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How America’s cultural tourism industry has left Canada behind

/ December 3, 2012

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How America’s cultural tourism industry has left Canada behind

Several years ago, I was on the phone with Louise Stevens. Louise is an arts consultant in the United States, who, along with her husband John, runs the Montana-based firm ArtsMarket, Inc.

As it happens, Louise and John travel frequently in Canada.  As Louise and I chatted about their Canadian travels, the subject of cultural tourism arose.  Louise seemed perplexed.  There was something about Canada she couldn’t understand.  She paused, took a breath, and leaned into the question: Why don’t you Canadians market your culture?

Louise was not suggesting that Canada is silent about its cultural tourism experiences.  From Victoria’s Royal British Columbia Museum to Ottawa’s National Art Gallery, from Toronto’s Luminato Festival to Cape Breton’s Fortress Louisburg, Canada’s cultural tourism operators are fully engaged in attracting international visitors and Canadian residents – and they do so in a variety of ways, including partnering with destination marketing organizations (DMOs).

Instead, what Louise was pointing at is how few Canadian cities, towns, and regions market their culture with segmented campaigns that target cultural travelers.

Segmented campaigns that target cultural travelers are common in the U.S. From the largest state – Texas – with its statewide Texas Heritage Trails Program to the District of Columbia’s Cultural Tourism DC, from North Carolina’s Arts Trails to Montana’s Cultural Treasures, dozens of states have placed segmented campaigns – some statewide, some regional – in the cultural tourism marketplace.

Elsewhere, civic DMOs such as Atlanta and Los Angeles house their city’s cultural offerings on the DMO’s own website, but target cultural travelers with content and a cultural sensibility that – with the exception of Stratford, Ontario, and to a lesser extent, Vancouver and Ottawa – is simply not found in Canada’s tourism marketplace.

The U.S. focus on cultural tourism isn’t an accident.  It’s a strategic direction informed by research – research I’ve referenced in my previous posts – that demonstrates the growing North American and global appetite for cultural tourism.  But research alone isn’t driving cultural tourism in the U.S.  Equally, an infrastructure of government agencies at the federal and state level, along with cultural non-profits and state and civic DMOs, is committed to enabling and developing America’s cultural tourism industry.

Yes, industry.  Not a “niche market”.  An industry.  And that industry has an infrastructure.

It begins with Partners in Tourism: Culture and Commerce, formed in the aftermath of the 1995 White House Conference on Travel and Tourism, convened by President Clinton.  A self-described,coalition of cultural service organizations, the travel industry, and federal agencies that provides a forum for collaborative research, education, promotion and advocacy with the common goal of advancing the role of culture and heritage in the travel and tourism industry”, the 29 Partners include, at the federal level, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, and, among others, the U.S. Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, and Transportation.

Non-governmental Partners include, among others, the American Association of Museums, Americans for the Arts, the Federation of State Humanities Councils, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, the U.S. Travel Association, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

In Canada, nothing remotely resembles Partners in Tourism: Culture and Commerce.  Among its activities, the Partners, working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, hosts CulturalHeritageTourism.org, whose resources help communities to capitalize on cultural tourism.

With financial support from American Express, the Partners also publish Cultural Heritage Tourism News, which documents success stories and best practices from across the U.S.  Another Partners’ initiative, the Cultural Heritage Tourism Exchange (CHTE), is a two-day gathering in Washington, DC, to identify ways to enhance and grow America’s cultural tourism industry.  At the CHTE’s 2012 gathering, the Partners and Brand USA discussed how to serve Brand USA’s designation of culture as one of America’s “four pillars” for attracting more international visitors.

Inspired by the Partners’ work, a variety of states have published print manuals or online toolkits to further develop cultural tourism within their own borders.  These include the Texas Heritage Tourism Guidebook, Arizona’s Cultural Heritage Tourism: Practical Applications, Vermont’s Cultural Heritage Tourism Toolkit, and Georgia’s Heritage Tourism Handbook.  

In addition, many U.S. states administer their own grant or development programs that are specific to cultural tourism.  Most recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced New York’s “Path Through History” – a $1 million dollar program designed, in his words, “to highlight the rich history that exists in New York State by showcasing more than two hundred of our most significant sites and historic milestones.”

Along with state programs, numerous federal initiatives help to develop cultural tourism.  One noteworthy initiative, the heritage tourism program of Preserve America, established in 2005 and administered by the National Parks Service, has awarded more than $17 million in grants to almost 260 projects.  Meanwhile, the larger, sister program to Preserve America, Save America’s Treasures, until its demise in the Obama administration’s 2012 budget cuts, had invested $220 million in the preservation of about 900 historic structures – many of which were directly linked to cultural tourism initiatives.

