The town of Wallace was held up as a tourism success story Wednesday at an annual meeting of Western states tourism professionals.
Along with discussing strategies to bolster Canadian tourist traffic, 25 top-level members of the Travel and Tourism Research Association listened to representatives from rural areas that went from being widely ignored to widely envied in the trade.
One of the success stories came out of the Silver Valley.
Earlier this decade, the historic mining town of Wallace was just one more down-on-its-luck community left behind in the transition from a resource-based economy to one dependent on destination travelers.
But in 1995, Tom Magnuson spearheaded formation of Silver Country - an independent tourism marketing organization with designs on turning more than 1,000 miles of abandoned U.S. Forest Service trails into a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts.
The concept struck a chord with snowmobilers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. ATV fans were especially impressed, naming Silver Country the “world’s best” and “world’s largest” trail system in several trade magazines.
According to Magnuson, that kind of attention is critical to far-flung locales that want to rise above the tourism pack.
“The only way to survive in this competitive landscape is to be the world’s biggest or the world’s best at whatever it is you do,” he told association members. “If you can be one of those, you set a competitive field with your own rules.”
Within weeks of opening its trail system two years ago, Silver Country was featured in a New York Times article that generated 3,000 calls in a single week. Subsequent pieces ran in the Washington Post, USA Today and more than 60 other major papers.
Heightened visibility prompted Universal Pictures to select Wallace as the location for filming “Dante’s Peak,” a decision that poured $35 million into the Silver Valley economy and created additional attention, Magnuson said.
Next year, the former mining town will play host to ad campaigns for Coca-Cola and Isuzu.
And like the well-known corporations that have discovered promotional gold where prospectors once dug for silver, Silver Country seeks to become a brand name in the tourism field.
“We have all of these resources out there, but they’re largely untapped,” Magnuson said. “Our goal is to bring them to market and create an eco-Disneyland.”
Selling “heritage tourism” is big business, according to Alice Trindle of the Oregon Trail Marketing Coalition.
Her organization began promoting Oregon’s 350-mile stretch of wagon-rutted trail after the celebration of its 150th anniversary in 1993. Since then, the group has managed to turn history into a profitable commodity.
“Our heritage is not only something people are interested in, but they’re willing to buy it,’ Trindle said. “For every dollar we spend on promotion, we bring $11 back to the Oregon Trail.”
In some cases, tourism experts have turned a region’s very remoteness into a selling factor.
Larry Friedman works with the Nevada Commission on Tourism’s rural tourism program. In a state known for glitz and gambling, he has the dubious honor of trying to lure tourists off the Strip and into sparsely populated areas.
His job might have been made more difficult by a newspaper article naming Nevada’s 350-mile-long U.S. Highway 50 as “the loneliest highway in the United States.”
But Friedman met the challenge with a promotion that increased traffic on the highway from one car every few hours to a steady year-round flow.
“We started an ad campaign called ‘I survived the loneliest highway in America,”’ he said, adding that tourists come from around the globe to make the trip.
And each person who shows up to drive “the loneliest highway in the United States” is presented a personal survival kit, compliments of the Nevada Commission on Tourism.