St. Clair County communities confirm first-time visitor impressions are valuable to community tourism improvements

MSU Extension’s First Impressions Tourism (FIT) assessment program benefits participants knowledge and awareness of the importance of outside visitor's perspectives.

St. Clair County, MI benefited from two First Impressions Tourism (FIT) assessments in 2019. FIT, a Michigan State University Extension tourism program, is a comprehensive community assessment conducted by unannounced visitors in a host community positioned to lead community tourism development based on unique results. FIT involves developing community leadership, assessing the host community, sharing the results in a community forum and providing suggestions to drive community action.

The FIT program brought two teams comprised of five outside visitors to two St. Clair County communities between 2018 and 2019 to conduct the tourism assessments. The two communities selected were Marine City (2018-2019) and City of St. Clair (2019). While the former community received their assessment by the visiting team in 2018, both communities received the results of their assessment, delivered in a community forum setting, in 2019. The community forum is typically an evening meeting open to all where MSU Extension tourism educators share results with a wide range of participants, such as leaders, educators, residents, business owners and even other Michigan communities interested in learning more about the FIT program.

While both FIT assessments were conducted separately, the data shared here is aggregated to reflect the impacts of the program in St. Clair County. Altogether, the two FIT programs together reached 106 people from the community forums. Of those 106 people, 43 (or 41%) voluntarily took an MSU Extension survey so that tourism educators can understand if the FIT program was accomplishing objectives and serving its purpose.   

Participants were asked a range of questions to gauge the impacts of FIT.

  • 67% of those surveyed agreed their awareness of community assets increased as a result of participating in this program.
  • 81% participants agreed they envision themselves or community using the information shared to advance tourism in my community.
  • 88% of participants agreed the program information shared will help strengthen collaboration within the community.
  • 100% of those surveyed felt the FIT program can help Michigan communities interested in developing tourism.

Comment how you feel this program helped increase your awareness of assets in your community?

  • The program helped us see what others see of our community.
  • FIT bridged gap between various initiatives in our community.
  • I didn’t realize there were land or water trails to the extent of the visitors highlighted.
  • I’m new to the city and this was eye opening.
  • It made me more aware of an outsider’s point of view and what we need to work on.
  • FIT raised awareness that bike trails and kayak/water sport activities were lacking.
  • The program supplied supportive data for old and new community assets.

Both St. Clair County FIT communities are within nearly a year or more into taking action after completing the FIT program. As part of the FIT process, MSU Extension Tourism Educators revisit each FIT community after one year to gauge impacts and actions. Both Marine City and St. Clair are taking incredible action to strengthen their small-town tourism economies.

Overall, FIT helps communities learn about their strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of first-time visitors evaluating their community in an asset-based manner on multiple tourism-related community metrics. The overriding goal of the program is to support community economic development by facilitating the growth of local and regional tourism economies.

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