Please come again

November 04, 2005 12:00 am

Recent events have shown how you get different results when you push people around instead of pulling them together.

But rather than carry a grudge forward over the recent tussle over visitor marketing, we'd like to see community and tourism industry leaders get back to the basic question: How can we encourage people to come here, stay longer, and come back more frequently — even to live?

Back in its adolescence, Baker County's tourism industry followed a fairly disciplined road map for success: an emphasis on cultural tourism.

This remains our most cultivated sector to date:

The , Historic Baker City, the , the Haines parks, living ghost towns like , the and the round out more than a long weekend's worth of activity. All draw on the Oregon Trail and the region's gold rush, two powerful playgrounds for the imagination.

People who are interested in history often are also interested in the arts, live entertainment, food and antiques. You have only to look at the cultural institutions and private enterprises that have cropped up in the last decade to see the impact of this demographic on Baker City, both as residents and visitors.

The target audience for cultural attractions is a lucrative one. Travel Industry Association of America and Smithsonian magazine report that nearly half the U.S. adult population took a trip in 2002 that included at least one arts, humanities, historic or heritage activity.

The report said these travelers tend to spend more than other travelers, and baby boomers make up the largest segment of cultural travelers — key for Baker City, which has been put on the map for future boomer retirees by being named Oregon's most affordable small town in a recent guide book.

The TIA also reports that Gen X and Gen Y travelers place an even stronger emphasis than their elders on learning something while on vacation. That means the cultural tourism market isn't going to settle down and die out, but continue to grow for years to come.

Baker County stands to profit from this sector by the wise use of our marketing dollars — and an increased emphasis on both one-time investments, like signage, and on-going initiatives, like front-line employee training and Web presence.

This isn't to say Baker County can't diversify its visitor offerings.

Sports are obviously important: Witness the 1A basketball tournaments, summer use of the Sports Complex, the Shrine Game and the Elkhorn Classic.

So are other active pursuits, like skiing, snowmobiling, off-road driving, even flying. These sectors warrant exploration.

We've even seen a steady flow of small conferences bring people to town in recent years.

But there's a lot to be said for working together to maintain some semblance of message discipline instead of working against each other. That sends a pretty clear message, too.