Marketing in the Methow Valley

Thanks to my work with Scenic Washington, I was invited to be a presenter at their annual retreat in Winthrop. Since I haven’t been to Winthrop since I was about seven, I jumped at the chance to not only see the Methow Valley again but to help some of Washington’s tourism partners recognize the value in history, heritage and culture.

The day's take: Bupkis.

The day’s take: Bupkis.

The drive from Lacey to Winthrop is a long one, but since I knew the route well I wanted to take advantage of rare opportunity…gold panning in Peshastin Creek! I stopped just past the summit of Blewett Pass at the vacation home of a colleague who had given me permission to try my luck in her waters. While the panning yielded zippo, it was an extremely pleasant hour spent creekside (check out the great pictures here!) stretching the legs and back, listening to the babbling water and chatting with three guys from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife who, by sheer coincidence, happened to be studying fish in the creek about a hundred yards from where I was panning.

After an emergency oil change at Apple Valley Honda in Wenatchee (thanks again, guys!), I was on the road to Winthrop. Meandering through the Methow Valley was a beautiful, scenic trip that took all day but was well worth it. I arrived at the Sun Mountain Lodge, where the Scenic Washington retreat was taking place. It’s an absolutely top-notch vacation destination and you can read my TripAdvisor review of it here. If you’ve got plans to visit the area, make Sun Mountain your home away from home.

Craig Romano taking us up a trail.

Craig Romano taking us up a trail.

Like most conferences, the days and nights were spent networking, participating in various presentations and taking breaks to enjoy the local atmosphere. Sun Mountain Lodge offers miles and miles of hiking trails with stunning views of the Methow Valley. We spent the day hiking with one of Washington’s most accomplished trail hounds; Craig Romano (another Insider for Scenic Washington) has written a dozen hiking guides about the great state of Washington and it was truly a pleasure to hike with him. That evening we were treated to an authentic homestead barbecue, taken there and back in horse-drawn wagons. And it wasn’t a chicken-only event.

They had steak. Lots of steak. I’ve never had two steaks back to back before but darned if they weren’t cooked to perfection on an outdoor grill!

Hank Cramer sings his hits.

Hank Cramer sings his hits.

The folk music of Hank Cramer – who also happened to be one of the wagon drivers – was our entertainment for the evening and a more accomplished guitarist and singer I have yet to meet. He knew everything from John Denver to Woodie Guthrie to old cowboy songs who’s authors have long since been forgotten. I requested “Roll On, Columbia, Roll On,” and he knew it so well it was as if he’d practiced it that morning. Check out his CDs available for purchase if you get a chance.

The next day, I was tasked with giving a presentation about why history matters when it comes to tourism. Below is my presentation, slide by slide with my notes. As always, check out the pictures I took on Flickr or Pinterest and feel free to contact me if you’d like to have me present to your group as well!

My name is Erich Ebel…A little about me... I am on the Board of Directors for the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. I am the Vice-Chair of the City of Lacey Historical Commission. And I am the History Insider for Scenic Washington. None of that qualifies me an expert … rather, just like you, I’m always looking for more stories about Washington, the greatest state in the lower 48.

My name is Erich Ebel…A little about me…I am on the Board of Directors for the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. I am the Vice-Chair of the City of Lacey Historical Commission. And I am the History Insider for Scenic Washington. None of that qualifies me an expert. Rather, just like you, I’m always looking for more stories about Washington, the greatest state in the lower 48.

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You’ve probably heard these three words tossed around interchangeably. I like to define them as follows:

History is everything that’s ever happened in Washington. That can mean geologic events, prehistoric native peoples and animals, massacres, battles, explorers, and more contemporary history like the life of Kurt Cobain or the establishment of Boeing and Microsoft.

Heritage is the values and qualities passed down through the decades. Our state was created by fishermen, loggers and miners…by pacifist artists and by unscrupulous businessmen. Thanks to our proximity to Canada and the Pacific Ocean, we are blessed with a heavy international influence…from Asians to Russians, French, English and Scandinavian.

Culture is what makes each place unique. Hydros on the Columbia, Whale hunts on the Makah reservation, Suicidal horse races in Omak.

Bottom line is that all three of these are incorporated into the blanket term: HERITAGE TOURISM.

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So what is Heritage Tourism? The National Trust for Historic Preservation defines heritage tourism as “traveling to experience the places, artifacts and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past,” and “heritage tourism can include cultural, historic and natural resources.”

Others have defined it as tourist visits motivated wholly or in part by interest in the historical, artistic, scientific or heritage offerings of a community, region, group, or institution.

In one survey of almost 130-thousand people…more than 50-percent cited an interest in Arts, History and Culture. In a smaller survey of nearly 3,000 people….51.5-percent chose Historic and Cultural Heritage as an interest when planning their travel. So what do these heritage tourists look like?

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A 2011 profile of American heritage tourists revealed these folks are typically over 45, highly educated and well off. More than anything they are searching for a cultural authenticity to their adventure … and they have high expectations. Disneyland doesn’t work for these folks…you can’t fool them with plastic castles and electric princesses.

