Here’s the Conexión Florida ‘Let’s Talk about Tourism’ article for July…
About 20 years ago, it was predicted that workplace automation, the rise of the internet, and the ability to work from nearly anywhere would lead to a massive increase in leisure time. And as a result, we would see an increase in tourism worldwide. This was predicted to be good for everyone: more travel, more vacations, and a better-funded tourism industry with well-paid jobs for all… Well, the result has happened, and world tourism is at an all time high. However, the reason for that increase was not really as predicted.
Certainly workplace automation, computerization, and the ‘always on’ mobile Internet have had an effect; but the boom has come from other areas. The rise of the Boomer generation was the first driver. Those born after WW2 through 1964 have come to retirement age across the world. They may not actually retire completely…….
A recent article in a newspaper, The Economist, highlighted the changes that are happening in New Orleans. The Crescent City is local to Northwest Florida in that its only a four hour drive away and the culture (Mardi Gras for example) and cuisine of the City, and Louisiana in general heavily influence the Northern Gulf Coast. It can be said that Northwest Florida is closer in temperament an culture to NOLA, than it is to the rest of Florida. Orlando, which many international travelers see as ‘Florida’ is after all a six hour drive away and shares little in culture with the Panhandle.
The gist of The Economist article, which you can read HERE, is that the Mayor
and administration is attempting clean up the city’s act. New Orleans is famous for (admittedly among many other things) the free wheeling nature of the French Quarter in general and Bourbon Street in particular. Over recent years the French quarter has become a center for Bachelor and Bachelorette parties. Most of these at some stage gravitate towards the bars and music joints along Bourbon Street where they seek out the ‘genuine’ flavor of the old city.
Now the Mayor, understandably, wants to make sure that visitors are both safe and legal. There is a backlash against the cleanup with the slogan ‘Bourbon Street not Sesame Street’. As the article points out, some of the workers in the area question just how illegal the activities actually are and offer the suggestion that by changing the place, people may be put out of work or worse, moved into activities that really are beyond the pale.
Many years ago Bugis Street in Singapore had an equally salacious reputation. During the ‘50s and through to the ‘80s the street was famous for its nightly gatherings of the local transvestite population. It became one of Singapore’s main tourist attractions. Not somewhere one would recommend to your maiden aunt for a visit certainly, but it did contribute much to Singapore’s tourist attraction. Bugis Street is still there but was cleaned up during the ‘80s and ‘90s and is now one of the places famous for low cost clothes and a tourist attraction in in its own, new right.
From a tourism and moral point of view there can be no justification for illegal activities. However is there perhaps a very fine line to be trod between sanitizing and destroying? What would Las Vegas be without gambling for example.
A few years ago New York City decided to make Times Square more family friendly and threw out the dubious bars and entertainments. It doesn’t seem to have affected it’s ability to draw tourists although I would question if the area, particularly in the late evening is a place for visitors of a shall we say, a nervous disposition.
We visit New Orleans frequently and stay in the French Quarter. We walk around the area at night and although we cross Bourbon Street we tend not linger and never visit the bars and music joints. We know they’re there of course and don’t begrudge their patron the thrill of an authentic experience, providing they know what they’re doing and keep their wits about them.
Would a Disneyfied version of the Vieux Carré still be attractive to its patrons? Would a fake Eiffel Tower still draw visitors? I suppose the fake tower in Las Vegas does, but then Vegas has the gambling too……
We took a road trip this past weekend. We needed to be just north east of Atlanta, Georgia, on Sunday morning and to be back in Northwest Florida by mid afternoon the same day. We decided to take all day Saturday to make a leisurely drive, stay in a B&B overnight (more of this in a separate post) and then high tail it back on Sunday.
This day and age, I guess we all reach for our GPS of choice, enter the start and end points and hope for the best. Most of the modern built-in GPS (or SatNav, for my UK readers) systems will allow you to enter preferences – avoid highways, avoid tolls, don’t drive into rivers, etc. – but come up with a single route. The stand alone ones, Google Maps, Apple’s Siri, Waze etc., do offer a number of choices. We looked at the last three systems and they couldn’t agree on common routes. The apps even came up with different routes on the same app on separate devices!
I began to think that we’d be better off with a paper topographical map (again for the UK – an O.S. Map) so we could work out where we wanted to go and not be seduced by the ‘you can save 5 minutes by taking the interstate – unless there’s a wreck we haven’t noticed’ suggestions.
However we finally chose a Google route (which Apple Maps later agreed with) to take only back roads between the Panhandle and Watkinsville GA. It was glorious! Small but fast roads through beautiful farmland, small towns that don’t appear to have changed since 1940 – maybe 1840 in some cases – and virtually no traffic. Total travel time was only 40 mins longer than if we’d travelled interstate and gone through the center of Atlanta.
