Today’s guest blogger is Emily Truncellito.
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Editor’s note: This piece was written as a response to “Why would anyone want to vacation in Birmingham?”
Nestled in the Blue Ridge link of the Appalachian Mountain chain is the tourist hot spot of Asheville, NC.
I lived in Asheville for over 20 years and worked in tourism there, witnessing the industry vacillate between incorporating the native population and excluding it.
On the surface, Asheville has happened on a winning formula: recognize natural resources, like gorgeous weather, therapeutic hot springs, and lovely vistas; add resorts, entertainment, and world-famous festivals; and package it all in colorful brochures in sunset tones with sanctioned slogans like “Keep Asheville Weird.” Honestly, it’s an easy sell.
We’ve lived in Birmingham for four years, now, and I’ve given tourism a lot of thought – how could this city successfully tap into its resources to attract vacationers? For tourism to grow here, Birmingham would have to focus on safety, forward-thinking, and vibrancy while remembering the resident population that would staff the industry.
I have not taken advantage of any of the multiple civil rights museums in the area because that fight is still too present and raw. Although civil rights education and preservation of that history is a vital part of our cultural responsibility, as a facet of tourism it serves a niche purpose, especially when outsiders cannot come here and see positive changes since the 1960’s, like they would see in some Southern towns.
They would see a deeply fractured community and the constant threat of violence at certain places on the Urban Civil Rights Trail, for instance. As safety and solidarity improve, so will the number of visitors to our town.
As a resident of Bessemer, I’m reminded that the metropolitan area is chock full of evidence of industries that have fallen, and our tourist attractions reflect that: Sloss, Tannehill, Vulcan, etc. Again, it’s important to preserve those places for educational purposes, but as tourist attractions, they don’t really speak to growth. They recall the fiscal success of a bygone era and highlight the differences between bustling municipalities of the early twentieth century and their downtrodden modern manifestations.
Furthermore, places like McWane are not kept in good shape. When a family plans a trip – even an educational trip – they want to see that a community takes pride in its institutions.
Birmingham doesn’t send a message of civic pride and joy to the rest of the region. Like Asheville, we have an abundance of natural resources that could grow tourism, provided they were sustained by healthy food options, great entertainment, a vibrant creative arts scene, coupled with the feeling that natives are enfranchised and participatory in these pastimes, as well.
As has been mentioned in ComebackTown before, Birmingham needs a brand, but the community needs to gather around that vision first. Plus, that brand needs to focus on the present and the future. What makes the town great now?
Unlike Asheville, Birmingham is a family town, so our brand and our tourism should reflect that.
Beautiful natural experiences? We have those. The potential for a signature Birmingham style, taste, sound, arts district, etc.? We could have those, as well. More than reading about them in a brochure, however, outsiders need to see that local citizens enjoy a lifestyle that is enriched by those trademark elements.
Perennially, Asheville has struggled with a turnstile effect; visitors fall in love and move to the city, but become disenchanted with the lack of jobs, the high cost of living, and the day-to-day reality of life in a town that caters more to outsiders than it does its own.
There’s a valuable lesson there for Birmingham. We shouldn’t try to copy other towns, but we can learn from them while making something that is uniquely our own and ultimately more successful if we’ll make those benefits accessible to the resident population.
Birmingham will become a destination city when we begin to believe in and manifest our potential.
Emily Truncellito is an educator and writer whose family moved to Birmingham to work with a local church. Emily’s organized several social and enrichment groups for home schoolers in the area.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org.