Stutzman: Enhancing the Alpena Experience

The summer of 2013 was a busy one for the Alpena Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. There were many significant events Alpena experienced for the first time. The Bureau was often busy around the clock catering to our special guests and the days ticked themselves off the calendar in a whirlwind. It was baptism by fire for me as it was my first summer in my role at the CVB.

Now that we’ve had some time to digest the events of the past year and look toward the future we are taking a look at the structure of our community to see where we are succeeding when it comes to welcoming visitors. We’ve also begun to develop relationships with other CVB organizations in other states to help us discover best practices for approaching sustainable growth in the tourism sector. This, combined with valuable information gathered from the recent Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism has led us to begin contemplating the next steps our CVB needs to take to help strengthen our visitor experience. The first thing we’ve learned is that we can’t focus only on outside events, we must also assist with the further development of our tourism infrastructure within the community.

CVBs are considered a Destination Marketing Organization. The Alpena CVB is the official organization responsible for marketing our area to the outside world. One very important behavior that successful CVBs are beginning to embrace in recent years is that of becoming a Destination Management and Marketing Organization. This two-fold approach adopted by CVBs is necessary because the experience a visitor has in the community must match the marketing that enticed them to visit in the first place. If it doesn’t, they aren’t likely to return or feel that their visit was pleasant.

As a DMMO, the Alpena CVB is here to help the community create and uphold an authentic and genuine Alpena experience for those of us who live here and who visit. Our identity as a community is the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes; a place where people can escape the stresses of everyday life and unwind and rejuvenate; a place where relaxed outdoor adventure collides with history and cultural heritage; and a warm inviting atmosphere that inspires and cultivates creativity.

But it’s not enough to market this to the outside world. People also must feel this when they visit. And we must not take this for granted as residents who live here. What does this mean? It means that citizens, government entities, and businesses across the area embrace our identity as the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes and figure out how we can best embody this way of life. What does this end up looking like? The possibilities are endless but here are a few examples:

As a business or organization you can brainstorm how your specific mission can incorporate the essence of the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes. It could be something as simple as hanging art in your office building that showcases local artists or beautiful scenes from our area like historic buildings, scenic landscapes of Thunder Bay River, sailboats on the big lake, local wildflowers or forest land views to name a few. It also could include unique creations such as services that encourage people to relax or refresh like offering an outdoor wine tasting and painting party with friends. Another example is to hold meetings outside at a park or picnic area. Embracing the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes lifestyle means we don’t always need to operate with the constraints of four walls as innovation is more likely to be sparked when we break away from the ordinary.

As local residents we can remind ourselves to raise our gaze from the routine day-to-day and look out at the horizon. Breathe in the beauty of the lakes, the 1,000 miles of area shoreline, the 100-plus miles of groomed trails, visit the museums, local-owned stores, and area attractions. Smile when we pass people on the street and if we have great experiences while out and about, share them.

Alpena is currently on the cusp of positive growth and discovery. There have been major advancements in the business sector and we will be seeing some impressive improvements made to our economy in the next few years as new businesses move into Alpena.

In order for our community to maintain its charm and character and protect those qualities we all love about our hometown we must embrace that which makes this place special. So think about it. What can you do to embrace and embody Northeast Michigan? If you’d like help trying to figure this out please contact the CVB. It’s our job to help you. Together, we can cultivate a magnificent Alpena experience.

Mary Beth Stutzman’s Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.