Recently I attended the San Antonio Book Festival held in and around the architecturally stunning San Antonio central library, an annual event billed as a celebration of ideas that unites readers and writers through books, libraries, and literary culture. The event brings together author presentations, panel discussions, book sales and signings. Also included are family activities such as children’s theater performances, a technology area, interactive play and art stations, and a few of the city’s famous food trucks.
If you know much about me then you know books are my “jam”. I love a good bookstore. I can spend hours in a bookstore discovering all the things I want to learn about or stories I wish to know, identifying all the books I want to read and then slowly honing down the list created in my head to the handful of books I might just have the time to read (and can carry). The joy of that activity is one of my greatest pleasures. And the only thing better than a good bookstore is a good book fair or festival.
One of the things I miss most about Chicago is the annual Printer’s Row Literary Fest which I was honored to serve on the board of the organization (Near South Planning Board) that sponsored it every year. It was a privilege to serve twice as the chair of the Harold Washington Literary Award dinner that was attached to the event. I cherish the memory of meeting Grace Paley whom I did not know anything about until she was selected as the honoree but whose poetry I have since grown to love. I fondly remember the conversation with August Wilson about the modern state of boxing that was started by the mere mention of my name, a name I share with another Chicagoan who was the first black heavyweight boxing champion. On the other side of the spectrum, I still feel squeamish when I think about briefly talking to Garrison Keillor who seemed to be more interested in leering at my executive assistant than talking with me.
When I moved to Washington, D.C., I often attended the National Book Festival which is organized by the Library of Congress. Being held inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center it lacks the intimate street fest feeling of the Chicago event but does draw quite an impressive pool of writers - particularly from the government or political sphere which is another one of my passions. I particularly remember listening to a talk by the late Congressman John Lewis and one of his legislative staff members, Andrew Aydin, talk about the first book in the graphic memoir series, MARCH (written with illustrator Nate Powell), which chronicles the life of the Congressman and civil rights icon. It was an emotional discussion not just because of the life lead by John Lewis, but the story of Andrew Aydin and the bond that developed between these two men during the writing of the book as well as the idea of octogenarian John Lewis embracing a new genre of storytelling at a time in his life when most of us are pretty set in our ways.
Anyway, this year at the San Antonio Book Festival I sat in on a session with a panel entitled “The Pivotal Role Of Birds…In The World And Our Lives” that featured writers Danielle Belleny (This Is a Book for People Who Love Birds), Priyanka Kumar (Conversations with Birds), and Joan E. Strassmann (Slow Birding: The Art and Science of Enjoying the Birds in Your Own Backyard) discuss their new books about birds that was moderated by conservationist Jeanette Honermann. Now I could spin from here into another blog about the niche tourism sector of birding or bird watching. Back in Chicago, under the direction of then Mayor Richard M. Daley, I was involved in implementing the “treaty” signed with the federal government to protect and enhance the north/south bird flyway that ran along the western coast of Lake Michigan. This included the creation of a series of bird sanctuaries embedded in our lakefront parks including space adjacent to the convention center. The result was the creation of an ideal space for birding – and you guessed it – birding tourism.
But frankly, attendance at this session was driven more by the interaction with the birds in my backyard, neighborhood and the adjacent public space known as Brackenridge Park. There is a rich diversity of birds and watching, feeding, and interacting with them has become part of the life I am building here in San Antonio. All this brings me to the point of this blog post. One of the questions posed by members of the audience of the panel I was attending was regarding good tools to use when birding. A good pair of binoculars was mentioned as were several cool apps like the Merlin Bird ID from the Cornell Lab. But I was struck by one tool mentioned by Danielle Belleny. She said her best tool was community. And I thought that was brilliant.
We at Destinations International are big believers in the power of community. It is one of our four core pillars along with Advocacy & Research, Professional Development, and Destination Tools. Indeed, I would suggest that it is the most important of those four core pillars. It is truly a strong, global community of professionals that promotes the exchange of information, knowledge, and best practices across the globe to help each one of our member’s individual communities thrive. Our events, our website, our online community, and our committees are just a few examples of ways we help foster this community. And each one of you, connecting with your peers helps build this community - connection by connection. And community isn’t just something that helps support you as you ply your craft – it is a tool to use. But until I heard Danielle Belleny say that she uses her community like a tool, I didn’t put it all in perspective. In her case, the answers to almost every question she had about birding she could find in the community of bird watchers. And the same is also true for us.
Community is important. From Simon Sinek, "Community is a group of people who agree to grow together." From Helen Keller, "Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much." The Destinations International Community helps you become a better destination professional. The local community where you work and work on behalf of isn’t there just to support you. It is there to be used as a tool to accomplish your organization's mission. But to use these tools you and your team need to engage because the strength of a community lies in the strength of the connections between everyone in the community.
In many of my presentations I finish with the phrase “Tourism Builds Community.” The word “community” is the most prominent word in our advocacy Tourism Lexicon. But I realize now that the phrase is only half of an equation because “Community Builds Tourism.” And as Matthew Kelly points out, “the most powerful thing one can do for another is to build a strong community.”
If you and your team are not fully using the destination organization community fostered by Destinations International as a tool, please don't hesitate to reach out to us at [email protected] to help you get started.