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UNESCO Meeting in Paducah: New Technology & Authentic Experience

Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Panelists at a UNESCO Creative Cities meeting in Paducah on Monday discussed new technologies and ‘authentic experiences’ in developing a city’s tourism identity. Delegates from eight Cities of Craft and Folk Art are in west Kentucky to share ideas.

The meeting in The Carson Center began with local and international representatives singing, “My Old Kentucky Home.

Paducah mayor Brandi Harless reflected on a recent UNESCO meeting she attended in France. “During a time when our nations might not be getting along as we all like. We have such a unique opportunity with the cities of our world to participate in globalization and collaboration,” she said.

Nathan Lump, Editor-In-Chief of Travel + Leisure magazine led the forum and said time-strapped travelers that read the magazine are seeking ‘authentic experiences.’

“What we see with our travelers is that they have been to so many of their bucket list destinations that increasingly what they do when they’re thinking about planning their trip is they say to themselves, ‘What do I want to do?’ and then they say, ‘Where should I go to do that?’ And I think that’s a very important mindset shift that we’re seeing with this kind of traveler,” he said.

The panel agreed people, particularly young travelers, are finding those experiences increasingly through social media, video and mobile platforms.

Kentucky Commissioner of Tourism Kristen Branscum said the commonwealth is looking into virtual reality to bring historic places to life. “Where you can go to a site that looks just like an empty field where a battlefield was or perhaps there was an historical home there and creating that experience for the visitor,” she said. 

Branscum said virtual and augmented reality could help people feel comfortable in making their travel choice, but said a “consternation” is potentially dissuading potential visitors who may think they’ve already had the experience because of the virtual presentation.

Panelists encouraged private businesses to develop video and marketing tools to promote a community. They agreed that the ‘human’ element should be embraced, encouraging cities to invite tourists to interact with locals and local businesses. Lump said there's an opportunity for cities that already have rich cultural experiences to market that and make sure people understand how than can have that experience. 

Branscum said the seven pillars of Kentucky are horses, bourbon, arts, music, culinary, outdoors and cultural heritage. She says much of coal country has undergone reclamation, providing outdoor recreation that wouldn’t have otherwise been an available for visitors. She also said Kentucky’s regions are unique in their cuisine - for instance, ham in west Kentucky (often showcased at the Kentucky State Fair).

"We are the front porch to the south and the gateway to the Midwest,” she said of the commonwealth. Branscum encouraged cities to “Know who you are and own it.”

Other speakers were Gina Stouffer, President of the Lou Hammond Group, a marketing firm that works with Paducah. She said she knew about Paducah growing up because of the distinctive flood wall murals. (After the meeting, delegates took a tour of the murals.) 

Catherine Prather, Executive Vice President of the National Tour Association noted travelers are expecting the Amazon-style platform for travel planning. She said tour companies and destinations alike are reaching out to new travelers, young demographic, small groups seeking authentic experience and cultural immersion. "Everyone in this room has this," she said.

Melissa Cherry, Chief Marketing Officer or Destinations International explained 'The Destination Management Cycle' (see photo). She said cities should focus on their brand and can’t be everything for everyone. She also said changes won’t occur overnight and urged cities to invest in authentic experiences.

Credit Matt Markgraf, WKMS

The meetings continue through Wednesday. Paducah became a designated UNESCO Creative City in 2013. UNESCO stands for United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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