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It takes a village to raise an exceptional destination

Jan. 30, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

l have no intentions of a call-to-action, nor do I see the next few paragraphs sparking a revolution that will forever alter human interaction. I do, however, believe in the community impact of Create Huntington and I am grateful for this opportunity to make a contribution to its efforts.

The past few weeks have allowed me to scratch the surface of a Destination Marketing industry, which happens to be growing at a rarely matched intensity underneath an umbrella of the billion-dollar tourism industry. As I begin a new challenge at the Cabell-Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau, where I was recently hired as sales manager, a nearly overlooked conclusion has presented itself with subtle simplicity. Spun from an African proverb that "It Takes a Village to Raise a Child," "It Takes a Village...to Raise an Exceptional Destination" has become a noteworthy concept.

What is encompassed in our county's destination? Is it Huntington, Barboursville or Milton? Sure. Is it Pullman Square, the Huntington Mall, or the Milton Flea Market? Sure. Is it the Chili Fest, Fall Fest, or Pumpkin Festival? Sure. Is it standing in line at a gas station, a chance encounter on a sidewalk, or a passing car on a rural road? Of course.

What about our county is exceptional? Webster defines exceptional as one whose ability deviates from the norm. Many well-traveled natives and transplants from the Tri-State area repeatedly point to you and me, the residents of Cabell County, as the region's No. 1 asset. To activate our top asset, deviate from the norm, and maximize our tourism industry potential we simply recognize our inherent ability to treat others as we would like to be treated. Do all citizens of this region have the ability to make a kind gesture to an out-of-towner, direct a smile toward a passer-by, or gladly give directions to a motorist who may be unfamiliar with the area? Of course.

Place yourself as a fan of a rival team in town for the first time, or a curious wanderer in a never-before-seen urban setting or even lost on a back country road with no signs of civilization. For within these examples our basic abilities of kindness, compassion and love can become a stranger's saving grace.

How was your last trip away from home? Was the hotel nice? Did you visit a fun attraction? Did you eat something you can't get at home? Now recall the staff of the hotel, the attraction, and the restaurant. Also, try to remember the way you were treated at every encounter along the way. These relationships, plus other variables, collectively create a destination experience.

Yes, our region has unique, world-class attractions, food, and lodging; and yes, we have unique, world-class people. Does this mean that all visitors will receive a unique, world class destination experience? Only you and I can answer that question.

Choosing a destination experience is a valuable commitment of time and treasure. Travelers are voluntarily becoming guests, intentionally placing hope in our hands with calculated trust. Lifelong memories should be the sum total. How do we minimize variables and maximize good will? How do we create an exceptional destination? Only you can answer that question.

Jake Sharp is a resident of Barboursville, W.Va., and wants to create an exceptional Huntington.