Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Competing for ecotourists

This story in today's New York Times caught my attention for several reasons--not least because I've been dealing with the Montana Tourism Office of late as we plan a family vacation in Montana for next month. I like the way Brian Schweitzer, Governor of Montana, sends me an email every time I request information from the tourism office. Mostly recently, he welcomed me "back to Montana" because I indicated when making the inquiry that I had visited before.

But I digress ... the Times story, written by William Yardley, contrasts two states' spending on promoting themselves as travel destinations. Those two states are Washington and Montana. The latter has apparently been making a big push to attract residents of the former, inundating the Puget Sound region with dramatic, eye-catching billboards of wildlife and mountain vistas. Washington state, meanwhile, has eliminated its tourism office, which means it is no longer promoting its own beautiful Cascade Mountains--nor the space needle or Pike's Place Market in Seattle.

That brings me to something else that stands out about this story: how states promote their rural treasures and reaches as much or more than their urban gems. Of course, Montana has no major urban areas at all, so it's going to promote its national parks--and perhaps rural gentrification gems like Bozeman and Kalispell. But even Michigan, which the story holds out as another state that has upped its tourism spending, is promoting non-metropolitan venues (as in those "two peninsulas") to offset lost revenue associated with--to quote Yardley--"Detroit's urban decay."

Yardley also picks up on the rural appeal to tourists--especially those in sweltering cities--writing:
Montana’s campaign focuses on specific urban areas, Seattle, Minneapolis and Chicago among them, and has won awards for its creativity, including the wrapping of city buses with pastoral images of Big Sky Country.
I look forward to writing about some of those pastoral places in the "My Rural Travelogue" series next month as my family and I enjoy "the last best past."

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