Drawing tourists through arts By Oona Woods Cultural tourism is the new catch-word in Vancouver for this season. The Vancouver Cultural Alliance has joined forces with Tourism Vancouver and the Canadian Tourism Commission to promote the "product" of arts, entertainment and local colour. The three year program was recently launched with the mandate of working with businesses in the field of arts and culture that are interested in taking steps to tap into the lucrative tourism market. Tourism Vancouver President Rick Antonson says this is an important venture that could also be applied to Whistler. "Culture is an important part of the appeal of travelling. Often the arts aren’t what makes someone come all the way here but it is part of the personality of the place. Arts, performance arts and cultural events get people, when they’re here, to extend their stay. Artistic events tend to be inside so when the weather’s not good people can head indoors." Antonson points out that culture can enhance the sense of place that visitors take away with them. "There’s a sense of place people get from culture. It’s more than a comfortable pillow and good meals, travel is about the ambience of a place. Through activities people can understand Whistler beyond skiing and golfing. They can understand that it’s made up of people who call it home." But for now at least, the program is in Vancouver, not Whistler. The first year of this program will be based on creating a foundation through research and planning. A director for the initiative is due to be appointed in November. Year two will focus on testing export-ready products from the arts and culture industry and the third year will expand on this knowledge through continued research and communication. Antonson says the "product" sums up the package that visitors receive. "In the cultural business many people are not fully attuned to tourism. Some hotels and airlines don’t really understand the cultural side. We will form a product club with tourism and culture working together and understanding each other. Then they’ll be more market ready and just generally ready to act. If there’s a communication structure then tour operators can promote." Carlene Swan from the Vancouver Cultural Alliance adds that the artistic community is already doing a lot of things to excite tourists but they have to know how to package them. She says that the two communities of tourism and culture need to build bridges, as in a lot of cases they don’t speak the same language. Paul Vallee, vice-president of Tourism Vancouver, says the visitors targeted for this endeavour are the type of people that Whistler sees on a regular basis already. "The primary markets for this program will be the leisure traveller and the convention delegate. This means that members of the arts and cultural community need to be fully prepared on how to go after these visitors through long term planning with tour operators and meeting planners." Antonson feels that the Lower Mainland already has a lot to offer. "I used to be in book publishing and I can see similarities with tourism and the publishing industry. A lot of times the cover is different than the content. The destination is different than the expectations. Vancouver and Whistler have integrity in how we portray ourselves. There’s always a lot more than meets the eyes. That depth comes from the cultural components." Antonson feels that the proposed 2010 Olympic bid would also improve the lay of the land, culturally speaking. "There would be a huge cultural component to the Olympics. In the purest and most honourable sense travel is cultural exchange. It’s about leaving one place to go to another and understand. You see the culture and how people dress, their foods, music, festival events. You have Whistler now and Whistler down the road. Whistler does have a lot of attributes, part of that is the setting. The architecture of a city often begins to be an expression of a sense of place." Antonson says this link between culture and tourism could greatly benefit Whistler; it is not just an initiative directed towards Greater Vancouver.