The Canadian Human Rights Museum is taking a really great step forward with its advertising today for a new Director, Learning and Programming. From my perspective, this is a very good strategic direction. In my experience across this country, we are still living on the coat-tails of a “build it and they will come” mentality that has not lost its shine for rural municipalities who go after infrastructure money as the be-all and end-all for tourism investment.
The fallacy of this kind of business decision-making at the community level is that the community gets federal and/or provincial grant money, combined with local fund-raising. Local residents are fueled by high hopes for a signature facility within their community. What they have not recognized is that infrastructure investment has to be paralleled by “programming investment”. Programming is why audiences or visitors come, not facilities – unless the facility has a very specific and significant architectural motif (with international stature or cultural significance), and even then the lure for seeing the building may only last for a little while. People want to “experience” music, arts, culture, tradition, speakers, celebrations, recognitions, and many other things. They wish to take part, to learn, to interact. This is “programming”. Programming is what generates revenue over the long-term. And, programming that is experiential generates higher yields, and attracts additional markets.
This community tourism business strategy which emphasizes programming takes sustained effort over time, and different investments and often different community champions to develop experiences, programs, and market these programs to the right visitors. Often, the people who have worked so hard to bring capital investments in the form of a new facility are not the right people to drive the development of revenue-generating programming. To drive programming development requires a skill set of community members including an understanding of tourism, product development, programming, web marketing, niche marketing, quality assurance, and entrepreneurship in which new pricing and revenue models can be developed. These people are also strong collaborators and know how to leverage new resources.
Community recreation facilities, museums, and many other community tourism organizations would do well to hire local directors of learning and programming (another name might be community development and programming officers). The Canadian Museum of Human Rights is on the right track!