Village of Sebewaing receives suggestions from first-time visitors to guide tourism development
Michigan State University Extension 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 through June 2017, the Village of Sebewaing received four surprise visitors that spent eight to 24 hours in the Huron county community located in Michigan’s Thumb. These visitors, also called assessors, were part of a yearlong program the Village of Sebewaing applied for through 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 enhance 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 if applicable personal kayaks, bicycles, or other sporting equipment.
Sebewaing has assets and challenges similar to every community. Assessors commented that Sebewaing’ marina, historical museum, meandering waterways and walkable historical downtown are wonderful. Assessors also said the Village of Sebewaing website was helpful and visually appealing, but need more information to accurately represent the history, sport options and parks and recreation. Sebewaing’s Chamber of Commerce also had positive features, such as the listing of businesses, events, lodging options and maps. Social media didn’t provide assessors with much more information than what they already learned by visiting other online resources. In fact, assessors found YouTube videos of Sebewaing negatively portraying the community as a ghost town.
According to assessors, Sebewaing attracts visitors to relax, engage in sports activities, be in nature and visit friends and family. Some of the challenges Sebewaing assessors identified as obstacles included having minimal special events or activities, few shopping options and limited lodging options. However, assessors noted that the destination was safe, secure, hospitable and had attractive areas of green space.
Assessors to Sebewaing also reviewed tourism assets and residential areas. One assessor said their most positive experience while visiting was “the kind staff at the campground and overall well-maintained and picturesque site”.
FIT provides communities like the Village of Sebewaing 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 Sebewaing here.
Michigan State University Extension tourism educators conduct FIT assessments annually. Communities are asked to thoroughly review the FIT application, consider the program requirements and timeline and determine if FIT is the best fit for the community and, equally important, form a Community Leadership Team (CLT) before applying.