Making your community exciting to visitors
History is in the eye of the beholder and, for that reason, a Texas sociologist specializing in tourism and economic development suggested Wyoming communities should market “cultural tourism.”
Peter Tarlow said history must be relevant to the visitor.
"When you are selling history, remember that local history has limited use. History is like a baby," he said, "yours is most important, but only to you. Your history is not their history. It's not emotional to them because they have a different perspective. So sell the history of America and how that connects to your local situation.”
Tarlow said communities should understand the perspectives of the travelers they want to attract, and then go after that niche.
Because Wyoming is a rural oriented state, Tarlow said people visiting here could have "a really terrific rural experience.
But he also said most communities set themselves up for failure when trying to retain family vacationers in their area for more than just a pass through look.
"The No. 1 reason people leave an area is the lack of family oriented activities or information," he said.
To illustrate, Tarlow said the two most important days for tourism, especially when a community markets themselves to a regional traveler, are Saturdays and Sundays, with Fridays and Mondays the second best set of days.
"But when are the chamber of commerce offices and information centers closed here?" he asked. "Only when they, the traveler, need you, and you aren't there."
Because of a Monday through Friday, 8 to 5 mind-set in most communities, Tarlow said the burden of providing information to travelers arriving in towns in late afternoons or on weekends falls on gasoline station and convenience store employees, many of whom are teens.
"What do they say when asked what there is to do? Nothing. That's the most common answer. And because local residents are considered by travelers to be local experts, they believe the answer and out of town they go," Tarlow said.
Tarlow suggested local communities develop a tourism certification program for such front line businesses and employees.
"If you can keep a traveler in your town four extra hours, you've just sold a lunch and, if it's in the afternoon, perhaps a dinner, a hotel room and a breakfast. At least you can get a lunch," he said.
To be successful, he said first line workers should be able to name one tourist attraction to see and visit during the day, one thing to do in the evening, what a traveler may do if the weather is not good, provide directions to one hotel in town and be able to give the name of one restaurant and provide directions to that eatery.
He suggested an incentive program could reward businesses that participate in such a certification campaign, such as highlighting a list of such businesses in the local newspaper and/or on a local radio program. Tarlow said such an effort could be considered economic and cultural development because it helps the economy of the community.