The Value of Awareness

By Jack Johnson, Destinations International

The second in our series of posts describing the values that today’s destination organization must represent to become an effective advocate for its community. Learn more about Destinations International’s Community Alignment Roadmap.

Every spring and every fall I will run into someone who expresses the regret that they get only a couple weeks of the season. I found this was very common in Chicago where I spent most of my life. “If only we had more than a couple weeks of spring,” or “more than a couple weeks of fall” they would say. And I would fight the impulse to roll my eyes. Because what they are thinking of is not the season, but a small part the season. They are thinking about that time when temperatures are mild, flowers begin to bloom in the spring, leaves begin to turn colors in the fall. Their definition of spring or fall.

Why this drives me crazy is that it shows a total lack of awareness of the two seasons. You see, in Chicago the summer and winter are defined seasons in that they have defined characteristics that make them what they are. In summer, the days are long and the nights are short. The temperatures are warm, or even hot, it rains, plants grow, and the wind generally comes from the south. In winter it is the opposite. Short days, long nights, cold temperatures, snow, plants hibernate, and the wind, as a rule, comes from the north.

On the other hand, spring and fall are transition seasons. The are defined by being both winter and summer, summer and winter. A transition from one to the other with parts of both. And the subtle differences in each day are defined by the bi-annual battle for dominance by the north and south winds and the small, but discernible changes in the length of the day and the placement of the sun in the sky. I find it fascinating.

Like many places, Chicago is defined by its seasons – as much as it is by its geographical location and features.  As much as it is by its history, traditions, and people. But only someone who pays attention would notice. Only someone who observes and listens. Only someone who asks questions. Only someone who has a passion for Chicago and is aware of what makes it Chicago.

We define "Destination Awareness" as a concern about and well-informed interest in the history, situation, people, and/or development in our specific destination. It is also something to be spread and generated in others.

As destination professionals we are aware. We ask questions. We research. We engage. And most of all, we observe and listen. We are well informed about our community, its past and its present, and we understand the hopes and dreams the people of our community - our home. We observe, ask, listen, and process and then repeat that over and over.

Looking at the nine industry core values that make up the community alignment roadmap, awareness is the natural second step. If you are passionate about something, you should know a lot about it. And while no one person will know everything, a destination organization filled with passionate and aware people will be able to answer most questions about a destination because someone on the team will know the answer to the questions. Passion drives awareness. And awareness makes you and your team the destination experts – for visitors and residents alike.

About Jack:

As Chief Advocacy Officer, Jack Johnson manages the overall public policy operations at Destinations International including member advocacy education and training, development of destination tools and best practices, coalition work with peer organizations, industry research and related public affairs activities.  He also oversees the board governance, the Destination Management Accreditation Program (DMAP) and the DestinationNEXT (Assessments and Planning) Program. Johnson brings unrivaled experience developing innovative strategies, policy solutions and civic consensus for government, not-for-profits and small businesses.

Johnson has received numerous accolades including being named as one of Successful Meetings’ 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry in 2018 for his work on opposing travel boycotts and bans. Currently, his work around positioning destination organizations as a shared value in each of their communities and speaking with a new lexicon based on the emotion-driven by those values has made him one of the leading voices of the travel industry.

During his previous tenure with Choose Chicago, Johnson played a leading role in the extensive reforms of the McCormick Place Convention Center and the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau, resulting in a new convention center operating model with both a travel industry and a citywide civic perspective. Johnson was integrally involved in the merger of the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau and the Chicago Office of Tourism, resulting in maximizing their resources, unifying the message and embedding the organization into the city’s economic development strategy.