By Mark Okrant, NH Travel Guru
Throughout the years, several people have been dubbed “New Hampshire tourism (AKA travel) gurus.”
However, during the last third of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, there was no doubt about the identity of the dean of tourism marketers. Richard “Dick” Hamilton, founder and CEO/president of the White Mountains Attractions Association deserves lasting recognition for introducing a series of tourism marketing initiatives that has made this state competitive as a travel destination.
Hamilton’s foray into the tourism industry began more than a half century ago, when he assumed the leadership of Ski93. In 1970, Dick expanded his administrative duties to include the White Mountains Recreation Association (WMRA). This change came at a time when the governor announced the formation of six regional associations, each charged with fostering economic stimulation within respective parts of the state. Unfortunately, what followed was a period of limited achievement.
Then, in 1973, as the WMRA was evolving into the White Mountains Attractions Association, Hamilton saw an opportunity to grow that region’s economy by dramatically revitalizing its tourism promotions. His first step was to produce a lodging guide for the region, cleverly sustained by advertisements from the numerous commercial lodgings within the area. Like other initiatives that followed, Hamilton deflected praise for this successful effort by modestly replying, “There are no original ideas; everything I know, I’ve learned from others.” In this spirit, he shared each subsequent development with tourism entities throughout the state.
It wasn’t long before Hamilton introduced New Hampshire to another important promotional tool. During the early ‘70s, he became involved in the Tourism Industry Association of America (TIAA). It was while attending a TIAA meeting in Florida that he learned about a process for producing travel maps. Returning to New Hampshire with what he learned from TIAA, Hamilton produced a New Hampshire travel map with White Mountains attractions featured along its borders. This soon evolved into one of the classic pieces of New Hampshire travel literature, the White Mountains Map and Guide.
Recognizing that the key to his map and guide’s success lay in a strong distribution plan, Hamilton hired Michael Duprey to supervise dispersal and trade shows. The choice proved fortuitous and, today, Duprey is known far and wide as the legendary White Mountain Mikey. Years later, Hamilton’s concept became the prototype for the New Hampshire Highway Map.
Dick Hamilton’s contributions to the state travel industry were just beginning. During the mid-1970s, while sitting in the basement of the state capitol building, he wrote what became the state’s Matching Grants law—on the back of an envelope! What followed was a significant tourism promotion tool—the Joint Promotional Program (JPP), which allocates funds to tourism-based organizations on a 50 : 50 matching basis. The first year’s state appropriation was one hundred thousand dollars. However, during the years that followed, the JPP has funded millions of dollars of tourism marketing projects, with a return on investment to New Hampshire that totals hundreds of millions.
In 1973, following the first of two gasoline crises, there was widespread perception that the state’s tourism industry was in peril. Businesses were closing, while many others made a decision to downsize. Complicating issues, the head of the state’s economic development department did not recognize the relative value of visitor spending. Drastic action was needed; so, Dick Hamilton, Steve Barba, and Mildred Beach devised a plan to rally the industry. The meeting they convened at the former New Hampshire Highway Hotel was the first time that tourism people representing various industry sectors and parts of the state met in a single room. To those attendees whose instinct was to protect their own turf, Hamilton offered the assurance, “A rising tide lifts all boats” (a quote that is commonly attributed to the late John F. Kennedy). The momentum from that first meeting led to the formation of the New Hampshire Travel Council (NHTC), which stimulated the growth of a more unified tourism industry.
Hamilton retired after thirty-five years as WMAA’s chief administrator. In 1997, the New Hampshire Travel Council commissioned an award to recognize long-term, individual contributions to the state’s tourism industry. They named this honor the Dick Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award, assuring that his many achievements will be long remembered. Fittingly, they honored Dick as its first recipient.
After forty years as an educator, researcher, and consultant, Mark Okrant joined IndepthNH.org to offer concise, informative insight into New Hampshire’s travel and tourism industry as a business, while showcasing the people and places you want to know. This guy’s really been around. And, he’s funny, too.
For more about Mark’s compelling tourism-based murder mystery series, visit www.markokrant.com.
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