Local attractions, events prioritize innovation this year

The VIEW from here



The past several months have been tough on everyone and the tourism industry is no exception. In fact, according to the U.S. Travel Association, total travel spending is predicted to drop 45 percent by the end of this year. A dismal prediction, yes. But it’s not stopping local attractions and events from developing creative solutions to connect with visitors.

Look at Back to the Bricks, for example. When the organization canceled its large-scale car show this summer, it replaced it with a unique alternative: a 17-mile car cruise passing 32 historic landmarks throughout Genesee County. As they drove by, cruisers could use a QR code to get information about each landmark and learn more about the community.

Likewise, rather than risk bringing together tens of thousands of people for the annual Crim Festival of Races, event organizers hosted the first-ever HAP Virtual Crim. Under the new format, the organization recommended several routes throughout the region that racers could complete on their own.

Often, when events like these are canceled, we’re asked about the economic impact. And the answer is, when people attend community events, they also tend to stay in our hotels, eat at our restaurants and shop at our stores. So, when we lose these events, we miss out on the opportunity for that kind of local spending to happen.

That’s why I’ve been so impressed with the responses of our area organizations. In these two cases, organizers were able to identify a safe workaround that encouraged people to get out and experience Flint & Genesee. And as we look forward to the fall season, there are many attractions and events doing the same.

For instance, this month at Crossroads Village & Huckleberry Railroad, visitors can partake in a 30-minute drive through the historical park, which is decorated with family-friendly Halloween displays. To learn more about this new experience, which includes a goodie bag for each person in your vehicle, visit geneseecountyparks.org.

In downtown Flint, The What’s Up Downtown Project has been busy seeing that its placemaking efforts are moving forward in a safe manner. This has involved organizing several pop-up music performances and walking tours around the city’s murals and street art. To see what socially distanced events are scheduled this fall, visit whatsup-downtown.com.

Additionally, many organizations are turning to digital platforms to reach their audiences. Applewood, which is using this time to complete several construction and renovation projects, is offering a monthly virtual story time at ruthmottfoundation.org. Likewise, the Flint Institute of Arts, which still offers an in-person, touch-free experience, is also providing access to virtual film screenings at flintarts.org.

Whatever your favorite community assets and attractions are up to, now is the time to support them. Visit them in-person. Attend their virtual programming. Patronize their online stores. Buy gift cards. Donate. At a time when travel is down, our direct support goes an especially long way.

Kristina Johnston is the COO of the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce.