Opinion: Confederate flag is bad for business
Vermont communities, businesses and workers dependent upon tourism and the hospitality industry could and want to be doing better. And simply stated, doing better means having more people visit the state, delivering to those individuals and families a Vermont experience that exceeds their expectations and as a result they will promote Vermont to their extended family, friends and colleagues. More visitors spending more dollars strengthen the economic fabric of our communities.
If you believe more visitors spending more dollars bring greater economic prosperity, then would you intentionally do something to keep visitors and their dollars away? Or if you discovered that something you do or someone you knew does had the unintentional consequence of keeping visitors and those dollars away would you or they continue to do so? I would like to believe that the answer to both questions is an unqualified and resounding “no.”
In 2012 the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing and Vermont Partnership for Fairness & Diversity announced a bold new vision to increase the number of tourists of color visiting and spending their dollars in Vermont. Together we launched the Vermont African American Heritage Trail a year later to rewrite the narrative of Vermont as the whitest state in the nation to the most welcoming state.
The demographic shift in the United States offers Vermont an opportunity to expand its economic pie through increased numbers of tourists, recreationalists, convention-goers and college students of color visiting and spending their hard-earned cash in the state. A scant 27 years from now the United States will become a majority minority nation and the multicultural marketplace is an untapped market for Vermont business growth.
Thirteen-year-old Devon astutely noted in his Aug. 10 letter to the editor in the Addison Independent on the Confederate battle flag flying in Middlebury, “I feel that it is giving visitors the wrong idea of our town. I think this will tell the visitors that we might be a racist town or a town that is not welcoming. …” Young Devon makes the business case to keep the Confederate battle flag from public view. He knows that first impressions count.
African American visitors coming to Middlebury to pay homage to Alexander Twilight who attended Middlebury College or Daisy Turner whose archives are housed at the Vermont Folklife Center would be horrified to see the Confederate battle flag flying there or anyplace else in Vermont given Vermont’s history and heritage. Both the college and cultural center are on the Vermont African American Heritage Trail with anticipated increases of black tourists to Middlebury. That increase of tourists needed to bump up economic prosperity could be halted or significantly slowed. Imagine the damage of a Confederate battle flag sighting in Middlebury going viral on social media frequented by communities of color in general or Black Twitter in particular.
While the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing is working hard to get more tourists to Vermont, it is the job of local communities and businesses to ensure that the expectations of tourists in this new market are exceeded if there is to be any hope of return visits or expanded business. We ask that local business owners, civic groups and elected officials not shy away from engaging those who choose to fly the Confederate battle flag in public with the stark economic reality that its public display is bad for business as young Devon has already pointed out.
Remember that you do not get a second chance to make a great first impression.
Curtiss Reed Jr.
Vermont Partnership for Fairness & Diversity