2021 Tourism Lexicon for the United States

By Andreas Weissenborn

1. Health
2. Community
3. Public
4. New
5. Service
6. Work or Working
7. Help
8. One
9. Need
10. People
11. Business
12. Time
13. Information
14. Today
15. Support
16. Provide
17. Make
18. Plan
19. Care
20. Local
Fair or Fairness
Available or Availability
Include or Inclusive

Our tourism lexicon began over four years ago in a breakout session in Anaheim at our 2018 Annual Convention and we are proud to have continued to update the tourism lexicon. We are also proud to recognize how many of you have adopted it as part of your own journey in becoming a community shared value. This is our fourth annual iteration of the Tourism Lexicon(fifth, if you include our special one-off pandemic iteration last year). Unfortunately, the pandemic is still very much with us, and we will address how much it has entered the fabric of how we both speak and present on our values. 

For those unaware of the Tourism Lexicon, let us run through a brief history of how we got here. For our veterans at this, this will be quick. In 2019, at our annual convention in St. Louis, many of you saw Destinations International’s Chief Advocacy Officer, Jack Johnson, deliver a keynote on becoming a community shared value. In it, he addresses four fundamental questions every destination organization needs to answer to get set on the path of becoming a community shared value. The live presentation is linked above, and I always highly recommend starting from there when looking at how to adopt the lexicon because it is the fourth question asked that sets in motion why you need the tourism lexicon. Who are destination organizations helping?

It is in answering our community/residents/citizens, that puts in motion our language and values to connect with our number one customer. It is less heads and beds and more services we support. What the Lexicon provides is a tactical implementation of shifting how you speak so you are seen or compared to other common goods in your community. We associate clean water with being healthy, teachers to being educated, and first responders to feeling safe. We must also talk about our sector in a manner as to draw the link between destination promotion and the building of quality of place.

 We have datamined an annual set of public statements by elected officials at the local, state/province/ federal level, (Statements from Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, press releases, YouTube, etc.). This datamined set has been our source of information on how people speak about other common goods like education, infrastructure, downtowns, economic development, neighborhoods, etc. 2020, however, has shown us that comparing ourselves to just other common goods are not enough anymore. In fact, it was the minimum we should have been doing for the last decade.

2021 is not 2020 and today and we have two truths we must unpack.

First, many of you have gotten and embodied the concept of being a community shared value and the tactics of the lexicon. Every day we gleefully read your tweets, annual reports, or public statements or speeches which put you firmly on the path of being a common good in your community. In terms of accomplishments for the sector, we have succeeded from what Destinations International proclaimed back in St. Louis.

Here is the second truth. It was not just the pandemic that changed our world in 2020, it is also the moments of Memorial Day weekend 2020 in Minneapolis, the moments of a post-George Floyd world.

We realized that our organizations and our efforts could not survive talking about ourselves as just another common good, we need to expand and adapt. We must also talk about ourselves as civic, social, and equitable goods. In addition, as the pandemic has begun moving into a vaccinated world, so must our vernacular in describing our communities in a safe, welcoming, and helpful manner.

Our communities have evolved. So must we if we are to continue to best suit their interests and needs. Now, let us talk a bit about what these additional goods mean.

A Civic Good:

This is being at the intersection of both civic engagement and civic pride. A responsibility to offer to your community through services and to act as a conduit for change of the greater good. I know it is easy to see the word and dismiss it as activism or electoral participation, but it has a much deeper meaning and roots in volunteerism, participation, and just showing up for your community. It is our virtue. This helps us set the standards for citizens in our community and paths to a better society. Maybe for your organization it is helping to run a job fair, volunteer for waterways clean up, or advocating for other advancements to your community like expanded broadband to close a digital divide. Through this community involvement and advocacy, we are helping to provide a moral underpinning to our community.

A Social Good:

Probably our favorite good, because it is one, we are already very qualified for, is the action or benefit to the largest amount of people in the largest possible way. For many of us we already have the main vessel to deliver that through our existing social media and traditional media outlets. Essentially filling a void by using our social tools and voice to solve a problem or improve the lives of others. For us, that is our destination and our communities.  This can mean things from using our channels to highlight aspects in our community that benefit all, like our parks, common spaces, or shared waterways, or drawing attention to goods and services that increase clean air, energy, safety, sanitation, or even justice.

An Equitable Good:

Or better put, fairness or justice in the way people are treated. We believe equity is also different from “equality,” in which everyone has the same amount of something (food, medicine, opportunity) despite their existing needs or assets. In other words, whether you are two feet tall or six, you still get a five-foot ladder to reach a 10-foot platform. We must put forth that effort, be it internally or externally focused and remain committed to these principles and help those in our community who do not have an equitable share. We are in fact the most equipped organization in a community to represent all in our community.

The Pandemic/Vaccine:

The addition of the pandemic and vaccine on this list remain a reminder to us all that we are still in a pandemic and the initial core theme from the 2020 pandemic lexicon still rings true, people need help and people need support. Our role then is to always articulate ourselves as a support or solution to one day end the pandemic. Be it through the vaccine or other effective means of tampering the virus. In the same vein, we must also strive to show and share our community as a safe and secure destination to travel and visit and put our efforts to combat the pandemic and change perception front and center. This is one good we cannot lose.

Now, a bit about the words themselves.

First, as we began in 2020, we are planning to continue to do separate region-specific lexicons across the globe, but for today you are just seeing the American iteration. However, fear not Canadian, Australian, United Kingdom and Mexican community members, we are coming to you soon to best fit the needs of the Tourism Lexicon to your country. Like last year, we have presented the words ranked once again as this greatly helps illustrate the themes and values of our times as politicians talk about our expanded goods. 

You will notice our first word, which is also a series regular, is 'health,' Not only does it showcase how prominent the pandemic still is in our lives but look at the word right below it. We are not just talking about the health of our people (#10) but the health and wellbeing of our community. Regarding health, you can see it presents the largest leap from last year with a 10-point jump, cementing the theme we saw from last year, People still need help, and people still need support (#7,9,10 and #15).

Let us check out our freshmen; One, Today, Make, and Plan. All of these convey a sense of individualism or on the precipice of a cliff to act. OR simply Make Plans Today (#17, 18, 14)

Each of these words represent where we are today, and equally conveying the importance of talking about ourselves through these expanded goods. And to my point earlier, merely talking as a common good is not enough, and our lexicon must reflect that. And that is why we are not done.

Finally, the five words above represent the highest ranked words across our individual searches across civic, equity, social, pandemic and vaccine related goods. Even though they are not ranked in the 20 words above; they warrant being on this list as expanded values and virtues to assert our work into these expanded goods. While ‘visit’ is one we should be very familiar with, it takes a new meaning when expressing our work as inclusive or available for all to connect with. Our collective efforts include everyone in our community and provide fair representation of our downtowns, neighborhoods, and livelihoods.

2021 was the year we declared as our great acceleration, we have seen this not only in travel and tourism returning but also in other areas surrounding our personal or professional well-being. This is the year we began leading with intent and purpose into being a community shared value and expanding beyond just a common good.  We must now take the mantle of these expanded set of goods through common, civic, social, equitable means. May this year’s tourism lexicon help continue to guide you onto this role.

About the Author

Andreas WeissenbornVice President of Research and AdvocacyDestinations International

About the Author

Introduced to the industry by a random internship application to Visit Baltimore, Andreas began an unexpected career that left him with a continued passion towards tourism. He leads the research and advocacy efforts of the entire organization with an eye towards developing data-driven tools to help destinations around the world tell their story.

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