We can do it... with flip charts!

The City of Savannah hosted a tourism workshop a couple days ago, so that's where I was Tuesday evening. They had a couple others in the Spring as well. I only caught about half an hour of the first two because I had tours on my book, so it was exciting for me to finally discover what goes on at these workshops after I leave. Turns out, not a whole lot. The evening began with a slide show reviewing some of the gripes tour guides had expressed at the previous meetings. Or something. It was kind of like sitting in class in middle school again. Just as I used to do in school, I paid minimal attention to what was happening up front because I was reading something else. Back in the day, it would have been a book discreetly held just below the desk. In this case, I was looking over some handouts that detailed pretty much what the slideshow went over. After that, us tour company owners had to get to work! We sat at our tables, wrote down our individual "vision statements" for Savannah, then from that the table worked out a single "vision statement" which we wrote on a large flip chart. Why do bureaucrats love flip charts so much? Each table next had to share their "vision statement" with the rest of the room. I had convinced my table to throw the word "stewardship" into ours, which went over very well with the moderators of the workshop. That was enough to earn me the Microphone of Command, so I had to stand up all official-like and read our statement for everyone. I decided to lighten things up because, you know, we were a bunch of grownups who had been provided crummy snacks (seriously, there wasn't even any coffee!) and forced to sit down with our competitors and whip up lame flip chart projects like a classroom full of fifth-graders. So, I began with "Well, we here at Table Awesome...". As intended, it got a laugh out of every one. What I did not anticipate was everyone after that turning it into a competition and trying to out-awesome Table Awesome. Also, subtly insulting every other previously stated "vision statement". This is what happens any time you assemble a diverse group of people all in one place for official reasons: they actually regress back to being snide little teenagers. I guess that's an inherent flaw in the democratic process.

This quest for tour guide input is a noble effort on the part of the City and the Tourism Advisory Council, but what will it actually lead to? There's supposed to be a follow-up workshop on the 17th. Will it involve another slide-show and yet more scintillating flip chart action? Will all this information-gathering lead to tangible changes in Savannah's approach to tourism? My guess is not anytime soon. As far as I'm concerned, nothing counts until the City has established, staffed, and funded an actual Tourism Office. Even if such a thing did not immediately remedy any of the problems we've been experiencing, it would provide a mechanism for solving those problems far more nimbly than the disconnected, lumbering bureaucracy that handles things now. Tourism has become huge and we really must have a centralized department that keeps tabs on the numbers and promotes a more controlled type of growth. Stewardship, if you will. It's a billion dollar industry. You'd think the City would have done that already.

Alas, I doubt the Tourism Advisory Council will unwrap a shiny new Tourism Department for us at the October 17th meeting. There are a lot of things to distract the City right now, chief among them being the firing of our City Manager, the complete mess she made of the Purchasing Department, and the inevitable search for a new City Manager. Also, it's an election year. I'm not sure what that has to do at all with tour guides in Savannah, but apparently "It's an election year" is a good excuse to put any real work on hold until after the first week of November. Hmmm. Maybe that means we can expect to find a Tourism Department under our tree at Christmas then? I suppose it's time for me to get started on that letter to Santa....