A Japanese city assesses its attraction of tourists, and its character

In the Virginia Department of Housing and  Community Development’s asset-based downtown planning process, the agency recommends that an out-of-town visitor be included in the assessment of the community and its potential. The reason: the uniqueness of place is often most overlooked by those who know it the best.  

The point was demonstrated a few weeks ago when a Giles County resident offered an anecdote about a house guest following up her visit by sending photographs.  “This one is beautiful,” her husband said upon seeing a bucolic mountain scene.  Where did you take it?”  

“From your back porch,” the guest responded.  

We get  accustomed to the some of our communities’ most precious assets. And it happens everywhere.  In Kyoto, Japan,  massive tourism developments such as a proposed aquarium have sparked a debate and raised awareness about the relevance of an attraction that could, frankly, be anywhere. Resources are limited. Pursuit of ‘anyplace’ strategies reduce investment in the assets inherent to the place. 

Japan draws in relatively few tourists with sites like Gion, a geisha district in Kyoto. The nation is torn about how to attract more.Hiro Komae for The New York Times.

Last week’s New York Times article on the debate offered: 

“Japan’s tourism strategy has also been driven by investment in engineering projects and theme parks rather than the protection of the country’s natural and cultural riches, an oversight that some experts say has cost the country dearly in tourism dollars.”

With Main Street’s asset-based approach, we’re constantly reminded of the value of historic structures and their roles as economic assets, not just for tourism, but in the quality of life of those who choose to live, work, and shop there.  

Every community (from Narrows, Virginia to Nagasaki, Japan) has unique cultural and natural assets potentially important to the community and economic development strategies.  What are yours?