Imported locals: Nearly every cool town story has a transplant from the big city that fell in love with the town, sold their successful business or cashed in their stock portfolio to open a gallery/bed and breakfast/cafĂ©. I take this as a sign that many Americans are looking for a better quality experience when it comes to choosing where they live or vacation.

If you look at the list of what makes a town cool, you can see McPherson has many of those qualities. It takes nature to provide you with great scenery or agriculture opportunities but it really requires forward-thinking and innovative individuals to create a town that is interesting enough to draw new residents and visitors.