To the editor:
At City Council meetings and in issues of The Winslow Mail over the past couple of months, I have witnessed a debate that seems to focus on the following question: "Who is best suited to run the Visitor Center in Winslow?"
I'd like to see the discussion shift to addressing the larger question: "What needs to be done to expand the tourism component of Winslow's economy, who should do it, and how will we pay for it?"
I'm not an expert in tourism, but it seems to me that we should start by analyzing the following segments of the traveling public who already visit Winslow or could be enticed to do so.
Pit-stop visitors. These folks include travelers who stop for a few minutes to get fuel, buy snacks, stretch their legs, and take a bathroom break as well as those who stay overnight in a budget motel and leave immediately the next morning.
Base-camp visitors. These are leisure travelers who stay for at least one night in Winslow in conjunction with visits to regional sites like the Petrified Forest National Park, Meteor Crater, Navajo and Hopi cultural attractions, and rock climbing at Jack's Canyon.
Destination visitors. These are visitors who have planned a visit to Winslow to enjoy a specific local attraction like La Posada or a local event such as Standin' On the Corner Park Festival, Railroad Days, or the Doc Wright Wrestling Tournament.
Scouting visitors. These are travelers of all ages who are actively "scouting around" for a place to relocate to.
Each of these types of visitors has different agendas, needs, and interests, and therefore will expect and respond to different types, locations, and levels of "visitor services." A single, staffed Visitor Center, regardless of who might operate it, may not be the most cost-effective way to attract, inform, and serve the full range of Winslow visitors.
Most of you reading this letter have lived in Winslow much longer than I have. If you know Winslow like the back of your hand, you don't need maps, brochures, signs, and walking guides to get around and find what you need. To get a better idea of what a visitor experiences, pretend you have been hired as a "mystery shopper" to evaluate Winslow's visitor services. Enter Winslow from each of the four directions. Try to find attractions or basic services using signs and street addresses. Stop in at various motels and browse their brochure racks and regional tourism publications. Ask employees at various businesses for directions to local attractions like the Old Trails Museum. Make sure you conduct some of your mystery-shopping trips on weekdays and weekends, during the day and after dark. If you are feeling ambitious, try some mystery shopping on the Internet as a prospective visitor to northern Arizona who has never heard of Winslow.
After this mystery-shopper research, I think you will be amazed at the number of practical suggestions you will have for enhancing the services that Winslow offers to visitors to increase our share of regional tourism dollars and related tax revenues.
A separate, but equally important issue is what steps we should take to increase Winslow's appeal as a community to visit and live in. If visitors are impressed, they'll come back and will recommend Winslow to their friends. If they are disappointed, no amount of billboards, glossy brochures, or other promotional efforts will get them to be repeat customers, boosters, or permanent residents.