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Tourists look for history and art

KIM MARQUIS

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – As Breckenridge starts to develop programs to promote its historic and artistic amenities, the town is setting itself up to attract business from one of the only aspects of tourism that is growing.

Called “heritage tourism” or “cultural tourism,” it represents travelers who want to experience places and activities that authentically present the stories and people of the past and present. The subject was the main topic of conversation during Thursday’s economic conference held in Steamboat Springs.

Cultural tourism is the No. 2 driver of travel spending, representing 81 percent of all domestic travelers and generating $74 billion, according to Anne Pritzlaff, a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and a presenter at the conference.

“People think it’s nice to have a historic building, but they forget the economic aspect,” Pritzlaff said.

One of about a dozen National Historic Districts in the state, Breckenridge has always touted its history, but the town is now focusing on and adding to its historic elements as well as making attempts to create an artist colony by planning an art campus and developing an arts district.

One of the main principles of cultural tourism is authenticity, Pritzlaff said.

“They don’t want the schlock deal,” she said. “If they want a cruise, they’ll go on a cruise. But we want to give them the real deal.”

The desire for culture in travel was recently boosted, Pritzlaff said, by a “back to basics” attitude resulting from timidness to travel after Sept. 11, bad weather and continuing job losses. Tourists are increasingly taking the highway, not the airways, to vacation destinations. They are exploring closer to home and are making shorter getaways to small towns and rural areas.

Cultural tourists are patriotic, sophisticated and spend more money, Pritzlaff said. They are 45-65 years old, predominantly female and have higher-than-average levels of income. They own computers and use them to research potential destinations.

According to surveys, these tourists like to visit historical places and museums, attend cultural events or festivals and go shopping. Sixty-two percent stay in hotels, while others stay with family or friends. Only a small percentage are RV users or stay in timeshare facilities. They tend to stay at their destination only a few days to a week, but many say they will add extra time to a trip because of a cultural activity.

Forty percent of cultural travelers hear about a destination through the Internet, while only 25 percent do so from a brochure or tourism office. Forty-eight percent find out about a cultural destination by word-of-mouth.

While an average U.S. traveler spends $457 during a vacation, cultural tourists spend $623.

According to Catherine Zacher, who was president of the Santa Fe, N.M., chamber of commerce for more than 13 years and was also a presenter in Steamboat, cultural tourists spend 8-10 percent more per day than the average traveler.

But, Zacher said, these tourists are not “high brows” and are looking for fun things to do.

“Baby boomers want to go home from vacation with more than a tan,” she said. “They are looking for life-seeing experiences, not sight-seeing experiences.”

If that’s the case, Summit County’s recreational activities mixed with cultural offerings being expanded in Breckenridge could be a boon for the area.

Zacher stressed that customer service can make or break a community with the cultural tourist sect.

That’s where Breckenridge’s Friends Welcome program, designed to teach the town’s workforce about good customer service, may also help the town by increasing the chance tourists will recommend Breckenridge as a destination or come back for another visit.

However, both Zacher and Pritzlaff said in their presentations that cooperation among nearby towns is important to expand both cultural resources and marketing efforts to attract tourists.

“Everybody has pieces,” Zacher said. “If you have five communities, they can all advertise in competition to get the same tourists. But if you can make sure the tourist finds something in each of the five communities, you will extend their visit.”

Kim Marquis can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249 or kmarquis@summitdaily.com.


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