One of the more educational events that I attend during the year is a trade show for travel vendors and writers. People from all over the country – Albany to Williamsburg – gather in one location, to hear about what’s new and unusual from industry spokesmen.
This year the event was in Tucson, Ariz., a wonderful Wild West city that is the birthplace of U.S. destination spas and the heart of southwestern cooking. Proud of its deserts and creative in its use of cactus, Tucson also is environmentally active and aware.
I couldn’t help but categorize a part of what I learned into ABCs: agri-tourism, birding and casinos. We have strong components of each in Wisconsin; here are examples of how other states capitalize on these areas. During the next week or two, I’ll add observations about what Tucson and our part of the Midwest have in common.
Agri-tourism: A few horse farms near Lexington, Ky., are becoming bed-and-breakfasts, too. The “bed and bridle” option also exists, for horse lovers who want to travel with their animal. Guided tours of thoroughbred and other horse farms also are becoming more commonplace.
Elizabeth Heichelbech calls agri-tourism a new push for her state, especially as more farmers switch to crops other than tobacco. www.visitlex.com; (859) 233-1221.
Las Cruces, N.M., is home to the world’s largest pecan suppliers, says Chris Faivre, and other agricultural specialty tours are to come. At the top of the list is Hatch green chile farm tours; there already are other chile tours – by appointment – through The Chile Institute at New Mexico State University. www.lascrucescvb.org; (505) 541-2444.
Tobacco and cotton farm tours are possibilities in Missouri; Tracey Berry says her state is trying to define and refine the term agri-tourism. www.visitmo.com; (800) 519-4800.
Birding: The new Northern Alabama birding trail will open in March. It will have more than 60 designated stops from which more than 200 species have been seen. “There are more birders than golfers,” contends Judy Ryals, spokeswoman for Huntsville, “and they spend more money than the golfers.” There already is a birding trail in the southern part of the state. www.huntsville.org; (256) 551-2230.
Eleven ecosystems converge in McAllen, Texas, says Nancy Millar, making it a major migratory route. “More people come here for birding than any other place in the United States,” she declares, and the Rio Grande Birding Fest in November is a big draw. Land owners are pursuing more nature-friendly plantings and landscaping, because they know it’s good for the birds and tourism.
The World Birding Center opened its headquarters in October at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Nancy also describes the area, which is near the Mexico border, as the No. 1 butterflying destination in the country. “It’s where birding was 25 years ago,” she says of the hobby. www.mcallencvb.com; (877) 622-5536.
Casinos: In Atlantic City, N.J., two-thirds of the visitors are women, particularly those in their 40s and 50s. Visitors used to stick to the boardwalk area; now there are a dozen casinos, upscale and eclectic retail outlets, more of a Vegas-style, resort atmosphere. Elaine Zamansky says the push also is on to lure 20- and 30-somethings with high-energy nightclubs and casinos, like Velvet Revolver and Borgata. www.atlanticcitynj.com; (800) 228-4748.
In southern New Mexico, Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino opens next April, positioning itself as a luxury getaway. “About 10 tribes have casinos in our state of 1.5 million,” says Alexis Kerschner. “You have to differentiate yourself in some way.” Big game hunting – for elk to black bear – with an Apache guide is a part of what makes this setting different. Nearby Ruidoso, Mexico, is a small arts community, “like an up-and-coming Taos.” www.innofthemountaingods.com; (800) 545-9011.
Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa opens this month in Cabazon, Calif., between two mountain ranges. The $250 million property will have the biggest casino floor on the West Coast and become the closest gaming facility to Los Angeles. www.morongocasinoresort.com; (800) 252-4499.
What else is new or unusual? Plenty. For example:
Chicago Premium Outlets has opened in Aurora, Ill., about 80 miles southwest of Chicago. This isn’t more of the same: Armani to Versace outlets are here, making this a hub for lovers of designer fashions. www.premiumoutlets.com/chicago; (630) 585-2200.
Elaborate spas and extensive pampering are a part of what distinguish two new Arizona resorts. Enchantment Resort, on 70 acres near Sedona, taps into its regional Native American heritage. The area is the Apaches’ birthplace. www.enchantmentresort.com; (800) 826-4180.
Coyote Moon Health Resort & Spa, which opens this month in the Tucson Mountains, calls itself the first such facility for gay and lesbian travelers. “It’s not a singles place,” says Kelley Teague, “but for committed couples.” www.coyotemoonresort.com; (877) 784-7430.
The Muhammad Ali Center – a tribute to the heavyweight boxing champ’s life and ideals – opens one year from now, in Louisville, Ky. The attraction, “a non-traditional museum,” also is meant to inspire personal greatness in its visitors. www.gotolouisville.com; (888) 568-4784.
San Antonio’s highly regarded River Walk is becoming longer, growing from 2.5 miles to three or four times that length during the next 10 years. That means diverting and extending the San Antonio River by manmade means, says Angela McClendon, so it passes four other missions besides the Alamo. www.sanantoniovisit.com; (800) 447-3372.
In Waco, Texas, less than 20 miles from George W.’s ranch in Crawford County, is the Dr Pepper Museum, at which visitors can create their own soft drink, from name to label design to flavor. www.wacocvb.com; (254) 662-3291.
“A lot of Wisconsin people come to hunt deer and antelope,” says Chuck Coon, Wyoming tourism spokesman. They snowmobile, too. “We have over 2,000 miles of trails, over open meadows and mountain foothills,” Chuck says. “Just don’t let your foot off the gas, or you’ll be a goner” because the snow can be both fluffy and deep. www.wyomingtourism.org; (800) 225-5996.