NEW ULM - There are a lot of factors involved in being a successful tourism destination. But a town doesn't have to be located next to the Grand Canyon or along Route 66 to have a thriving tourism base.
That's the message that Mark Hoffmann, CTP, chairman of the National Tour Association, brought to the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce's "Hot Topics" Lunch Wednesday at the New Ulm Country Club.
Tourism requires a "brand," something to promote to draw people in, especially for towns off the beaten path, said Hoffman. Even towns that lack a "brand" can make one up if they have the vision. Hoffmann pointed to Leavenworth, Wash., a town noted for its Bavarian-style architecture and festivals, and its summer production of "The Sound of Music." It draws people by the thousands, but there was nothing particularly German about Leavenworth to begin with.
New Ulm has a marvelous ethnic heritage and a lot of attractions, from the Hermann Monument to the Glockenspiel to the August Schell Brewery, but more than that, a town has to have a personality, said Hoffmann, and that personality has to shine through.
New Ulm is a friendly, welcoming kind of town, said Hoffmann, and that attracts people. Tourists like to talk to people and learn about the town they are visiting.
Hoffmann said the first line of contact is often the desk clerks at hotels, and the staff at restaurants. He cautioned that these employees need to be well trained to handle the different types of people who come in.
Different generations of travelers have different expectations. Older travelers expect service, courtesy, and information that doesn't have to be pried out of monosyllabic hotel staff. Younger generations are more likely to expect a short "Here's your key," while older travelers may want information about where to park, where the amenities are, any attractions nearby, and a "Thanks, enjoy your stay."
Hoffman said it is important for people to realize how tourism supports their local economies. One of the lessons of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, which shut down travel all over the country, was how dependent many businesses are on tourism, even those that are not directly in contact with tourists.
"The guy who worked at the laundry realized his job depended on tourism when the hotels stopped sending over so many loads," Hoffmann said. "He didn't realize he was in the tourism industry."
Hoffmann said it was important for tourism destinations to find new ways to present themselves and to attract tourists. George Glotzbach of the Hermann Monument Society said paid attendance at the monument was down this year, and he had been told that ethnic destinations aren't that important to younger travelers.
Hoffmann said ethnic destinations are still an important part of the travel industry, but it may be that the people coming to New Ulm have been coming regularly, and have seen the Hermann Monument.
"You may need to dress it up with something new," Hoffmann said.
Hoffmann also said it is essential for small towns to make wise use of their often limited promotional budgets, and to be aware of social media, not only to promote themselves, but to be aware of what people are saying about them, to respond to criticisms before they drive people and business away.