Column: What makes a good vacation spot?

By now most of you have planned your summer vacations. What prompted you to choose your destination? If you are like most Americans cited in a recent Travel Industry of America survey, your number one reason was "personal enjoyment." That seems so obvious, I wonder why a study was even needed.

However, if you dig deeper, you will find that museums, history and performing arts head the list of things visitors mention that they would like to experience while on vacation. These activities all fall under the hot new buzz word "cultural heritage tourism." It sounds impressive, but what exactly is it?

Cultural tourism is "visits by persons outside the host community motivated wholly or in part by interest in the historical, artistic, scientific or lifestyle/heritage offerings of a community region, group or institutions (Lord Cultural Resources, Ontario.)

Another definition is, " Heritage tourism is traveling to experience the past in an enjoyable and informative way," according to The National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The World Tourism Organization states that Heritage tourism is an immersion in the natural history, human heritage, arts, philosophy and institutions of another region or country.

Those definitions may sound a bit staid, but the idea is catching on around the country.

Baby Boomers are still a driving economic force and as they age they want to come home from a vacation with more than a tan, according to a quote in an article in The Group Travel Leader magazine by Katherine Tandy Brown. Bruce Beckham, former National Tourism Association President, said, "They're more into life-seeing than into sightseeing. That's where the cultural and heritage tourism fits in."

And Carson City fits right in with the trend. In fact, we were marketing our history as our focal point long before it was fashionable. In 1993, we launched the Kit Carson Trail and it has been going strong ever since. The painted blue line, talking house transmitters and maps were an easy addition. The beautiful homes and gardens have been preserved for us for generations. We are very fortunate that our former residents realized their value, even before "Heritage Tourism" became the catchword.

Another benefit of cultural heritage tourism is that many communities are finding that they must cooperate regionally to pool their collective resources. Carson City, Virginia City and Carson Valley have been working together for many years to market our museums, historic districts and cultural events. According to the T.I.A. survey, 60 percent of travelers say they would stay at a destination longer to attend a cultural or heritage event. That extended stay would increase their vacation spending by as much as 30 percent.

Cultural heritage tourism obviously has huge potential as a marketing trend in the industry, but Beckham offers a caution.

"I have a problem with the expression 'cultural tourism,'" he said. "It sounds almost like an oxymoron. Culture sounds so staid and reserved. Tourism sounds like fun. In other words, serious fun."

"The industry needs to come up with something else to call it because the rank-and-file traveler isn't going to buy that. People go on tours every day that include museums or cultural events and just love it, but they would never buy the tour that says it."

He makes a good point. When people ask me why they should visit Carson City, my answer certainly isn't going to be "Because we have cultural heritage tourism." Instead I may reply that we have the Kit Carson Trail, the Ghost Walk, Wild West Tour, Carson City Rendezvous and a wonderful collection of museums. It's all in the packaging, as any marketer knows.

According to T. I. A. statistics, in 1997 25 percent of U.S. adults (53.6 million) took at least one trip that included a historic place or museum, and 17 percent (33 million) took at least one trip that included a cultural event or festival.

In Nevada, some tourism officials worry about Indian casinos and the spread of gaming throughout the country. Now you can find a slot machine almost anywhere. Carson City has done an excellent job of preserving and marketing its history. There is no need for us to scramble to find another hook. As long as we continue to make our heritage our focus and encourage the development of events and tours that feature our history, we will be able to compete in the marketplace. We have the best of all worlds, gaming, history, scenic beauty and accessability.

Candy Duncan is the Executive Director for the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau.


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