What makes a town attractive to tourists? A lot more than just declaring our city a tourist town.
City council members want Palo Alto to become a tourist destination. But other than standing there and saying, "You al' come," not much is being done. (Granted, the city has a www.destinationPaloAlto.com web site, but I don't usually carry a laptop around when I am being a tourist.)
Why are tourists attracted to places? For one thing, lovely downtowns. Think Carmel or Sausalito or Kennebunkport ME. Second, a nice mix of stores, including restaurants. (Our University Avenue is doing pretty well in that category.) Third, a tourist-friendly feel directional signs, public restrooms, sufficient parking space and brochures listing stores by categories.
Palo Alto's downtown is looking ragged around the edges, and needs a bit of beautification and a lot more signage.
I recently came back from the Northeast, and I was impressed with what some of the small towns were doing to showcase themselves.
Woodstock, VT was a lovely tourist spot (see photo). A nice collection of apparel shops, art galleries, restaurants with hand-written menus on chalk boards, and most of all, pots of blooming chrysanthemums decking their downtown. In front of every store was a planter box, nine inches wide, filled with blooming chrysanthemums in shades of red, gold, yellow and white. Pots of chrysanthemums sat atop the railings of a small bridge crossing a creek that ran through the downtown.
I was told the village provided the flower planters and that the local garden club plants the flowers and maintains them. A nice partnership.
In Lake Placid NY, there were two pots of chrysanthemums hanging over each and every parking meter. People were smelling the flowers before putting in their quarters for an hour's worth of parking. Sugar maples in brilliant yellows, oranges and flaming reds lined the city streets.
Another town had small banners hanging from lampposts dark green backgrounds with gold letters proclaiming, "Welcome to our town." Classy.
We visited Hanover, NH, home of Dartmouth College, and five miles away were signs directing us to the downtown and the college. The closer we got, the more signs we saw. We reached the center without a single wrong turn.
How many signs are there in Palo Alto directing people to Stanford University? The university has some on their property along Sand Hill Road. But entering from the east, the only sign is on 101 at the Embarcadero Road exit. Once on Embarcadero, there's nary a sign pointing to the university nor are there any along El Camino except at University Avenue.
If we want to increase the number of tourists to our fair city, let's try to do more to make sure they can get here and that their stay here an attractive one.