Big-market tourism marketers enjoy a built-in advantage: Large metropolitan areas have myriad things for group travelers to do, from highly acclaimed arts to breathtaking museums to major league sports. But smaller market planners must be more creative to entertain their charges, and that could mean both off-the-wall and off-the-beaten-path attractions.
Julie Pennington of the Fayetteville Visitors Bureau has a tour called Cooking With the Clintons. The first home of former President Bill Clinton and possible presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is in Fayetteville. The couple was married in the living room while both were law professors at the University of Arkansas.
“For groups, we have lunch or dinner available and serve all the bad foods Bill used to eat,” Pennington said. “‘Bill’ and ‘Hillary’ [actors] visit us to take pictures with you.”
Then there’s the Backyard Billionaires Tour. “We’ve more billionaires from northwest Arkansas per capita than anywhere in the world,” Pennington said. A woman named Candy Cane, another actor, is a “gold digger” determined to marry a billionaire. She can hook up with your traveling group at a rest stop or restaurant and share fascinating stories of famed Arkansas sons Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, trucking magnate J.B. Hunt and Don Tyson of Tyson Foods.
The Sitting-in-Your-Rocker-Eating-Betty-Crocker tour goes to nearby Pinnacle Foods, maker of two dozen iconic food brands like Swanson, Birdseye and Duncan Hines. Groups visit the plant, then return to the Clinton house to enjoy a delicious chicken pot pie.
Speaking of eating. Champaign is a stop on the Interstate 74 gastronomical extravaganza known as Triple-D Galore. Triple-D, which is made up of diners, dives and drive-ins, is a foodie’s road trip.
“Eat your way across Illinois,” said Angela Ingerson, leisure sales-tourism director for the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce. “It’s the places locals know to go to. An uninformed visitor might drive right past not knowing what great food is inside.”
Barn Again tours highlight historic churches and barns. “They must be 100 years old to make my itinerary,” said Ingerson. There’s lunch in an old-timey church followed by visits to barns. A guide shares stories of the barns, their architecture and their uses. Great photos and memories are made.
Genesee County, New York
Years ago, if you wanted to be a good Santa Claus, you went to Santa School. One of the best was in Albion, New York.
“You went for a couple of weeks and learned to be a true Santa,” said Dawn Borchert, group tour coordinator in Genesee County. “Some Santas seen in the annual Macy’s Day Parade in New York City were sent up here for training.” The school is gone, but there’s a museum with Santa artifacts. The chamber of commerce puts it on itineraries for group tours.
A handful of local churches in the county have beautiful stained-glass windows, some with Tiffany glass. “That’s a real draw, something different for groups,” said Borchert.
There’s a Country Barn and Quilt Trail in nearby LeRoy. People pay artists to paint large brightly colored quilt emblems on the sides of barns and sheds. Groups tour the countryside looking for them.