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A Ukrainian study of German Tourists to their corner of the world revealed striking similarities to the Americans. They were typically over aged 45, well-educated, desire a certain level of quality in the attractions and prefer a local experience. This suggests a worldwide commonality among heritage tourists…no matter where you go, heritage tourists are looking for the same thing. And that makes it easier for you to market your heritage resources to them!

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So…no community wants visitors to learn its story from behind a windshield at 40-miles-an-hour. You want them to slow down. Stop and park. Have a meal. Stay a night … and THEY WANT THOSE THINGS TOO!

Studies show the motivating factors in travel for heritage tourists include understanding the culture of a place, finding natural beauty, getting a new perspective on life, visiting cultural, historic and natural treasures, and getting out of their comfort zone.

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Besides hopefully enjoying themselves, today’s heritage tourist can have a significant economic benefit on the communities they visit. They contribute to the area’s economic vitality…help to create jobs…expand business and tax revenue. They help breathe life back into areas that had previously fallen into disrepair or abandonment. And perhaps most importantly, heritage tourists can help foster a sense of pride and belonging by residents.

Look no further than here in Winthrop, Washington…a town whose people rallied together to turn their community into a destination.

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Thinking about your own communities, how do you identify potentially marketable experiences? You can start by looking at yourself and your family … what do you enjoy doing? Then try to brainstorm ways to bring that experience to others. Here’s an example…

When I go for a jog through my neighborhood in Lacey, I like to run past the Jacob Smith house…It’s a civil war-era structure built in 1859. It is the oldest residence in Lacey and one of the oldest homes in Thurston County. I run that route because I like to daydream about what life must have been like for someone living in that house in the mid-1800’s. …Deep down, I’m also secretly hoping that I’ll stumble over some undiscovered artifact I can bring back to the museum. But as we saw earlier…half the population enjoys history. You know what else people like to do ? RUN.

Why not a 10K through the Lacey Historical District? With the right marketing and public relations strategy, we might partner with a local restaurant for a special pre-race carb dinner or maybe a post-run drinks at a local watering hole. Local running clubs can list it on their calendar of events and help us publicize it. Local businesses could sponsor water stations at various mile markers. And Lacey Historical Society and Volunteers could be positioned at various heritage sites to tell people about the history of the area as they run by.

Suddenly, with just a few ideas…you’ve got the makings of an annual event that can help bring in revenue and promote your area.

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The ability to entice visitors to your corner of Washington may lie in your area’s unique local history. And with so much history, heritage and culture sewn into the fabric that makes up each one of Washington’s communities, it would be a shame if those stories remained untold. So where do we look? The most obvious sources are events from our past…

Take Steptoe Butte for example. It’s just a bump in an otherwise unbroken agricultural landscape on the drive from Spokane to Pullman. But, in 1858 it was the site of a pivotal moment in Washington State history, when over a thousand Spokane, Palouse and Coeur d’Alene Indians had backed Lt. Col. Steptoe and 160 of his men up to the highest point. Had they not escaped under the cover of darkness, our course of history could have been completely different.

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Here are a few ways to start marketing your historic, cultural and heritage sites: Get your events listed in city or county publications and community calendars. (Parks Guide) You’ve heard the expression: A rising tide lifts all boats…so partner with local groups, organizations and businesses so everybody benefits. There’s a guy in Toppenish who takes tourists around town in a wagon to show them the murals. He’d be a good person to make friends with if you want to promote your historic thing in Toppenish!

If you don’t have a website, you are already behind the curve. Heritage tourists are internet savvy and do most of their planning and research online before making a trip. If you’re not there, they won’t find you! Get a website! Then get on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and any other social media venue that makes sense.

Lacey just had it’s annual walking tour of the historic district, and Mayor Andy Ryder was one of the group leaders taking folks around the circuit and telling stories about the city’s past. You now what I said about how heritage tourists want to be a part of your story? If you have the ability, it can be hugely advantageous to offer souvenirs.

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Here’s an example…I attended the Washington Museum Association’s annual conference at Maryhill earlier this year. One of the excursions was a trip to Horsethief Lake at Columbia Hills State Park to view the petroglyphys. When I was done with the tour, I wanted to take something home with me – besides photos – to remember the stories.

Columbia Hills State Park doesn’t have a gift shop…so on the way home I pulled over near Wishram and collected a few choice pieces of basalt. After I got home, I spent a few hours in my right brain creating replicas of the petroglyphs that are now displayed on shelves in my home. Every time a visitor comments on them, I get to remember the experience and share the stories with another person. THAT MAKES ME FEEL GOOD. And hopefully encourages other people to visit the park as well. If the park reached out to local artists, I’ll bet they could get them to paint their own recreations and sell them as well.

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The road-trippers are out there and they want to discover your story. They want to become a part of it. Tell it right, and instead of breezing through town they might linger for a coffee, a meal or even stay for a night. And they might even come back…with friends.

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