With the development of America’s cultural tourism industry, a national association of cultural tourism professionals was born: The Cultural & Heritage Tourism Alliance (CHTA).  Since 2002, the CHTA has provided professional development, networking and mentorship, along with the opportunity to experience and learn from cultural tourism successes in the different cities that host the CHTA’s annual conference.

Another key resource for America’s cultural tourism industry is the Heritage Tourism Program of the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Its fee-for-service Cultural Heritage Tourism Assessments and Cultural Heritage Tourism Workshops assist communities, tourism agencies, and planning authorities in cultural tourism development, management, and marketing.  To date, more than 50 clients have benefited from the National Trust’s expertise.

Elsewhere, A Position Paper on Cultural Heritage Tourism in the United States, provides the intellectual underpinnings for America’s ongoing development work in cultural tourism.  Prepared for the 2005 U.S. Cultural & Heritage Tourism Summit by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Position Paper outlines the state of the industry and articulates cultural tourism’s core principles and challenges as it aspires to the next level of industry achievement.  Its companion document, U.S. Cultural and Heritage Tourism Summit Declaration of Principles and Action, summarizes the Position Paper’s recommendations.

Alright.  Let’s pause.  Let’s take a breath.  And then, let’s ask the obvious: Why is Canada so far behind the U.S.?  Why doesn’t Canada have a cultural tourism industry?

Or, to reiterate the question from the perspective of Louise Stevens – and millions of other would-be cultural tourists to Canada – Why don’t you Canadians market your culture?

The answer isn’t complicated.

Since its inception, our tourism industry has built its success on Canada’s outdoor scenery and nature-based experiences.  As a result, we are now captives of our own success – and that success is declining precipitously. Based on international arrivals, Canada’s global ranking as a tourism destination has tumbled from 7th place in 2002 to 18th place today.

At the same time, despite the fact that culture is arguably the leading motivator of international leisure travel, most of Canada’s tourism industry leaders have an understanding of cultural tourism that is, well, elementary.

One former executive at the Canadian Tourism Commission – an ardent supporter of cultural tourism who shall remain nameless – perhaps said it best:

“I wonder if the stubbornness to move ourselves off the path of preconceived righteousness is somehow ingrained in our Canadian psyche. Whether it’s a Nortel or a RIM or a Canadian Airlines or a Canadian Tourism Commission, ploughing ahead, oblivious to the currents of change, on a single track.  It seems to be how we’re predisposed.”

 

 

23 responses to “How America’s cultural tourism industry has left Canada behind”

  1. Judy Laws says:

    As an American, it is much easier for me to travel north to Canada than east to Europe, west to Asia, or south to Central or South America.  Why doesn’t Canada get on the bandwagon?

  2. […] Conscious Travel Addendum Here’s a link to another relevant and content-rich post by Steven Thorne comparing Canada’s approach to marketing culture to visitors to that applied by their American neighbours. The post is rich with references that could inform global readers.  http://economicdevelopment.org/2012/12/why-dont-you-canadians-market-your-culture-2/  […]

  3. Paul Nursey says:

    HI Steven this is an interesting read. I enjoyed it.

    You are right that cultural tourism is often viewed as a narrowly defined supply side niche and that can drive limited thinking.  Supply side verticals such as cultural tourism, culinar tourism, soft adventure tourism, spa tourism etc. were populuar lexicon and strategic themes in the 1990s and early 2000s but have since lost prevelance with more focus being place on the customer.  However whatever it is labelled all destination marketing practictioners recognize the need for authenticity in any contemporary product offering and the notion of culture including cultural assets is central to adding value here.

    From a national tourism brand perspective we have been working here at the CTC very hard to add depth and dimension to Canada’s tourism brand for the past 7-8 years and we are starting to see dividends.   This is focused around having clearly defined USPs which where research has demonstrated and opportunity or a gap that can be exploited.  Two of the five USPs for Canada’s tourism brand Canada.Keep Exploring can be linked with the idea of cultural tourism.  These are “connecting with canadians” and also “food and wine”.  Given that food is so local it is often very much linked to connecting with the place cultural influences that infuse the culinary scene so we do build culture and authenticity around the food USP.  WIth a focus on USPs our work on developing marketing assets and including these into the coms channels helps over time to move the needle. We made a concsious decision to have a more holistic view of Canada’s experience ready for 2010 games and have assets ready for distibution for marketers and broadcaters and we are starting to see the reults.  

