Tourism guru shares journey to creating a destination

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Travel guru

Roger Brooks of Roger Brooks International, a marketing consulting firm for tourism. (Handout, Roger Brooks International)

Roger Brooks travels 350 days per year and spends most of them trying to create a place where you want to be. Brooks, 61, a tourism consultant, has worked with more than 1,000 destinations in 45 states and places abroad since the early 1980s. This is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Q: How did you become a tourism consultant?

A: For decades, tourism wasn't even an industry. It was just something people did. I was working in the music business, managing tours for bands like Fleetwood Mac and Earth, Wind & Fire, when I was asked to help develop the Whistler ski area in British Columbia into a world-class destination resort. I had no idea what I was doing, but I recruited investment, and it worked. We did resort projects for about 10 years. Then towns started calling.

Q: What was the first town you worked with?

A: Ocean Shores, Wash. It's on the Pacific Coast, and people called it Open Sores. It was the 1990s, and they were stuck in the '60s. We brought in $300 million of development for new hotels, restaurants, a convention center and improving roads.

Q: Do you find yourself with a similar goal for each project, or is each different?

A: It all comes down to "How do we make this town a place that people want to come?" There are three ways. Branding: What sets you apart from everyone else? Product development: Where is the product that backs it up? And marketing: How do we tell the world?

Q: For which of those three subjects do destinations usually need the most help?

A: Product development. You must have something that sets you apart from everyone else; you have to be the best at something or be different. And the top activities in the world are shopping, dining and entertainment in a pedestrian-friendly setting. Those things aren't the reason we go somewhere, but it's what we do when we are there. You have to create an environment where people do those things, and that includes locals. If you don't like to hang out in your own town, neither will visitors.

Q: How often do you make radical recommendations or urge a place to completely redefine itself?

A: Fairly often. We just did Deadwood, S.D., which was the third casino town in the U.S. behind Las Vegas and Atlantic City. It worked fabulously for a while, but here's the challenge: 48 of 50 states now have gambling. We have to do something that makes Deadwood worth a trip. We're talking about music, entertainment, getting back to the Old West roots, and they're planning a brand-new plaza in the downtown. They actually have good restaurants, but they're hidden behind the gambling.

Q: How important is diversifying a destination?

A: Huge. The Great Smoky Mountains get more visitors than any other national park, but I asked the people in Gatlinburg, Tenn., "What would happen if the Smokies burned down?" They said, "We'd die on the vine." I said then their goal is to become a destination that people would still want to visit, like Jackson Hole, Wyo., so that people would want to visit even if something happened with the national park. They were only as strong as the park, and they needed to do more than that.

Q: You urged the California town of Oxnard to change its name to Oxnard Shores. They didn't do it.

A: Those suggestions don't always go over very well. It's a city on the ocean west of Los Angeles. Oxnard just doesn't have a very good ring to it. Call it Oxnard Shores, and it sounds like a great place to be! We have to be honest. People hire us to tell them the truth, not what they want to hear.

Q: Do you ever miss the music industry?

A: Once you're in the music industry, it's in your blood forever. But tourism is the best industry on earth. It's all about people having a good time.

jbnoel@tribune.com

Twitter @joshbnoel

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