Community leaders of East Jordan take action on tourism development after suggestions from first-time visitor assessment
Michigan State University Extension First Impressions Tourism Assessment program assists small town communities with identifying strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of first-time visitors.
During a six-week period between mid-May through June (2018), the City of East Jordan received five surprise visitors that spent 8 - 24 hours in the Charlevoix County community located in Northwest Michigan. These visitors, also called assessors, were part of a yearlong program the Northern Michigan community applied for via Michigan State University Extension. The program, First Impressions: Assessing your community for tourism (FIT), provides communities an opportunity to learn about their strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of first-time visitors using a 12 part assessment tool designed to draw out their perspectives.
As part of FIT, communities are required to form a Community Leadership Team (CLT) comprised of stakeholders before applying. MSU Extension tourism educators then follow-up with the CLT with a series of questions to guide discussion around impacts and actions after completing the FIT program.
I followed up with East Jordan's CLT in early spring 2019 to gauge their progress after finishing the FIT program approximately 9 months earlier. Using a series of pre-planned questions, I quickly learned East Jordan CLT is a model community for the FIT program.
When asked "What has changed in your community as a result of your participation in FIT?", East Jordan's CLT responded with - "Increased engagement with organizations, chamber, municipality, and citizens resulting in better communication and greater enthusiasm to share best practices and ideas seen in other communities. I also asked them, "Have any new collaborations spawned from being in a FIT community and if so, how many? They responded, "Relationships that already existed have deepened through the Community Leadership Team and the FIT program. "Additionally, they also emphasized the FIT program brought enthusiasm that enabled them to go from a committee to a real team sharing monthly updates.
MSU Extension's tourism team asks FIT CLT's during follow-up interviews about specific improvements to physical/built environment, recreation, infrastructure and digital presence too. Their Downtown Development Authority (DDA) "has secured funding to build a pedestrian bridge connecting the east and west sides of town along with fishing platforms and a boardwalk pocket park." As for recreation improvements, the City Parks Department is working on a revamp of Sportsman's Park with a non-motorized boat launch, American Disabilities Act (ADA) upgrades, kayak launch and connection for Friends of the Jordan Watershed Center. The City and Chamber of Commerce have both updated websites while the CLT is working on a city branding package. FIT-CLT for East Jordan identified priority action items to be implemented over time. Some of the items they identified include Adventure Sports Marketing, Tourist Oriented Social Media, Business Improvement Presentation and Attraction, Historical/Cultural Tourism programs, Regional Marketing, Wayfinding, and Water & Nature Trail Signage. Improvements to residential areas were also included in their action plan developed out of the FIT program. For further inquiry as to what East Jordan is doing specifically in each of these areas please contact the East Jordan Chamber of Commerce or Downtown Development Authority. Both of these organizations will have the most up-to-date information.
FIT provides communities like the City of East Jordan with a final report of results and suggestions, an open community forum opportunity to share results (along with a copy of the presentation), as well as the raw data collected from assessors. Four categories of suggestions typically develop out of a FIT assessment and those include art, business, community, and recreation. You can view a full report of the FIT assessment conducted in East Jordan here.
If you are interested in becoming a future FIT community, please contact Michigan State University Extension tourism educator, Andy Northrop. You can also learn more by reviewing Michigan State University Extension articles, such as “How to become a FIT community”.