Destinations Conference explores Ethnic and Cultural Tourism as an Economic Development Tool

July 29, 2011

Written by Art Coulson, Redbird Media and Design, on behalf of Culture Brokers Foundation, Inc.

More than 100 people from around Minnesota gathered in St. Paul on July 13 to learn from one another and a cast of national experts on the topic of ethnic and cultural tourism as an economic development tool. Ethnic and cultural tourism is a $100 million-per-year industry in the U.S., said Romona Riscoe Benson, President & CEO of African American Museum of Philadelphia.

“Americans want tourism experiences that are authentic and meaningful,” Riscoe Benson told attendees at the inaugural Ethnic Cultural Tourism Destinations Conference. “Create a space where tourists will want to come back and staff it with people who know and represent the culture. If you are going to invite in tourists, you'd better be tourism-ready — parking, trained staff, good service. Focus on quality and what is unique in your cultural district.”

Destinations 1The event was interactive and action-oriented. Attendees participated in an exercise using keynote speaker Joel A. Barker’s Implications Wheel, which helps communities assess potential positive and negative outcomes of civic actions. The results of that exercise, which will be the starting point of a community conversation around interculturalism, are posted at culturebrokersfoundation.org/Results.

The daylong conference was organized by the ECTD Collaborative, community developers,tourism professionals, businesses, residents, agencies and elected officials working together to capitalize and leverage Saint Paul’s ethnic cultural assets for the economic benefit of ethnic populations, their neighbors and the city of Saint Paul. Tourism is a huge industry in Minnesota. In 2009, tourism in Minnesota generated $11.2 billion in economic activity and accounted for 247,808 jobs. As an economic development engine, well-managed tourism offers an incredible opportunity to Minnesota’s ethnic communities, if they participate.

Through promotion of cultural tourism as an economic development tool, the collaborative seeks to help residents capitalize on local assets while expanding their economies through new visitors to their neighborhoods.

 “Cultural diversity is a strength, but we haven't yet leveraged it as an asset on which to build wealth,” St. Paul City Councilman Melvin Carter told the crowd.

”Even in multicultural communities, we often live parallel lives and suffer from parallel thinking,” agreed keynote speaker Charles Landry, author of “The Intercultural City.” “Before you can market your community to tourists as a destination for discovery, you must discover yourselves.”