You can't help but be excited not to mention a tad scared to death by the pace and scope of the Baker community's tourism efforts.
Spots promoting Baker County and the 10th anniversary of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center were expected to begin airing today on Portland KGW-TV. All told, 100 ads will grace Portland, Boise and Tri-Cities television airways.
And that doesn't include the print advertising.
All told, the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center with help from Baker County Unlimited, the merger of the Visitor and Convention Bureau and Chamber of Commerce will spend some $125,000 marketing Baker County as andquot;Home of the Oregon Trail.andquot; We haven't seen this kind of coordinated marketing campaign since the sesquicentennial of the Oregon Trail in 1993, if ever. Nor have we seen those kinds of crowds since.
But tourism figures have been climbing. Last year, the Interpretive Center saw its first increase in summer attendance since 1993. The Sumpter Valley Dredge saw visitor numbers almost double from the year prior, an indicator of that Baker County community's growing appeal.
Economics can explain some of this. During the booming 1990s, a strong U.S. economy encouraged people to travel abroad, where their money went farther. After the Internet bubble burst on Wall Street, however, some people predicted tourism would decline.
They were only half-right. Internationally, U.S. tourism did decline. But Memorial Day weekend 2001, according to the American Automobile Association, found Americans driving more to recreate than ever before despite somewhat high fuel prices.
The tragedy of Sept. 11 and the subsequent fear of flying and more scrutiny of international danger only makes domestic tourism more appealing. Industry groups say RV rentals and sales are approaching record proportions for the coming summer. The Oregon Tourism Commission has been pushing a similar message, advertising short-duration adventures in Oregon to Oregonians. Baker County's effort enters this environment at an opportune time.
But new solutions create new sets of problems. How do you track the effectiveness of the advertising to make sure public funds are well spent? How do we better connect the Interpetive Center, downtown Baker City and Sumpter so travelers don't see the first and then get back on the Interstate without discovering the other two? Are there hidden costs to bringing your market to your product, as tourism does, instead of the mirror opposite of manufacturing?
And perhaps most importantly: Is the brand andquot;Baker Countyandquot; still Baker County?
So far, the fidelity to authenticity is admirable. Tourism attractions celebrate local history, not alien themes. Downtown Baker City embraced historic renovation, not some Swiss Village/Old West theme.
Let's just hope you'll still say howdy to a stranger and get a smile back.