I live in Richmond, Virginia ~ a mid-sized American city that is the capitol of the state and located about 100 miles south of Washington, DC. It is a lovely city, with cobblestone streets, quaint shopping areas, and  architecture leftover from when it was the Capitol of the Confederacy during America’s Civil War. In fact, the city has such an authentic 19th century look that Steven Spielberg came here to film “Lincoln”, for which Daniel Day-Lewis won the Oscar for best actor. Scenes from “Gone with the Wind” were filmed here because, well, modern Richmond looks more like antebellum Atlanta than modern Atlanta does. In nearly every nook and cranny of Richmond is found something historic and interesting: Thomas Jefferson’s majestic capital building, George Washington’s pioneering canals, and the wooden church where Patrick Henry gave his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. The Edgar Allen Poe museum is here. One would expect Richmond to have a vibrant tourist economy.

But it doesn’t.

As one who has travelled to nearly every corner of the world, both as a tourist and for business, I have perhaps a different perspective on Richmond than do most of its residents. The challenge, which I suspect other mid-sized American cities also have, is at the same time simple and complex. Over the next few weeks, I will post my observations about Richmond’s challenge in the hope that it will help them, and other cities like them, work through these challenges and cultivate a more vibrant tourist economy, for few opportunities are better for job creation and quality of life.

Longwood’s International, a respected tourism research firm based in Toronto, conducted a study of the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) marketing campaigns and found a significant return on investment for tourism marketing and advertising. The study determined that tourism marketing provides an immediate return on investment for the state and that for every $1.00 spent on advertising, $75.00 is spent by travelers and $5.00 is returned in state and local taxes within the same year.

That data alone should make investing in tourism a no-brainer.

Even better news was reported by VTC’s “2011 Economic Impact of Domestic Travel on Virginia and Localities.” In a year when the U.S. economy had slow growth and fears of a double-dip recession, domestic travel expenditures directly generated 207,000 jobs within Virginia in 2011, up 1.6 percent from 2010, making travel and tourism the fifth largest employer among all non-farm industry sectors in Virginia.

That’s really good news.

In addition to the financial benefits, tourism-related businesses contribute to the quality of life for all Virginians because the same attributes that make the state appealing to visitors also make it a better place to live and work. When others appreciate your home, then you tend to appreciate it too, and then everything just goes up from there.

So please stay in touch. You won’t like everything I have to say, but I guarantee I will make you think, and maybe together we can find ways to leverage technology in the creation of a modern, thriving, tourist economy.