Most websites are created in silos or drop-down menus. There's one for lodging, another for food, and another for things to do. Your job is to figure out how the one-dimensional puzzle pieces all fit together without seeing the picture of the area you're visiting. It's fascinating because we don't live that way, we don't travel that way, but we are marketed to that way. I want a map that can show me where are the places to eat, where to stay, how to get there, and what to see along the way. I like a theme that connects the items together.
I am an avid wanderer. I like the flexibility of choosing a different route, visiting something that wasn't in the marketing brochure, finding the restaurants that locals frequent, and the wide open spaces of car travel with me as the pilot. When you drive, do you wonder what it is that you're missing when you're on the road from one destination to another? Several years back I was in southern Indiana visiting with Dan Adams at the Winzerwald Winery, which he owns with his wife. Two motorcyclists drove in while traveling a wine trail. During our conversation with them, we learned that their next stop was Turtle Run Winery near Corydon. I asked if they enjoyed Civil War history and the man said, "Yes, I love that stuff." I told them they were going to be within a few miles of the only Civil War battle fought in Indiana. They got excited and I shared how to get there. The real problem? The wine trail brochure only tells about its wineries, not the places travelers drive by or through on their journeys.
We can do better. First, county boundaries only limit the possibilities of marketers. Travelers don't care about county lines and can't tell you what county they're in anyway (and they don't care). Second, when we market by counties, we miss the opportunity to connect assets and string together experiences. For example, the original Whitewater Canal in southeastern Indiana and southwestern Ohio traversed five counties and three counties each had one significant site. It took a group of innovative leaders to see the possibilities of connecting the canal sites and many other assets to create the Whitewater Canal Scenic Byway, which spawned the Presidential Pathways Scenic Byway in neighboring Ohio. Together, these byways have created experiences by connecting eight counties, two states, six different byways, and lots more than canal ruins. Visit its website to learn more, www.whitewatercanalscenicbyway.org.
Third, in many parts of the Midwest, often called flyover states, we can't wow with mountains or beaches, but we have a lot to offer. Small towns with a single point of interest can be threaded together between cities or destination sites to create routes worth traveling rather than racing from place to place, or worse, just to a single place. Our experiences are not sites visited but memories created and stories told and retold. Imagine a nine-county trail – Colleges, Canyons, and Covered Bridges – in Western Indiana that could connect six college campuses (Purdue, Wabash, DePauw, Rose-Hulman, St. Mary-of-the-Woods, and Indiana State). Then add two premier state parks (Turkey Run and Shades), 40+ covered bridges, numerous nature preserves, historical sites, a national scenic byway, river towns (great food, lodging, antiques, shopping), and lots of stories waiting to be shared. Now it's a region worth visiting again and again.
Finally, communities and sites must collaborate to find the connections, create the trails, and share the opportunities. Giving me a data set of sites and amenities does not make travel planning easier. Sharing possibilities of connected experiences enables me to plan for two, four, or more people traveling together, each with different interests. Tourism marketers should know what their puzzle looks like and not expect visitors to put it together. Some tourism agencies really get this, many others can't move beyond the trifold brochure or drop-down menus. Why don't we share better? We can. We should.
Puzzling, isn't it?