Aspen called a leader in ‘cultural tourism’ trend
Aspen is a champion of a rapidly growing sector of the travel industry known as “cultural tourism,” according to a talk given at a statewide travel conference.Nancy Kramer, executive director of the Steamboat Springs Arts Council, spoke about cultural tourism at the 2005 Colorado Governor’s Conference on Tourism last month in Denver. “The Aspen Story” was her first example of where cultural tourism comes alive through the historic buildings in downtown, think tanks like the Aspen Institute, and cultural amenities like Jazz Aspen Snowmass.Cultural tourism is exactly what it sounds like – Kramer describes it as attracting visitors through every aspect of a community – from arts and heritage to museums and festivals. It’s something Colorado should focus on to garner tourist visits each year, rather than just centering marketing dollars on the state’s vast recreational opportunities alone, she said.Cultural tourism has less of an environmental impact than recreational tourism alone and is able to attract more diverse visitors, Kramer said.”Aspen has done such a wonderful job of doing that – summer visitor traffic there exceeds winter,” she said. “That’s something other ski towns wish they could do.”For an example, Kramer said the Aspen Music Festival and School, a 56-year-old institution with a $13 million budget, adds an estimated $52 million to the local economy.In general, Aspen enjoys an 85 percent visitor return rate and a summer demographic of visitors who are older empty-nesters. The beauty of cultural tourists, she said, is that they have a higher income per capita than other travelers, on average spend up to 36 percent more than other travelers per visit ($623 versus $457), and stay up to 50 percent longer (more than five nights versus three nights).”Aspen was a quintessential success story with a long-standing story, and the numbers were stunning,” Kramer said. “Aspen is an iconic, cultural destination, and using Aspen as an example showed people in the travel industry that this is what can happen.”But another one of Kramer’s examples at the Colorado Governor’s Conference on Tourism was the tiny town of Creede. Even with a county population of less than 900 and a town population of less than 400, the town’s historic area, artist galleries and mining museum draw cultural tourists.She specifically pointed to the Creede Repertory Theatre’s tremendous success, which at 40 years old is responsible for a staggering 20 percent of the Mineral County economy and supports 60 artists and staff seasonally.”Cultural tourists are really explorers – my husband and I love to explore communities when we travel,” Kramer said. “Sometimes it’s serendipitous – we went to Lake City planning our trip around recreation and hiking and ended up staying two nights instead of one. The character of the community pulled us in.”Her final example of the trend toward cultural tourism is something that three Colorado counties and 10 communities in the northwestern part of the state are putting together, called the Northwest Colorado Heritage Tourism Initiative. Towns including Meeker, Rangely, Steamboat Springs and Craig are pulling together the initiative to share their own heritage and cultural aspect with visitors.Together, the communities are making an inventory of their cultural and historical assets that they can promote as a group to attract travelers. Kramer also hopes their initiative can include the arts of local galleries in the area and the living landscape of Northwest Colorado, including agricultural and ranching lands.A more regional approach to cultural tourism is also forming in the southwestern part of the state, near Durango.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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