The Problem with Shoulders

The challenge with growing your shoulder season?  It’s attached to your body.


“Shoulder Season” is a big buzz word in the Coachella Valley, and anywhere that counts tourism as a major portion of their local economy.  Local cities, chambers, and convention and visitor bureaus often become fixated on the concept of “growing the shoulder season” to add a more stable year-round cash flow.  The challenge with doing that is the theory often belies the fundamentals of why they exits to begin with.

The Coachella Valley is a classic case in point. Utilizing flight arrival patterns at the Palm Springs International Airport we can pinpoint the exact incline and decline in our local economy by looking at the number of daily flights/passengers coming into and out of our desert – it correlates well with economic activity in the valley.  The data matches for one very explicable reason, our economy is built on seasonal habitation.

There is really only one major source for travel to and form the desert, tourism.  We do not have a massive business base shuttling in out of the desert for corporate meetings, there is no major military installation in the valley, or education hub sending kids to and from home on seasonal breaks.  Our economy is almost entirely dependent on tourism  and the many mechanisms in place to support it – hospitality, seasonal homes and country clubs, retail, fine dining, festivals, golf, etc.

Seasonal Habitation is the body we have built for ourselves over the last 50 years or so, based primarily around the weather. People come and go, for short periods of time or several months, based on our weather.  Some may argue “you can’t change the weather” – true in every sense.  But your economy does not have to be a slave to it either, heat has not seemed to slow Phoenix, Las Vegas, or a number of other cities from growing.

No, we are who we are by design. Palm Springs built its chops on being an “escape” for the rich and famous, a place you could come to escape the hustle and bustle of Hollywood, or the cold of Canada.  Escape is the key word there, because it’s a transient word by nature. Our history as an escape is well documented, celebrated, and even marketed.  Think it a coincidence our CVB is called Greater “Palm Springs” instead of “Coachella Valley”?  We are still embracing the fundamental values of yesteryear.  That identity leaves us caught in the vacuum of a resort community that at it’s heart has much conflict about the concept of growing beyond that. Don’t believe me?  Try building anything that increase traffic through the heart of our valley.  For that matter, try building a bike path.

None of this is to say being a seasonal destination is a bad thing, quite the contrary, it has served us pretty well over the years.  But when we talk about creating new economic engines, expanding the shoulder seasons, or just generally moving our economy away from hospitality dominated industry, we do well to look in the mirror and consider what is practical and doable in real terms.  Our shoulders are attached to our body, and our body is seasonal. If we ever want to make serious changes to that, we are going to have to shed some very old baggage around the waist.

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