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Ventura County Perspective

A Countywide Approach Is the Key

The luring of visitors is a growth industry, one relatively inexpensive to develop, with minimal impact on the environment.

September 13, 1998|SUSAN FELLER | Susan Feller is president of the Ventura County Arts Council

As the nation experiences fundamental changes in its economic structure, communities are faced with tough decisions on how to create new businesses and jobs. An increasingly common strategy is to explore the potential of tourism.

Tourism ranks as one of the nation's top growth industries, with revenues exceeding $450 billion annually. Contributing to this growth is the fact that tourism has minimal impact on the environment and is relatively inexpensive to develop.

Another significant factor is "cultural tourism," a market share development strategy that focuses on promoting the unique cultural aspects of a region.

According to a recent Lou Harris poll, more people are traveling for cultural enlightenment than for sports, theme parks or shopping.

The tourism industry is benefiting greatly from this desire for more cultural experiences. A report from the Travel Industry Assn. of America says cultural travelers, on average, spend almost five nights per trip compared to three for other travelers and spend $615 per trip compared to $425. Demographic statistics indicate that cultural travelers tend to have higher incomes and be better educated, are more likely to stay in hotels and are more interested in shopping than the average tourist.

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Recognizing the value of cultural tourism in helping areas generate sustainable economic development programs, and in acknowledgment of the global competition for tourism dollars, President Clinton convened a 1995 White House Conference on Travel and Tourism. From this conference, the National Endowment for the Arts funded a series of cultural leadership forums throughout the country to foster communication between local arts organizations and the tourism industry. These forums, similar to several that have taken place in Ventura County, are revolutionizing the way the tourism industry markets its offerings and are significantly increasing communication between arts and tourism professionals.

With its 200 cultural and historic treasures, natural scenic beauty, coastline, safe environment, relatively affordable accommodations and central location between the major tourism markets of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, Ventura County is ideally situated to capitalize on cultural tourism.

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To realize its full potential, and successfully compete in an increasingly aggressive marketplace, the county must develop a comprehensive countywide approach to promoting its cultural assets and tourist attractions.

As it now stands, Ventura County tourism accounts for 8,940 jobs, has an economic impact of $800 million and contributes almost $12 million in local taxes, according to a 1997 study by Dean Runyan Associates. Although this is significant, it is only a fraction of what can be gained once Ventura County establishes itself as a cultural tourist destination and dispels the notion that it is simply a corridor between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.

In recent months, significant progress has been made to develop a strategic vision for creating a cultural identity for Ventura County while strengthening its tourism industry.

This is a win-win situation for our region and will contribute significantly to the image that Ventura County is a wonderful place to live, work and visit.

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