Weather Forecast


Ellsworth Chamber speaker applies trip finds to local tourism

An overseas traveler has brought home ideas to improve area tourism.

Thursday, Pierce County Partners in Tourism (PCPT) Treasurer Margaret Smith shared with Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce members how findings from her recent trip to Australia and New Zealand can be applied here. Smith of River Falls, who is also marketing and communications manager of the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust, arranged the trip when her oldest daughter spent a semester studying in Sydney.

"We were on a limited budget," she said, noting she also didn't want to drive there because of fears over accidents involving foreigners unaccustomed to the opposite-side-of-the-road driving practices. "So we took tours."

Smith believes travel agents have been left out of tourism discussions in this area and shouldn't be. She said these agents are knowledgeable about what people want to see and do here and elsewhere. Among key items she listed were public bathrooms, gift shops, places to eat and overnight accommodations within walking distance of the center of a community.

She suggested bus tours featuring various themes, including ecology, walking or wine-tasting. Tour operators, whom she felt have also been excluded from the discussions, are familiar with systems already in place, she said. Bus tours would not only help generate a revenue stream, but appeal to visitors in that they wouldn't have to worry about parking, for example.

This area's tourism officials have shown too inclusive an approach, focusing on what can be done for their own towns instead of the entire region, Smith said.

"Not any one town has what it takes to attract tourists," she said.

Visitors like to bring back items from where they've been, prefer small restaurants with charm and ethnic choices to the chains and seek shelter, she said. During her travels, she encountered arcades with permanent awning-type fixtures over sidewalks. If sidewalks look too harsh, an alternative would be flowers in hanging baskets and container pots to lend spots of color, leading people's eyes to stores and their windows.

Because the potential is small for all communities to have hotels near their centers, tourism promoters need to think in terms of some being destinations and others stopovers on people's journeys, Smith said. Their tour bus driver overseas provided a lot of information about attractions. In Pierce County's case, the cave at Spring Valley is a natural site on which to capitalize, as are cheese and crafts in the Ellsworth area, and the county park near Plum City.

"Maybe within a day, someone might go to four different towns," she said, indicating not even larger places like River Falls have enough draws to hold a visitor's interest for a full day.

The prevailing attitude in this vicinity has been to stage an event to attract tourists, yet not change or add to local highlights, the PCPT treasurer said. Expanding the opportunities for visitors to buy should be a priority. She remembered a town of 400 population in New Zealand where the lone eatery served morning tea and scones; it reminded her of the emporium in Elmwood and what Elmwood's contribution to a tour could be, for instance.

"Visitors who come to the Twin Cities may be ready for day trips after they go to the Mall of America," she said. "Why not have them come find out what they can do in Western Wisconsin?"

Scenery is one of this region's biggest assets, Smith said. Birding, walking, enjoying food and appreciating art all came to her mind as possibilities in this area. As for something unique, she recalled a bus ride on her trip to a village where the tourists went to various stations displaying the local culture, such as woodworking, then attended a show and a dinner, both specific to that locale.

"What about a church dinner here?" she wondered about another local prospect. The lesson is to identify the area's strengths, market them and add to them, she said.

Read more in the print version of the Herald Jan. 28.