Passive Tourism Is Out Cultural In

    LANSING — Passive tourism is out. The cultural tourism visitor experience is in.

    Throughout October, the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries conducted four pilot models to evaluate the cultural assets of Marquette-Negaunee, Port Huron, South Haven and Ludington-Manistee.

    “It’s like how we learn when we go to school,” said department Director William Anderson. “In one class it might be passive and all we do is listen and take notes. In the next class, the teacher might have all kinds of exercises and we work in teams.

    “It’s the same thing with cultural tourism. We learn more and appreciate more if we are engaged.”

    The pilot communities were chosen because they already have some success with cultural tourism.

    “We wanted places that are going to be interested in trying to improve,” Anderson said. “We don’t want the evaluation team to go in and make suggestions and have communities get defensive.”

    The five-member evaluation teams looked at what the visitor experience is in each community and tried to find out what happens when visitors go to a historic site. The goal is to make sites engaging and interactive.

    “In many places you walk up to a historic marker and you read it, and that’s the experience,” Anderson said. “There’s a difference when you go to a place where you actually get to do something.

    “That’s the ideal because the visitor truly has an experience.”

    For example, Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City features birch bark canoes and employees costumed as French voyageurs. Visitors can actually get in the canoes and paddle with the voyageurs.

    The Ludington-Manistee team, which visited Oct. 21 and 22, was made up of Rita Hodgins of Marquette, a district educator for the Michigan State University Extension in the Upper Peninsula; Gail Vander Stoep, an assistant professor in the MSU department of park, recreation and tourism resources; Dixie Franklin, an East Lansing freelance writer; Sharon Koops of Added Touch Receptive, a Holland travel agency; and Debbie Mikula, executive director of the Michigan Association of Community Arts Agencies in Ann Arbor.

    Hodgins and Anderson previously served on a steering committee that looked at cultural tourism in Michigan. Many other members of that committee are on the evaluation teams.

    MSU is a resource for the project because it has a history of involvement in the travel tourism arena. Hodgins and Vander Stoep are two of 17 faculty members on a tourism expertise team.

    Hodgins worked with the Marquette-Negaunee team on Oct. 2 and 3. “It was wonderful. Some people hadn’t spent very much time here in the past and some had never been here at all. For a small area, I think they were amazed at the wealth of culture.”

    Hodgins said reports from the four evaluation teams will be available in November.

    She expects no surprises. “We need to package. We need to be guardians of authenticity and be who we are, which is very hard to do today.”

    The teams’ intent is to experience what visitors experience at each site. Employees at the sites have been asked to behave the way they would for any tourist. The teams will also observe signs around a site, determine how easy it is to reach a location and assess whether the attraction is promoted consistently.

    On Oct. 21 in Manistee, the team visited the Little River Casino, Manistee County Historical Museum, Ramsdell Theatre, SS City of Milwaukee, Congregational Church, Manistee Fire Hall and Babcock House and walked on the Riverwalk through downtown.

    Oct. 22 was spent in Ludington. The team traveled to West Shore Community College, the Old Engine Club in Scottville, Historic White Pine Village, Big Sable Pointe Lighthouse, Father Marquette Shrine, the Coast Guard station and the SS Badger Lake Michigan car ferry. It also looked at historic buildings downtown and the waterfront area with its newly developed sculpture park.

    “Visitors have changed,” Hodgins said. “They’re not the visitors of old. Many people are searching for who these people are, how they came to this place and how people earned their living.

    “We’re learning that this is what visitors are wanting to know, so we need to do a good job of telling our story in each place.”

    Travel Michigan, the state’s tourism-promotion agency, is involved in the project by consulting with the planning teams to develop the itineraries, and also promotes the project on its Web site.

    “We’ve done studies over the years, and the No. 1 reason for taking a trip is to visit friends or family,” said Cynthia Snyder, media relations director of Travel Michigan. “Many people, while they’re in a community, visit cultural attractions.

    “This is a great tool.”

    The four pilot communities will become mentors for cultural tourism representatives in other communities. If the pilots prove successful, the department said similar assessments could occur around the state.

    Cyndy Fuller, president of the Manistee Economic Council and Chamber Alliance, is on the Ludington-Manistee team and predicts the project will benefit the state’s communities.

    “The more opportunity you have, the more you broaden your market,” she said. “It’s going to broaden our tourism time: Instead of having 10 weeks during the summer, it can be 52 weeks, which right now we don’t have.”

    While the Ludington-Manistee area offers many natural resources to tourists, Fuller hopes to turn the area into a cultural tourism destination that will attract people all year.

    “The cultural tourist is an entirely different animal than the tourist who would go to the beach,” she said. “They are a more relaxed tourist and they are there for a greater appreciation of the community.”           

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