    We are very pleased to see that Canada’s culturally based tourism brand metrics are on the rise.  One of our key measures it the Futurbrand ranking of nation brands when doing a deep dive in the anlaytics we are seeing that improvement with Canada’s ranking across the heritage and cultural dimension of this important brand ranking show Canada’s ranking improving from 29th to 15th for art and culture an from 34th to 12th in authenticity.  One of our brand goals is to buld depth and dimension beyond just the previous place based understanding of the brand.  This takes time but improvements in these metrics  can provide a platform for those at the regional and local level to leverage.

    Earlier in my career I was involved on a committee with the Cultural Cascades initiative with Tourism Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Amtrack etc.  which more directly marketed cultural tourism assets to databases of culturally pre-disposed prospects.  It was a nice initiative with a clearly defined and highly lucrative and attractive segment.  It did drive concrete modest incremental visitation but not a strong ROI.  This is not to paint a brush on cultural tourism but rather to point out that driving business in any segment takes strong strategy and execution and is never a slam dunk.  While I cannot speak to specifics as I no longer work there, I do know that Tourism Vancouver continues a cultural tourism program with a dedicated cultural tourism manager and an in-destination initative to connect visitors to the performing arts scence. 

    Thanks again for the good read,

    Paul Nursey
    VP Strategy + Corporate Communications
    Canadian Tourism Commission

    • Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your thoughtful and detailed response to this post. It’s especially good news that Canada’s culturally based tourism brand metrics are on the rise. If we can persuade more provincial and civic DMOs to develop cultural tourism initiatives that are holistic (i.e., that include the full range of a destination’s culture – its arts, human heritage, agricultural and industrial heritage, culinary, and natural history experiences), and that are place-based (i.e., that communicate the “cultural terrior” of the place beyond its attractions – its history and heritage, its narratives and stories, its landscape, its townscape, and its people – “connecting with the place”, as you put it), then without doubt cultural tourism can make a significant contribution to the economic and social vitality of many Canadian communities, and to Canada’s tourism industry overall.

      I think it’s worth adding that, in a world where urban form has become increasingly homogenized (James Howard Kunstler described this phenomenon 20 years ago in his book, “The Geography of Nowhere”), cultural tourism offers communities not only a tool for economic diversification, but equally, a powerful rationale for preserving and sustaining each community’s built heritage, along with other cultural assets that the community treasures – including its intangible assets such as language, customs, and traditions.

      Key to Canada’s moving forward (I believe) will be DMOs engaging arts, heritage, culinary, and natural history specialists, along with cultural service organizations, in conceiving the destination’s cultural tourism offering and ensuring the absolutely critical component of authenticity. Also, not unlike a gallery exhibition, a destination’s cultural offering must be, in the best sense of the word, “curated”. I often refer to this activity as “place interpretation”. Newfoundland and Labrador’s current leisure travel campaign is an excellent example of place interpretation: using imaging and messaging to evoke a potent, alluring, and unique sense of place. Quite magical, really. I’m sure it will return dividends.

      Hopefully, we will also see national cultural service organizations such as the Creative City Network of Canada, the Canadian Museums Association, and the Heritage Canada Foundation become proactive in cultural tourism, and (if you will allow me) partner with the Canadian Tourism Commission and other relevant agencies on a national cultural tourism strategy that further enables provincial and civic initiatives, much as Partners in Tourism: Culture and Commerce does in the United States.

      By the way, earlier in my career, I was also involved (peripherally) in Cultural Cascades. I was working in Kelowna – which Amtrak does not serve. Because Amtrak was a key sponsor of Cultural Cascades, the Okanagan (and its wine tourism industry) were not included in the marketing campaign. More’s the pity. Yes, the ROI was not there, largely, as I recall, because the campaign relied too much on one print vehicle to drive traffic to the Cultural Cascades website. The marketing dollars were never there to do justice to the initiative.

      You mentioned Tourism Vancouver’s cultural tourism program. Although I’ve not been tracking it, I am impressed with the sidebars it’s developing on the “arts and culture” page of Tourism Vancouver’s website. They provide a content richness that cultural tourists value, making each experience more intriguing, and rewarding.

      Paul, thanks again for weighing in on this important topic. You’ve added real value to this post, and opened the door for other comments that I hope will follow.

      Best,

      Steven Thorne

    • Steven Thorne says:

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your thoughtful and detailed response to my post. It’s especially good news that Canada’s culturally based tourism brand metrics are on the rise. If we can persuade more provincial and civic DMOs to develop cultural tourism initiatives that are holistic (i.e., that include the full range of a destination’s culture – its arts, human heritage, agricultural and industrial heritage, culinary, and natural history experiences), and that are place-based (i.e., that communicate the “cultural terrior” of the place beyond its attractions – its history and heritage, its narratives and stories, its landscape, its townscape, and its people – “connecting with the place”, as you put it), then without doubt cultural tourism can make a significant contribution to the economic and social vitality of many Canadian communities, and to Canada’s tourism industry overall.

