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If You Build It, They Will Come: Building a Local Tourism Event

A series of food trucks lined up at a community event.

Proudly bearing the moniker of “Great Faces, Great Places”, many South Dakotans understand and cherish the role of tourism as an economic boon to our communities. From Czech Days, to the Washington Pavilion’s Sidewalk Arts Festival, to Mount Rushmore itself, South Dakota has many examples of communities harnessing the power of an industry that annually delivers in-excess of $2.5 billion in revenue per-year to our state (5.2% of the total economy) (SD Tourism, 2020).

So, whether realizing it or not, entities across the state have overcome the many hurdles to launching an entrepreneurial tourism-focused venture! For the rest of us, let’s take a moment to consider core steps in building your next big idea.

But first, a quick definition. What exactly differentiates tourism events from an area fundraiser? Tourism is “the act and process of spending time away from home in pursuits of recreation, relaxation, and pleasure.” (Britannica, 2020). We draw from this definition the importance of “the visitor” in tourism. Therefore, a community event can have aspects of tourism-activity but still be largely a community fundraiser. And, a tourism event can have strong community building principles. Don’t sweat the labels.

So, without further ado, here are seven key steps in developing your event.

1. Define Mission and Let it Guide You.

As you begin, carefully consider and define the mission of your working concept. In the business world, we conventionally think of this as a “charter”, or, more commonly, the “mission” of the organization. Regardless of the starting size of your idea, a well-crafted mission focuses your concept for both collaborators and your target audience. It also serves as a framework, developing a launching point to begin building your brand.

2. Determine How You Operate and Make Decisions.

Consider carefully, what is your operating model, and how does the organization operate and govern? Do you want to govern communally in shared responsibility with others? A non-profit model may be worth considering. Do you plan on making the core decisions yourself, or with a key group of partners? Perhaps an LLC or more conventional business structure fits.

I’d offer a couple notes. First, your destination operating, or governance model does not need to be where you start. Seeking fiscal sponsorship is one example of an intermediary step. In this fashion, area development corporations, chambers, or other organizations with a vested interested in the public good can provide services perhaps not available to an emerging enterprise. That said, if you choose a course, understand that “getting off the tracks” and heading in a new direction is often very difficult – decide carefully.

Alternatively, with the proper expertise, an unincorporated planning group can also suffice in the early stages. The crucial thing to remember will be your legal and fiduciary duties, so contact your local tax revenue service to work out details if you choose to begin in this fashion.

3. Consider Business Model and Capital Requirements.

Now that you have determined the way you operate and govern and designated the prism/guiding light of the organization, you are ready to consider the business side of the coin. Whether it is paying for contract work, renting a room, or obtaining services, you will need money to launch your event.

If you have some expertise and need some structure, there are a wide variety of business model canvas tools online. If the number crunching is a challenge, South Dakota has a spread of Small Business Development Centers across the state. Finally, if building the fundamentals of entrepreneurism and small business in your community is of interest, bring our Extension program, Small Business Basics, to your area today.

4. Set Goals.

Understand that careful planning and goals are crucial steps in designing a venture. For a useful guide, consider the SMART goal setting criteria. SMART is a mnemonic/acronym that designs criteria in the setting of objectives. In each of your goals, consider if the item is SPECIFIC, MEASURABLE, ACHIEVABLE, RELEVANT, and TIME-BASED. Put simply, if your goals are ambiguous or lack direction, you do not know where you are going, and have no chance to get “there”.

While each of the criteria is important, a crucial aspect to understand is the consideration of scale within “achievability”. Design your goals in a persistent, but reasonable manner that gauges reasonable expectations within your local market.

5. Gather Your Crowd.

I’ll begin this one with a shout-out, as the folks at SaveYour.Town have done an excellent job generating awareness of this concept – check out their resources today. Conceptually, understand that a tourism-focused event will have significant manpower needs. Whether it is a services sector-oriented concept or not, you will need coordinators and layers of people executing the concept.

Additionally, your key collaborators could grow into leadership positions within your entrepreneurial structure. They could be key investors if you require start-up capital, board members if you head down the road of a non-profit, or consultants if they have specialized skills. All these non-volunteer profiles could be crucially important to the launch of your concept.

One intriguing variable to consider is the appropriate timing of this stage. It may prove useful to bring key partners into the room prior to establishing the entity, or vice versa. These are crucial decisions that will influence the success or failure of your venture down the road.

6. Tell Your Story.

Finally, understand that to attract visitors, you need to somehow reach them. It would be a terrible shame if you went to all this work for no one to experience it. Understand that a modern public relations strategy is a complex tapestry of design, online and offline resources, and communicating with key gatekeepers to the flow of information. If you don’t have this expertise, consider adding it to your founding group, or paying for it.

7. Act.

If you’ve made it to this point, you’ve put in the hard work needed to launch your event. I’m reminded of an insightful combination of quotes from Chris Maxwell of Maxwell Strategies:

“Perfect is the Enemy of Good” - Voltaire

“Good is the Enemy of Great” - Jim Collins

Understand that the next (or first) small step in your venture will not be perfect. Your community may be “good”, we each possess the ability to make it great. By following these seven core steps, you have pointed your journey on a bright and focused path. If you need help as you take that journey, contact your South Dakota Extension Community Vitality team today, and let us help guide you to success!