George Jacob is president & CEO of the Smithsonian-affiliated Aquarium of the Bay & Sea Lion Center in San Francisco, columnist, and the author of the seminal book Cultural Leadership: The FUTURE. He has Master-planned numerous destinations around the world visited by millions. The views expressed are his own.
Destinations like the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum. Mauna Kea Imiloa, Ty Warner Sea Center, Audubon Insectarium, and attractions like Las Vegas, Disneyland, Ferrari World, and the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao beckon millions of visitors, spur the local economy, and are drivers of development across sectors. While there are thousands of man-made destinations, there is also an overwhelming number of nature-made destinations like hills, valleys, waterfalls, beaches, canyons, and national parks, that have been developed in conjunction with tourism. transportation and hospitality sectors, that contribute to employment, economic rejuvenation, and above, all, awareness to preserve and appreciate the natural heritage. Many of these locales are for-profit ventures, even as many others, especially, museums have remained non-profit organizations relying on charitable contributions of philanthropies, donors, and corporate sponsors.
With an intent to educate and inspire, these public institutions and repositories of collective memories play a significant role in civil societies, championing missions of higher societal purpose that are generational. Eco-tourism principles and practices of sustainability, indigenous cultural preservation, and low-impact engagement have gained momentum lately, though carbon-footprint associated with tourists arriving at these destinations continue to be decried by climate and environmental activists.
As both commercial tourism and eco-tourism patrons struggle with the post-Covid world, a new approach and re-think is required to address strategic retreat and re-engagement of resources. With many studies citing, low tourism trends and limited capacity accommodations at places to stay, public transit and destination dynamics, new solutions are required to gauge the viability of the industry and its resonance with the consumer. New means, methods and metrics of monetization must be implemented as early as in the first Quarter of 2021 if this sector is to revive its restitution.
In California- between Norcal and Socal- nearly $2 billion is being invested in planning and designing new destinations. Multi-million dollar projects like the Academy of Motion Pictures, Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Cultural District, Powerhouse Museum and the Bay Ecotarium’s Climate and Ocean Conservation Living Museum in San Francisco, are some of the stellar initiatives on the anvil with far-reaching implications on attracting visitors from around the world and from across the nation. Coupled with festivals, conferences, events and engagements, these destinations help anchor communities and re-brand cities, triggering a multiplier effect that cascades allied sectors. With a projected 2020 spending decline upwards of $24 billion between LA and San Francisco alone, stakes on destination design and engagement models, has never been higher.
Looking at the surge of visitors in near sold-out local destinations and exhibitions in the Bay Area, it is clear that an average visitor is yearning to visit new places after being sheltered in place for over seven months. While job losses have definitely impacted the spending power, there seems to be no dip in on-line sales and impulse buying among consumers. Family unit outings are on the rise and so are the surface drive-in day-trips. There is also a notable increase in the desire to help out- be it struggling non-profit museums, donating food to animals at zoos, and or helping out with education programs, volunteering or chipping in financially to support a larger cause.
These are encouraging trends in times of adversity and speak volumes to the fabric and fiber of our increasingly caring and connected civil societies. Designing destinations is more about the dynamics of our quest to strike a balance between appreciating our abilities to learn from nature and embedded natural instincts of symbiotic inter-relationship with the commercial and the collational empathetic association with our environment. Traveling to destinations is more about opening minds to possibilities, potential, perspectives and perceptions that make us a better person.