Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tourism as Ubiquitous as Starbucks

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Seattle, Washington. While there it hit me that while you can turn a corner and see a coffee bar (sometimes literally a place that serves coffee and alcohol - and has free WiFi), you are also constantly surrounded by tourism.

Before heading on the trip, I had been discussing tourism with the City's Economic Development Director, Dan Barufaldi, and the Director of the Chamber, Kirt Schuman. They are very interested in increasing Dover's visibility as a tourist destination. Like many people who live, work and play in Dover, we see the value in the community and the many opportunities to bring in people to experience all that Dover has to offer. A project that Dan and I have begun is seeking out a student from the nearby University of New Hampshire (UNH) to assist the city in documenting its tourism efforts and develop materials and a "game plan" for enticing tourist to come to Dover.

Kirt recently had the pleasure of being part of the opening of the Chamber's new offices at the corner of Central Avenue and Sixth Street. Combined with the new offices is a "Welcome" center for visitors and residents to learn more about Dover.

With these things in mind, and being the type of person who doesn't ever really get out of work mode, as I traveled around Seattle I was constantly looking at the City from a "could Dover do this" mindset. I am sure that my wife humored me for part of the trip, but soon she was doing it as well.

It donned on us after a day, that just as coffee drinking is a large part of life in Seattle, so is tourism. It is part of the culture or the pathos of living in Seattle. Ironically it isn't offensive to the senses, in other words, while there are postcards at every shop and stop, they are not in your face SCREAMING at you, the tourism is just there.

Dover was founded in 1623, and was incorporated as a city in 1855. Seattle was founded in 1851. In other words, Dover was around for approximately 230 years before Seattle was founded. You go to Seattle and it revels in its history. Being from Dover you can understand how Europeans will poo poo the USA as a young country. The city of Seattle is young, what does it know about history? Well, ask someone from Seattle, or better yet take a tour of the City, and you will be regaled by history. I took a tour of the underground (a section of the city was elevated, due to septic and tidal issues, 18 feet. The original sidewalk level became the second floor, and eventually the sidewalks were covered over with sidewalks at the new street level). The tour is expansive and interesting and covers a broad range of history for the City, and yet takes place over a small 3 block area.

Dover has armloads of history to buffet it. Millgirl strikes, Indian uprisings, hangings... the list goes on and on. Many people enjoy it, but do we publicize it enough? A lesson from Seattle is that there is always more publicity to do.

Things To Do
Seattle brims with things to do. Go up the Space Needle to view the city, take a harbor tour or ride a ferry, walk through the parks or gardens, visit the neighborhoods, go to a museum. Granted Seattle is a much larger land area, and in truth has many other variables that Dover can not match, but don't we have things to do here?

Head to Garrison tower for a view (it might not be 520 feet above the City, but it is a great view). Enjoy the museums (Woodman Institute, Children's Museum, the mill museum located within the Pacific Mills) that have a diversity all to their own, or walk through Henry Law Park, with the Rotary Pavilion, or the soon to be open Community Trail through the urban core.

Ways to Travel
Now Seattle might definitely have us on this one. You can't fly directly to Dover, though really Seattle - Tacoma Airport isn't directly in Seattle, Manchester is further to drive to. But both City's have train and bus service.

One interesting aspect of Seattle is that in the downtown and waterfront sections of the City (though curiously not where the Space Needle is) buses are free to passengers for most of the day. You can hop on and off the buses at will and they do a good job of getting you where you need to go. The funding comes from the taxes raised by the city. Also, to encourage bus ridership, parking costs $2.00 an hour on street, and there is a tax on parking in a commercial lot. The size and scope of the bus system is grand compared to Dover's ability to use the COAST bus system, which runs through Dover. However, riders do have a similar option in the downtown area of Dover
with FastTrans.

Sure Seattle is going to have more shopping opportunities, it is a very large City, with a much denser population. That said interestingly much of the retail core of the city is chain style retail. It feels like a mall exploded. The Gap, Old Navy, Nordstroms, Sephora, the whole lot. There are local retail spaces located in the downtown (interestingly side by side with "adult" entertainment), and they were nice, but the focus seems on the larger chain retail.

Dover has a downtown that offers many shopping opportunities that are unique to it. No chains to be found. Some might say this is a negative, but I see it as a positive. The retail you find in Dover is local, and is not the same as you'll find in Portsmouth, Rochester or any other surrounding City.

Ironically, Seattle does suffer from early hour syndrome. Try to find a restaurant or a shop open after 5 and definitely open after 7 pm, and you may be out of luck, at least downtown (restaurants with bars seem to reopen later). Try to find a restaurant open at 9 pm Sunday night and you definitely are out of luck. I am told that the neighborhood's (Magnolia, Ballard, West Seattle etc) have downtown cores that have later hours than the City's downtown, but did not experience this. Also, for all the coffee being plied, things seem to get a late start, and apparently few people eat breakfast in Seattle.

All in All
Seattle is a great City, and so is Dover. What I saw in Seattle has some transferable points. Number one is that there is a mindset that the City is tourist friendly and that doesn't have to take away from also being a liveable "real" city. I haven't mentioned Pike Place Market, which is at the heart of tourism in the City. This is where the FISH philosophy of customer service was developed. The market is alive (well between 10 am and 5 pm), and active. The best part of the market to me was that you can go as a tourist or as a resident. You can buy fruit and vegetables and flowers (not typical tourist fare) or purchase handmade goods and jewelry (tourist fare) 7 days of the week. Of course the weekends are more touristic and alive, but still this is a location where tourism and real life intersect perfectly.

It demonstrates how one can be a tourist town and a living city at the same time without one overshadowing the other. You can have the hardware store and the boutique coexisting. You can have the greasy spoon next to the polished silver and be inhabited by some visiting from New Hampshire (best hash n eggs at Lowells) sitting next to a local fisherman coming in from the morning's catch.

As stated at the onset, coffee and tourism are both ingrained in Seattle. Both are just a part of life, and both are part of the culture. The main difference I found is that the tourism doesn't need flashy signs, doesn't compete for market share, and is less obtrusive.

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