Village of Elkton receives results from surprise visitors to guide tourism development
First Impressions Tourism Assessment program assists small town communities with identifying strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of first-time visitors.
During a six-week period from mid-May to late-June, the Village of Elkton-located approximately 11 miles west of Bad Axe, Michigan- received four visitors that spent 8-24 hours in the Huron County community. These visitors, also known as assessors, were part of a yearlong program the Village of Elkton applied for via Michigan State University Extension. The program, First Impressions: Assessing your community for tourism (FIT), provides communities an opportunity to learn about their assets and opportunities through the perspectives of first-time visitors. Communities can then make changes to strengthen their image, improve community well-being, and quality of life for residents and visitors based on suggestions from the program. Assessors are provided a stipend to cover travel costs, an assessment tool called the FIT Visitors Manual, cameras, and personal kayaks, bicycles, or other sporting equipment.
Like every community, Elkton has assets and challenges. Assessors commented that “Elkton has some wonderful assets including Ackerman Park, the historical log cabin museum and the quilt trail, walkable and historical residential areas, and a well-established golf course.” Visitors suggested these assets along with the agricultural area, the Lake Huron coastline, historical places and renewable energy resources could be leveraged to attract future visitors. In addition, an active community group on Facebook known as “Elkton Happenings” along with a growing art community were suggested as social capital with significant potential for the community.
Some of the challenges assessors identified are obstacles that cannot be overcome overnight, but can be addressed with a cohort of local leadership gradually over time, such as a lack of inviting places, limited activities for visitors, and increasing local knowledge of visitors-identified resource and assets in the Village of Elkton.
FIT provides communities like the Village of Elkton with a final report of results and suggestions, an open community forum opportunity to share results along with a copy of the presentation, as well as the raw data collected from assessors. Suggestions that come from FIT assessments are typically categorized into four areas: art, business, community, and recreation. You can view a full report of the FIT assessment conducted in Elkton here.
Michigan State University Extension tourism educators conduct FIT assessments annually. However, we require communities to review the FIT application, consider the program requirements and timeline, and form a Community Leadership Team (CLT) before applying. Assessments are best conducted during the warmer seasons so that a wide range of assets can be experienced and evaluated.