Consultant tells ABA of cultural tourism's potential

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Destinations should capitalize on the cultural attractions they have and aggressively promote them, according to Bruce Beckham, a former tour operator.

Although operators are promoting their areas, many forget the potential for "cultural tourism," which he described as the industry's new buzzword.

Beckham was giving a seminar titled Cultural Tourism: Here to Stay -- Or Just a Stage? at the annual American Bus Association's Marketplace held here recently.

He told those attending, most of whom were from destination-management organizations, that cultural tourism is here to stay. The common theme, he said, is education or arts, whereas heritage tourism is about people and stories and historical tourism covers places and stories.

"Look at the resurgence of Broadway," he said, following with examples of cultural attractions that come to mind, such as New Orleans' Jazz Fest, the Newport Jazz Festival and Toronto's theater.

Beckham, who has a tourism and hospitality consulting firm and is owner of the Travel Master Group, which presents educational workshops, cited some of the best known heritage tours: Pigeon Forge (Tenn.), Amish Country, the Native American West and the Underground Railroad.

He added that some of the best-known historical attractions are Colonial Williamsburg, Philadelphia, Boston, Gettysburg, the Lewis and Clark Trail and Natchez.

Research indicated, he said, that 53.5 million U.S. adults take at least one trip per year that includes a historic place or monument, and 33 million take at least one trip that includes a cultural event or festival. However, much smaller numbers reported that the historic place or cultural event prompted the trip.

Showing the market potential, he also noted that research shows that cultural, heritage and historical travelers, compared with others, are older, more likely to be retired, spend more, take longer trips and include multiple destinations.

Major cultural attractions did not start out that way, he said. Pigeon Forge was a place on the way to Gatlinburg before Dollywood was built there, and Branson did not start out with Bobby Vinton.

"Take a page out of Branson," Beckham said. "When you go to one of its shows, the last thing [the performer] says is 'go and see so-and-so's show.' They enhance each other."

Then he dealt with the question, "Will they come?"

"They'll come if you're accessible -- can you get a coach there?" He added, "Make sure you're worth the time. If you have something worth one hour, make it one hour and no longer. People will get bored."

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