      I think it’s worth adding that, in a world where urban form has become increasingly homogenized (James Howard Kunstler described this phenomenon 20 years ago in his book, “The Geography of Nowhere”), cultural tourism offers communities not only a tool for economic diversification, but equally, a powerful rationale for preserving and sustaining each community’s built heritage, along with other cultural assets that the community treasures – including its intangible assets such as language, customs, and traditions.

      Key to Canada’s moving forward (I believe) will be DMOs engaging arts, heritage, culinary, and natural history specialists, along with cultural service organizations, in conceiving the destination’s cultural tourism offering and ensuring the absolutely critical component of authenticity. Also, not unlike a gallery exhibition, a destination’s cultural offering must be, in the best sense of the word, “curated”. I often refer to this activity as “place interpretation”. Newfoundland and Labrador’s current leisure travel campaign is an excellent example of place interpretation: using imaging and messaging to evoke a potent, alluring, and unique sense of place. Quite magical, really. I’m sure it will return dividends.

      Hopefully, we will also see national cultural service organizations such as the Creative City Network of Canada, the Canadian Museums Association, and the Heritage Canada Foundation become proactive in cultural tourism, and (if you will allow me) partner with the Canadian Tourism Commission and other relevant agencies on a national cultural tourism strategy that further enables provincial and civic initiatives, much as Partners in Tourism: Culture and Commerce does in the United States.

      By the way, earlier in my career, I was also involved (peripherally) in Cultural Cascades. I was working in Kelowna – which Amtrak does not serve. Because Amtrak was a key sponsor of Cultural Cascades, the Okanagan (and its wine tourism industry) were not included in the marketing campaign. More’s the pity. Yes, the ROI was not there, largely, as I recall, because the campaign relied too much on one print vehicle to drive traffic to the Cultural Cascades website. The marketing dollars were never there to do justice to the initiative.

      You mentioned Tourism Vancouver’s cultural tourism program. Although I’ve not been tracking it, I am impressed with the sidebars it’s developing on the “arts and culture” page of Tourism Vancouver’s website. They provide a content richness that cultural tourists value, making each experience more intriguing, and rewarding.

      Paul, thanks again for weighing in on this important topic. You’ve added real value to this post, and opened the door for other comments that I hope will follow.

      Best,

      Steven Thorne

      • Michael Haywood says:

        Steve,   Let me add a few other thoughts based on some of the commentary you have received.   First of all, as a consultant I appreciate the need for marketers to categorize cultural tourism, and create themes and tags designed to appeal to specific market segments.  On a personal and behavioural level, however, I find that “cultural afficionados” have broad cultural interests and are quite sophisticated in how they respond to, and negotiate, the symbolic language of culture.  They cringe at the idea of being labelled, and rarely do they fit, or want to fit, into a circumscribed theme or category.  Rather they prefer and profit from multi-dimensional offerings that overlap and complement each other, resulting in added value for all.

        The culture they seek often has an omni-present but an ill-defined, ephemeral quality to it.  As operators within touristic industries we provide the “consumable experiences”, but the “true” cultural aspects of destinations, activities, and attractions are far more intangible.  There is an over-arching aspect that is hard to explain and characterize.  Its essence can be captured in sentiments associated with descriptors such as “ambience” and “personality”, but more often is revealed through feelings or emotions that touch the heart and move the soul.  After all we are dealing with intrinsic motivations and interactions that are confounded and affected  by beliefs, values, language, behaviours, ethnicities and lifestyles.  In other words they transcend the institutionalized settings that merely act as platforms for performance  – museums, galleries, performing arts centers, heritage districts, and so on.

        Most “cultural afficionados” that I know want to participate in and negotiate culture (in all its disguises) throughout a community – in its streets, parks, shops, museums, and restaurants.  Their cultural interest and curiosity extends to how culture frames space, in ways that give meaning to communities and help define their sense of place.  But…… therein lie some profound problems.

        The interest and onslaught of cultural tourism culture is becoming the business of cities and many communities.  Destination Marketing Associations are having a field day in bolstering their communities’ image as centers of cultural innovation. The economic upside is supposed to be obvious (though sometimes dubious), buts its downside is insidious.  The cultural strategies of redevelopment often pit the self-interests of developers, politicians and growth-oriented enterprises against grassroots pressures of local communities – particularly when there is no defining or unifying vision, nor any consensual strategy for change.  Where is the collaboration and common sense?  

