The Solvang City Council recently invited 5,500 residents and businesses to a Solvang tourism rebranding workshop at City Hall.
Let’s start by ignoring the fact that inviting 5,500 people to a room that accommodates fewer than 100 people is a miscalculation.
It may sound like a great idea to engage every resident in the rebranding of Solvang tourism. Realistically, it might be as ridiculous as asking every citizen of the United States to attend a workshop on U.S. foreign policy, especially since most of us don’t have the experience to comment on foreign policy. Maybe, for the same reason, we have not been invited by the county or state governments to participate in a workshop on how to rebrand tourism.
What exactly are we rebranding? I guess I will have to figure out the brand we are rebranding myself.
What makes Solvang unique is undoubtedly the fact that it is a Danish town in America of a significant scale and historical longevity. Solvang’s architecture of half- timbered Danish Provincial style. Street names and bakeries are all different from what one finds elsewhere. I believe this is what we are selling to tourists who come here, and that is how they think of Solvang, hence, this is our brand.
Our brand is the only one of its kind, unlike anything else. Tourists have come to see it for more than 70 years. There are plenty of other small towns in California, many with better restaurants and retail stores, and many more easily accessible.
Before I explain my rational for why we need to protect the current Solvang brand and keep it unique, I trust we all understand that tourism is the most significant industry in Solvang, other than maybe construction. In other words, Solvang is a place to live, but Solvang tourism is the business that pays for it. Without Solvang tourism, the City Council cannot write checks and residents need to dig into their wallets, and some of them will potentially lose their jobs and see property values decline.
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No doubt Solvang can make lots of improvements in terms of quality of offerings and the type of tourists it attracts, and the city and businesses can and should do better. The previous Solvang Convention and Visitor Bureau always seemed to focus on volume rather than quality, and in terms of businesses on the select few, rather than the greater good, which was not great for the Solvang brand either.
Unfortunately, the City Council seems to believe we should continue this volume-over-quality approach, starting with the recent Fall Festival. I have nothing against carnivals and garage bands as long as they are not placed in the middle of what the city itself has designated the Tourist Related Commercial zone.
We need to keep in mind that how effective a brand is depends a lot on consistency. In order for a brand to be effective, you cannot on some days choose to be an average small town blocking off the entire main street of the TRC tourism zone with a carnival, garage bands, beers and variety of mediocre-looking food booths, and on other days be this beautiful architectural gem of a unique Danish town in America where everything has to be approved by the Board of Architectural Review.
What we saw with the Fall Festival was a City Council whose members completely ignored many of the businesses, their own TRC, and proved they are completely ignorant — or arrogant — when it comes to the awareness of the Solvang brand.
It took a long time for the Solvang tourism brand to become unique. It will only take a short time to become ordinary, if the City Council is not careful.
My recommendation is to forget about rebranding Solvang tourism and instead focus on current branding improvement and consistency.