Monday, October 4, 2010

The Melting Pot of Tourism

We have been told that the great “melting pot” of American culture is not a soup, but rather a savory stew, made up of large chunks of individual cultures, which when combined create a wonderful, rich, savory society.

I feel the same is true in tourism. We may go to a particular area to visit a specific attraction. Say something big like Disneyland or the Grand Canyon, Gettysburg or the Empire State Building, or something small, for instance, Rail Town USA.

When we get there, we are awed by the main attraction that brought us there in the first place. We enjoy it to its fullest, then find that we have more time, energy and money and wonder “what else is there to do?” This is where the stew comes in. We’ve experienced the meat, now where are the chunks of savory vegetables, the tantalizing spices, the rich broth that will make our stay complete? Or maybe because of our unique taste, it was one of the complimentary ingredients that brought us to the area in the first place, when we’ve enjoyed that, we are still going to want to experience the full combination of the components in order to be completely satisfied.

This analogy came to mind recently as my home of North Platte has begun to embrace the concept of “Rail Town USA™”. Being the home of Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard, we truly are Rail Town USA. Bailey Yard is the largest rail classification yard in the world, Union Pacific is the largest railroad in North America. What better place to call itself Rail Town USA than North Platte?

But, if we are Rail Town USA, where do our other attractions fit in? Cody Park as the home of the first-ever spectator rodeo and forerunner to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show; Scouts Rest Ranch, Cody’s home when he started the Wild West Show; Our Native American Heritage in such attractions as Dancing Leaf Cultural Learning Center and the Stones and Bones Museum; Our Western Heritage in NEBRASKAland DAYS, Fort Cody Trading Post and the many historic sites related to the westward expansion along the Mormon, Oregon, California trails and the Pony Express; Our Military History at Fort McPherson National Cemetery and the 20th Century Veterans Memorial; The story of our settlement and growth and World War II Canteen at the Lincoln County Historical Museum; Our ever expanding Arts & Culture offerings such as the Neville Center for the Performing Arts, Art and Gift Gallery, Prairie Arts Center, Feather River Vineyards; our hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities along our lakes, rivers, wildlife areas, golf courses, shooting ranges; the fun and adventure of Cody Go-Karts and the Childrens Museum. This is a long list, and I know I’ve missed some of the things our area has to offer.

The point is, how can we tie all of these things together under the umbrella of Rail Town USA, so that each has its own unique niche, that all benefit from the increased visibility of the designation of the brand, that each can continue to grow, expand and thrive from increased visitation. While pursuing what is best for each individual attraction or event, no one feels hindered by the identification of Rail Town USA as our identity, yet all work together to make sure that the visitor experience is the best that it can be.

Let me offer the caveat here that Rail Town USA has not been formally adopted as North Platte’s brand, lest I ruffle any more feathers than have already been ruffled. The community is currently seeking to pursue the research into brand identification through Roger Brooks of Destination Development International. However, because of our heritage as the home of the world’s largest railroad classification yard, to me at least, it’s a foregone conclusion that rail will figure prominently in our brand.

Even in the initial stages of the process, which began with a Community Assessment, it is obvious that territorialism and turf wars loom on the horizon, regardless of the brand identified. If we work at developing our downtown as the hot-spot gathering place, where does that leave our other designated districts – Platte River Mall, Westfield Shopping Center, East Fourth Street, Original Town; If we pursue expansion of our rail attractions, where does that leave our western heritage attractions such as NEBRASKAland DAYS and Buffalo Bill State Historical Park; If we develop additional rail attractions such as a viewing platform adjacent to the tracks downtown, where does that leave our existing cornerstone rail attraction the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center; Where does the Lincoln County Historical Museum fit into the mix? Lots of questions, and no clear answers.

It takes all of the ingredients blended together to make a stew, just as it will take all of our attractions and events blended together to make a complete, satisfying experience for our visitors.

This will be a blog post without a conclusion, as I have no solutions to offer, only the encouragement that if we all, in our own unique ways and in our own unique niches continue “to help people have fun”, it’s going to benefit all, not just one.


Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

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