The downside was that there were few fast food joints on the back roads. That may be a good thing, but when you just want some fast Human fuel…. We did find a Huddle House somewhere in Back of Beyond Georgia. What a gem. Virtually empty and staffed by a group of Deep Southern Ladies who cooked everything to order, great sized portions, tasty and very inexpensive. Best of all, they were blown away by my English accent and kept on asking me to repeat the order just so they could all giggle – y’all! Thanks ladies, you did a great job in making this tourist happy.
We also saw a sign advertising Georgia Peaches for sale. Thinking this would be a roadside stall we went to investigate. We found Dickey Farms (founded 1897). Their website is at:
http://gapeaches.com/ and they’re on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Dickey-Farms-100232761473/.
They are peach farmers and packers, and their packing plant is also a store and visitor’s center. It’s a great place. Grab some fresh peach ice cream, take one of their free fans (like Southern Ladies used to keep cool while sipping mint juleps on their front porch swings!) and watch the packing line – see the photos. You can buy peaches of course, but also cobbler, peach cider, peach sauces, jellies, candy, you name it. If it can have peaches in it, they’ve got it. The whole area around the packing plant is a mini theme park. Again, look at the photos.
All this added to my thoughts on the drive up that Agri Tourism is a growing (sorry, pun intended) and vital part of the rural economy. There is a current movement to preserve the rural way of life in Florida. Despite the impression that Florida is the theme park and beach capital of the world, agriculture is vital to Florida. Farm cash receipts from marketing Florida agricultural products in 2012 amounted to $8.22 billion, a slight decrease from 2011. Nationally, Florida ranks second in the value of vegetable and melon cash receipts with a value of $1.42 billion, 13th in crop cash receipts with a value of $6.38 billion and 10th in total cash receipts. In 2013 Florida had 48,000 commercial farms, using a total of 9.55 million acres; Florida ranked second in the U.S. for value of vegetable production; first in production value for oranges, fresh market tomatoes, watermelons, grapefruit, fresh market snap beans, fresh market cucumbers and squash; second in the production of greenhouse and nursery products, bell peppers, strawberries, fresh market sweet corn, spring potatoes, tangerines and avocados; 12th in beef cows; and accounts for 63 percent of total U.S. citrus production. Florida ranks eighth in agricultural exports with over $4 billion. (Source: Florida Department of Agriculture).
Florida has a vibrant Agritourism business (http://visitor.visitfloridafarms.com) as does Georgia (http://georgia-agritourism.org), which offer everything from pick-your-own to farm-stays. Many farms we passed in Georgia had signs offering ‘on farm accommodation’. Of course, the Dickey Farms operation is a part of this agri-tourism movement.
There’s much more to tourism than that which immediately comes to mind. To the counties of Northwest Florida (for example – this applies worldwide) there is a compulsive economic reason for promoting beach tourism. There’s a duty also to promote agriculture and to protect rural life by encouraging tourism to the inland areas. This may also get those inland residents ‘on board’ with tourism issues.
Anyway, off the soapbox! By taking the back roads we added 40 minutes to our journey but added to our knowledge of the country, the enjoyment of our trip and learnt more about peaches than I thought possible. It was a great stress reducer too.
‘Siri, directions to a more enjoyable journey please’
Many years ago, I was involved in tourism from the United Kingdom to Australia and New Zealand. The main demographic was UK folks who had family and friends ‘down under’, due to migration (not to mention enforced transportation of convicts in days gone by!) virtually everyone had a relative in Oz. Not surprisingly this sector was called VFR – Visit Friends and Relations. Rapidly this changed as potential travelers wanted an exotic vacation, but needed to justify the expense. Enter EFR – Exploit Friends and Relations! The premise being that an afternoon visit to Aunt Gladys in Perth would justify a four-week tour around the Barrier Reef and Uluru.
These days there are many reasons people travel, and one the biggest niche markets is heritage tourism. This takes a few forms from ‘cultural heritage tourism’ to ‘diaspora tourism’, both of which have links to my old friend EFR.
An example of this is that in the past 500 years, the vast majority of the population of the USA came from somewhere else. No matter that the descendants of those immigrants feel wholly American, there is a need for many to find out where their roots came from and this drives them to use the investigation of cultural links to justify travel. It’s a good reason.
Not only is this driving huge numbers of visits to Asia, Africa and Europe by the descendants of the original immigrants, but it’s prompting domestic tourism too. Investigations of where the family originally entered the US, where they travelled, where they fought and where other relatives spread.
The proliferation of the genealogy series on television – ‘Who do you think you are?’, plus the on-line family tree services (ancestry.com etc.) are fueling the interest.
So, it’s a good opportunity for Destination Marketing Organizations to bring tourists into their areas – particularly in out of high season periods – to search for their history. Get a genealogist on call, plus the local historians. There’s always a local history buff who wants to share their knowledge.
Tourism is becoming more specialized by the moment and it gives huge opportunities for DMOs, tour companies and hospitality organizations to expand their offerings and get some of those folks looking for something new.