On December 4, the Solvang City Council invited 5,500 residents and businesses to a Solvang tourism rebranding workshop at the City Hall Council Chambers. 

Let’s start by ignoring the fact that inviting 5,500 people to a room that accommodates less than 100 people is a slight miscalculation. 

Initially, it sounds like a noble and great idea to engage every resident in the rebranding of Solvang tourism. Realistically, it might be as ridiculous as asking every citizen of the United States to attend a workshop on the foreign policy direction of the U.S. Especially since most of us don’t have the experience to comment on foreign policy, or we are not affected by it or we have some other reasons that prevent us from making informed decisions about foreign policy. Maybe for the same reason we have not been invited by the County of Santa Barbara or State of California to participate in a workshop on how to rebrand tourism for our county or state. 

So, what exactly are we rebranding? This is the question I wrote and asked the Public Information Officer of Solvang, Kady Fleckenstein, under the assumption that since this is a rebranding session there must be a brand already that we are going to rebrand. The Public Information Officer went silent on me and I never heard from her again. So much for public information. I guess I will have to figure out the brand that we are rebranding … myself. 

In my mind what makes Solvang unique is undoubtedly the fact that it is a Danish town in America of a significant scale and historical longevity. Solvang’s architecture of half- timbered Danish Provincial style, street names and bakeries are all different from what one finds elsewhere. I believe that this is what we are selling to the tourists who come here and that is how they think of Solvang. Hence, this is our brand. 

Our brand is unique (adjective: being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else), and tourists have come to see it for more than 70 years. There are plenty of other small towns in California, many with better restaurants and retail stores, and many easier accessible. 

Before I explain my rationale for why we need to protect the current Solvang brand and keep it unique, I trust that we all understand that tourism is the most significant industry in Solvang other than maybe construction (mostly fed by tourism anyway). In other words, Solvang is a place to live but Solvang tourism is the business that pays for it. Without Solvang tourism the City Council cannot write checks and the residents need to dig into their wallets, and some of them will potentially lose their jobs and see property values decline. 

No doubt that Solvang can make lots of improvements in terms of quality of offerings and the type of tourists it attracts, and the city and the businesses can and should do better. The previous Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau always seemed to focus on volume rather than quality and in terms of businesses on the select few rather than the greater good, which in my mind was not great for the Solvang brand either. 

Unfortunately, the current City Council seems to believe that we should continue this “volume over quality” approach starting with the Fall Festival. I have nothing against carnivals and garage bands as long as they are not placed in the middle of what the city itself has designated the Tourist Related Commercial zone (TRC).

We need to keep in mind that how effective a brand is depends a lot on consistency! In order for a brand to be effective, you cannot on some days choose to be an average small town blocking of the entire main street of the TRC tourism zone with a carnival, garage bands, beers and variety of mediocre-looking food booths, and on other days you want to be this beautiful architectural gem of a unique Danish town in America where everything has to be approved by the Board of Architectural Review. 

What we saw with the Fall Festival was a City Council who completely ignored many of the businesses, its own TRC, and proved that they are completely ignorant (or arrogant) when it comes to the awareness of the Solvang brand. 

It took a long time for the Solvang tourism brand to become unique. It will only take a short time to become ordinary it if the City Council is not careful. 

My recommendation is to forget about rebranding Solvang tourism and instead focus on current branding improvement and consistency.

René Gross Kærskov

Solvang resident and business owner