JWR Articles: Commentary - Cultural Tourism in Niagara (Featured speaker: Marilyn I. Walker) - December 6, 2010
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Cultural Tourism in Niagara

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A version of this article also appeared in the December 2010 edition of The Business Link Niagara
There's much more than meets the eye

To wind up this series on cultural tourism, let’s put our own region under the microscope.

A comprehensive definition might be a good place to begin.

According to the Canadian Tourism Commission, “cultural tourism occurs when participation in a cultural or heritage activity is a significant factor for travelling. It is generally agreed that cultural tourists spend substantially more than standard tourists do.”

Statistics Canada tracks the following categories related to cultural tourism.

  • Attending a festival, fair or exhibition
  • Attending cultural performances or events
  • Visiting a museum or gallery
  • Visiting a nature park or historical site
  • Visiting a zoo, aquarium or amusement park
  • Site seeing
  • Bird watching or observing wildlife

From an international perspective, (the Organization for Co-operation and Development’s 2009 report: The Impact of Culture on Tourism), “cultural tourism is one of the largest and fastest-growing global tourism markets. Culture and creative industries are increasingly being used to promote destinations and enhance their competitiveness and attractiveness. Many locations are now actively developing their tangible and intangible cultural assets as a means of developing comparative advantages in an increasingly competitive tourism marketplace, and to create local distinctiveness in the face of globalisation.”

Of course, tourists can be as near as Buffalo, London and Toronto or from any other country on the planet. Ideally, one of the seven categories above brings them here, but—hopefully—they return or stay a few more days to enhance their experience from the rich menu of choices uniquely available on the peninsula.

As can be seen, cultural tourism is much broader than staying indoors to enjoy a play, concert or exhibition. Four of Statistics Canada’s choices take place outdoors. The more we can cross-promote what may—at first glance—appear to be unrelated activities, the more likely our visitors will add a day or two to their trips. Those who market excursions that include wine tours, Maid of the Mist, shopping in Niagara-on-the-Lake and—of course—a peek at the Falls, thoroughly understand the value of variety. With a mixture of indoor/outdoor destinations, inclement weather is just a nuisance not a revenue loser.

Other jurisdictions are actively pursuing cultural tourists. In 2006, the City of Vancouver, knowing that such major events as the Winter Olympics, the Junos and Vancouver’s 125th Anniversary Celebrations were on the way, began formally planning its cultural tourism strategy. With the world watching, these were opportunities not to be missed. In 2008, with the adoption of a 10-year culture plan (and committing staff and financial resources to the far-reaching recommendations and goals) the overarching notion of Vancouver as a “Creative City” took hold.

The five pillars—which focus the co-ordinated approach—are Innovation, Learning, Connecting People, Ideas and Communities, Neighbourhoods and Value.

With the region’s 2012 celebrations nearly here and the opening of the performing arts centre/relocation of the Marilyn I. Walker School set for 2014, let’s hope all concerned will take full advantage of the growing global and regional interest in cultural tourism as these significant milestones bring Niagara further into the spotlight. JWR

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Featured speaker - Marilyn I. Walker
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