Charlevoix receives visitor perspectives as part of annual entrepreneurship event

Annual “Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities” conference offers first-time visitor perspectives to host community as a way to improve visitor experiences.

In 2018, Charlevoix hosted Michigan State University Extension’s Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities conference. The state-wide conference, which rotates locations each year around Michigan, “helps communities learn how to support and grow entrepreneurs in their towns”, according to Andy Hayes, Extension educator and leader of the CEC team.

One break-out session offered each year is specifically designed to capture visitor impressions of the community hosting the CEC event.  The objective of the session is to inform the host communities of potential strengths and weaknesses captured from visitors at the time of the event. Using an abridged version of a statewide MSUE program titled, First Impressions: Tourism Assessment, or better known as FIT, the perspectives of nine individuals were captured during one afternoon breakout session of the first day during the CEC conference.

Charlevoix, a community with a strong appeal to tourists, received the results of attendee’s perspectives to the breakout session  from MSUE tourism educator and FIT lead, Andy Northrop, in early 2019 .

All nine attendees were asked to provide their initial “five-minute” impression of Charlevoix. As the FIT program intends to capture, responses varied between positive and negative:

  • Beautiful coastal town, breathtaking harbor with quaint shops…
  • Wow! So pretty-out of a picture book!
  • The community seems to have pride and property owners maintain a nice presence.
  • A lot of new developments going on in town and seems downtown can’t handle the traffic

Participants to the breakout session were also asked to identify top motivations for visiting Charlevoix from a list of 15 options. Those identified were “relax”, “enjoy the weather”, “engaged in sports”, and “shop” were selected the most from the list that also included: Be in Nature, Visit Friends/Family, Get Entertained, Seek Adventure, Get Away from People, Visit Historical Sites, Experience a Unique Culture, Experience the Nightlife, and/or Engage in Business or Religious Activities.

Participants were asked if there were any shops or attractions that would bring them back to visit Charlevoix in the future. Responses included a “book store”, clothing companies, and, more specifically, the Weathervane, the Castle and Momentum.

The FIT program tries to balance strengths and weaknesses equally to a community but extracting the latter information can be challenging in some communities with prosperity on their side. When participants were asked, “What would you change about the destination?”, responses included:

  • Less tourists
  • Easier access from the major highway
  • Seems the marina and brewery were in confusing locations
  • Better signage

The perspective of visitors to a community can raise awareness of assets that may not always be apparent to residents and leaders. The community of Charlevoix is aware of the importance of their natural resources but hearing the “waterfront” mentioned multiple times as the one primary asset visitors will remember the most six months after their visit for the CEC event should not have been a surprise for those Charlevoix community members present to hear the results. Other assets that will serve as memories to the coastal community identified by CEC participants were public space, library and vibrancy of the downtown.

Michigan State University Extension’s Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities conference will be hosted by the community of Ludington, MI. The dates for the 2019 conference are Oct. 1-2. Additional information from previous CEC events and communities can be accessed by visiting “Past Conferences”.

Communities can learn more about Michigan State University Extension’s First Impressions: Tourism Assessment

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