Friday, January 8, 2010

Tourism study: If Prescott spends, people will come

The City Manager spends ten grand on a tourism consultant, who tells us that we need to spend more money on tourism promotion, presumably to some degree on more consulting. Cindy gets the facts right and seeks out more, that's all good. But the most fundamental question remains unexplored: what do we have to sell to tourists?

Everyone who lives here and didn't grow up here understands that Prescott is a great town in many ways, but that doesn't entitle us to any tourism dollars. The Courier inadvertently provides an example of what's wrong in its choice of a photo to accompany the story.

What the City bills as a "bluegrass festival" is one of the most amateurish hick-chic events I've ever seen in a city this size. The organizers take the path of least resistance and least cost, making an event that no one really cares about. Why should anyone come?

The rodeo is a reliable draw, but its demographic is pretty sharply limited, and the town takes on an exclusionary attitude when those people show up.

Meanwhile shows with more openness and vision, like Tsunami, are hobbled by lack of resources and forced to keep their goals attainable -- and second-rate.

If the City, PACT, PDP, the Chamber and our business community at large were to really get behind a quality arts-related event that spreads out over downtown and lasts for more than a couple of days, those advertising dollars could pay off in loyal repeat business. I've seen this work well in cities that had far less to offer than Prescott.


Fred said...

Steve, you make a couple of intriguing statements that piqued the interest/curiosity of this newcomer. Let's start with the rodeo. "[I]ts demographic is pretty sharply limited"-- I think I understand what you mean there (older, more rural, more traditionalist), but can you elaborate on what you mean when you say "the town takes on an exclusionary attitude when those people show up."

Steven Ayres said...

The rodeo crowd is almost exclusively white, religious and reactionary. They wear a uniform -- cowboy hat, shirt, jeans, boots, pickup truck -- that distinguishes them from tourists and townies and enforces conformity. They focus on each other and often act as if the event is just for them, leaving the rest of us as tolerated bystanders. The superior, chip-on-the-shoulder mentality is often palpable, a lot like a Corvette show.

I don't mean to say that they all act this way. But check out a few of the related events and I'm betting you'll get what I'm talking about.

Fred said...

Thanks for the insight regarding the rodeo. Now, next question: The "hick-chic" Bluegrass Festival. In the metro area where I previously lived, they have the Podunk Bluegrass Festival. I never went, but from all accounts it's almost always a big draw. And it seems to pull in mostly folkies, roots-music types, etc (i.e., it has more of an Austin vibe than a Branson vibe, if you know what I mean).... At any rate, what does taking "the path of least resistance and least cost" entail? I'm guessing Podunk hasn't taken that path, right?

Steven Ayres said...

Podunk makes a great comparison, as East Hartford CN is just about the same size as Prescott. Looking at the two festivals together:

Podunk offers 27 acts over four days. Prescott: five acts in two days.

Podunk takes place in three venues spread around a wooded ballfield. Prescott sticks a fold-up stage on Gurley street and plays to the courthouse amid weekend summer traffic.

Podunk is in August and its website already offers a complete schedule. Prescott is in June and it has nothing.

Podunk offers lots of activities for kids and instruction and workshops for players. Prescott: zip.

The Podunk organization runs concerts year-round. Prescott: zip.

After 15 years of operation, 13 sponsors support Podunk, including national music-related brands. Prescott just celebrated its 25th anniversary with seven, all local.

At Podunk you camp in the woods near the venue and jam. In Prescott the bands park campers on the track at the middle school. The nearest general camping is Watson Lake Park.

It's not like we don't have good venue possibilities or access to large numbers of people. Phoenix is hot as hell in June and there are plenty of old-time music fans to overflow our little town if we went after them. Every act worth its salt is on tour all summer looking for gigs. But it takes organization and some vision to make an actual festival happen. I haven't seen that anyone here is willing to take it on or take it seriously.

Fred said...

Well alrighty, then (as Ace Ventura would say). Very good points. Let me ask my last question, and then we can put this exchange to rest (unless some other reader chooses to jump in). Tsunami on the Square: I wasn't here for the last one (happened shortly before we came to town), but I did read Granny J's Walking Prescott blogpost about it when I was still in CT, and found myself thinking that, if this was the kind of stuff I could regularly look forward to in Prescott, then I certainly picked the right place to move to. So, what do you see as the barriers to Tsunami on the Square becoming first-rate, and how do you think those barriers might be removed?

Oh, btw-- Back in CT, I listened a lot to WWUH ( which is where I heard a lot about Podunk. KJZA kinda sorta reminds me of WWUH.

Steven Ayres said...

To expand and level-up, Tsunami needs to broaden its appeal, spread to multiple stages/venues and move beyond its hippie-show image. A free show on the Square is great -- been there, built that -- but the Square is quite limited as a venue and it could better serve as a centerpiece for a much larger and more satisfying meal.

Doing big public shows is not for the faint-hearted, and I don't mean to criticize anything that people are doing. Many of them are friends of mine, and the festival has come up with some really cool ideas and managed to keep going, a major accomplishment in intself. But I know it's also exhausting to stump around for funding all year, organize the best event you can put together for a ridiculously small amount of money, and wind up with bills yet to pay afterward. That exhaustion is a signal of unsustainability.

More sponsorship involvement by businesses who can be confident of bringing in more customers as a result is essential to any event like this, which means creating experiences for everyone, including those who don't feel completely safe around dreadlocks. Often Tsunami has been out a little too far ahead of its audiences. (The name, Tsunami on the Square, is a clear example of this, imho.)

As it happens, my band, the Jackson-Jones Jazz Trio, will be playing a Tsunami fundraiser next Saturday, the 23rd, on the third floor of the Knights of Pythias building (above 'Tis gallery) on Cortez St. Hope you'll come out!

Anonymous said...

Look back a few years,what was bringing the tourists to Prescott say 15 years ago,and what has changed since then?
How about those green awnings,and those lousy planters at every intersection, horse racing moving to Prescott Valley,We took on a more modern look?
I do believe that the tourists came to Prescott to see and be apart of something that they didn't have in their cities.
Why do so many people all over California go to Knotts Berry Farm?Years ago when Knotts Berry Farm was at it's greatest,it was a taste of the Old West that kept them coming back for more.So what has happened to them,they went modern, including fun rides and a carnival like atttitude which drew alot of the younger more boisterous population and the families quit coming,they wanted their children to get a sense of the Old West and see relics of that era that you couldn't see anywhere else.
So, what has happened here? Many moon ago families came here and saw women in beautiful period dresses walking all over the town, and men dressed like cowboys of old and even some Jessie James types,plus some magnificent looking Indians and even a little bit of Old Mexico.
So go figure,I think we went Modern in many ways.Prescott just doesn't look like Prescott of 20 years ago, when the people were coming.On the other hand I could be wrong.Good grief Charlie Brown,say it isn't so!
We also are not the same warm greeting people we used to be,I guess that comes with modernization!