Northwest Colorado isn't doing all it could to seize upon the growing segment of the tourism industry known as "cultural and heritage travel." That was one of several important messages that came out of Economic Summit 2004 last week.
Steamboat Springs already has been recognized by first lady Laura Bush as a "Preserve America Community." And the region is well-positioned to capitalize on its Western heritage, speakers at the summit said.
Catherine Zacher, the president of Santa Fe Economic Development Inc., said the typical heritage traveler is a woman between ages 45 and 65 who is well-educated and spends 8 percent to 10 percent more on vacation than other vacationers.
They bring intense curiosity on vacation with them and seek learning experiences that reveal a sense of the place they are visiting. Instead of simply visiting Mount Rushmore on a trip to South Dakota, they would be eager to learn more about the Sioux Nation. Another way to express it is that they are more into "life-seeing" than "sight-seeing."
What's lacking in Northwest Colorado? Certainly not historic and cultural sites.
What is missing, Zacher said, is a single marketing message that addresses the entire region with one compelling voice. Collaboration is essential, and there is no room for petty turf wars in marketing heritage tourism, Zacher said. Heritage travelers must be given a guide map to the region, not single attractions.
Summit speaker Anne Pritzlaff, a member of the President's Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, urges communities to endeavor to make their historic sites come to life.
We can't think of a better place to make Steamboat's heritage come to life than historic Howelsen Hill Ski Area. When you think about it, Howelsen is already the epicenter of competitive skiing and snowboarding in the Rocky Mountains. Soon, youngsters will be ski jumping at Howelsen year-round. Flags commemorating the exploits of more than 50 Winter Olympians with Steamboat ties hang from the rafters in Olympian Hall. Even the log buildings have a story to tell.
However, visitors to Steamboat commonly walk down Lincoln Avenue, gaze south down Ninth Street at the ski jumps on Howelsen and ask out loud, "What is that? Is that a ski jump?"
Adequate signage, more historical displays in the Howelsen Hill Lodge, a docent program and a continuous loop video would all make Howelsen come alive for heritage travelers. And from there, they could be sent to the Tread of Pioneers, Perry-Lou Wyman's new living history museum in Craig and the region's excellent history museums.
We commend the organizers of Economic Summit 2004 for focusing attention on the possibilities. Furthermore, we urge local not-for-profit organizations to pursue a portion of the $10 million in funding for "Preserve America" in President Bush's 2005 budget.
Cultural and heritage tourism will do more than inject dollars into the local economy. It can serve as the motivation for conserving the institutions that affirm who we are and where we've come from.