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Touristing

Amanda Erickson has a really great article over at the Atlantic Cities about Washington DC's efforts to get visitors to branch out from the typical tourist traps and explore the rest of the city.

(from C.M. Keiner on Flickr)

On paper, this sounds great. There's a compelling economic case to be made too - since tourists typically frequent the same attractions and restaurants, there are businesses who don't directly benefit from tourists at all. So while the Hard Rock Cafe downtown probably does 90%+ of its business from out-of-towners, there are some watering holes in DC's neighborhoods who get almost none of their business from visitors. Talk about an untapped market...

Still, tourists often go to unfamiliar cities and they feel intimidated. They want to stick to the tourist traps because that's where they feel safe. So maybe marketing cities and neighborhoods directly to them isn't the best idea. Erickson writes...
But maybe selling neighborhoods straight to tourists is missing the point. The real goal, argues Pat Wheeler of nonprofit Cultural Tourism DC, is to convince locals that the District's history, culture, and ethnic enclaves are worth a visit...

Wheeler's organization hosts regular walking tours of historic D.C. neighborhoods that are aimed not at tourists, but at residents. Part of the idea, she explains, is that the next time participants have out of town guests, they'll remember what they saw and be inspired to take their visitors someplace a little less obvious. And maybe that restaurant or bar will then become a place where the residents themselves will decide to go on their own. In time, they could become the opposite of a tourist. They'll be a regular.
I have to admit, this is so often easier said than done. Too often when friends of this blog come to visit DC from out of town, they make an immediate beeline to the national mall. Yes, they'll let me take them into a neighborhood after the stuff down there has closed for the night, but like a magnet, they're constantly drawn back to those museums and monuments.

The appeal of tourist traps has always fascinated me in a way. Why are people so obsessed with them? When I visit a new city I seek out the hidden gems. I want to go to the places where the locals go, not the places where tradition thinks I ought to go. But I also understand that I'm unique in this regard. I'll keep doing my part in trying to convince my friends there's more to the city than monuments.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Sorry but I find your reasoning a bit disingenuous. You say "like a magnet, they're constantly drawn back to those museums and monuments" as if it were a bad thing. The museums and monuments are the reason most people come to DC - if they just wanted to visit nice neighborhood spots they could go to any medium sized city anywhere, but we're lucky we have the unique features that bring them here.
Rob Pitingolo said…
You're right, it's not a bad thing. If someone were in town for say, 7 days, I'd hope they would want to spend at least 1 or 2 of them exploring some local gems. Often, it seems like people feel an obligation to visit as many of the "sites" as possible during their stay - sometimes to the point where I wonder if they're doing it for enjoyment or to cross it off of a list.

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