        Then there is the issue of perpetuating an “authenticity hoax”.  Too often we end up bastardizing and imposing culture that grates rather than soothes, debases rather than lifts us out of the mire of our daily lives.   In response to the expansion of cultural consumption many developers (well-meaning as many may be) end up homogenizing local identities. Their ways of seeing, interpreting, and revealing culture are either deficient or extremely defective.  It is essential that our communities  find new and better ways of understanding, interpreting, capturing, embellishing, or animating the essence of culture. 
         
        Yet, regardless of good intentions gone awry, it is amazing how we as an industry and as communities still continue to ignore culture. As I read some of the other comments to your article Steven,  I think I understand why.  Some wise people have determined that its potential ROI is too low.  Really!…..  How do they measure ROI?  If this is simply a monetized metric (associated with revenues and visits) then perhaps it is time to introduce a more appropriate Balanced Scorecard.

        As a businessperson I appreciate the need for metrics, but at the very least I would be interested in identifying the multiplier effects of “culture” on all reasons associated with visits to Canada, on all aspects of the visitor experience, on length of stay, repeat visitation, net promoter indices, etc.  In my experience culture can ignite; it has the potential to be an extraordinary catalyst, though it does require the services of a catalytic converter if communities desire to become more sustainable and resilient.

        While it is comforting to know that FutureBrand has identified a notable improvement in  Canada’s cultural image and offerings, its potential in driving visitation remains abysmal.  Perhaps this is an unfair assessment given the times; however, many of us still believe that much of our cultural capital remains obscure and inadequately marketed…let’s forget branded, as if that would make a difference!  True differentiation has to be focused on a community’s product/service/hospitality/place/experience mix, and how that mix is combined in response to addressing peoples’ problems, interests, or the job they want done.

        And, while we are at it, perhaps we should actually admit that people do not resolve their problems and interests through the consumption of culture  When they come to our businesses or into our communities their cry to us is “comfort me”, “amuse me”, “touch my sympathies”, “make me dream”, “make me laugh”, “make me think”.  While we respond by bringing cultural offerings to market, our success is only achieved when we actually comfort, amuse, delight, educate and resolve a problem or need.  In other words, we never create real value unless our offerings truly resonate.

        Why then do we persist in focusing attention on making people more aware of our diverse attractions by providing a wealth of essential facts? If all we provide is information then we fail to resonate.  It is not the information that’s important, but the emotional impact of that information, and the emotional impact of the actual experience.

        As Seth Godin once said “The problem is this:  No spreadsheet, no bibliography and no list of resources is sufficient proof to someone who chooses not to believe.  The skeptic will always find a reason, even if it’s the one the rest of us don”t think is a good one.  Relying on too much proof distracts you from the real mission – which is ’emotional connection’.” 

        In this regard many of us are becoming more aware of the need to use social media and create meaningful and delightful visitor or guest experiences.   But, this is not enough.  Where we fall short is in our ability to master the art of engaging and helping our guests and visitors form connections throughout our communities – people with people (representing other cultures?), and people with places (and all the cultural markers).  For this objective to achieve any semblance of scale we have a collective obligation to create a community of hosts. This means we have to ensure that everyone working within our industry is, and feels, engaged.  Based on experience, this is not happening.  Consequently visitors are (shamefully) more likely to ignore the invitation to “Keep Exploring”
         
        For Canada’s tag line to take affect, we have to capture our culture through stories and narratives that resonate during all stages of decision-making and the visitor experience.  If this fails to occur then the power and immediacy of social media is such that the stories and narratives of our visitors will focus on disappointments.  In such a competitive environment with so many choices we can’t afford “tears of regret”.   Our desire is “tears of joy”.  If we are to unite the idea of magnificient visits and vacations with positive emotions then it is essential that we tell compelling stories that are based on inherent and verifiable truths and ensure they are realizeable.   For this to occur our communities must be compelling, our hospitality inspired.
         
        Cultural, indeed all, tourism experiences  become glorious adventures and experiences when their stories arouse positive emotions and energy.  Of course, it takes vivid insight, storytelling and operational skill to present and package ideas that deliver enough emotional power to be memorable. 

        If we truly want to bring Canadian culture to fruition then we need to learn how to harness imagination, transform our communities and organization, and inspire cultural innovations that will get people to come to truly admire and love our communities, our Canada.  Why don’t we agree right now to make a personal commitment to develop, embellish and revive our cultural capital in ways that demonstrate our true pride-of-place.  

        If you are on-board and want to make a long-lasting difference I encourage you to contact Steven.

        Cheers…..let’s get to work.

        Michael
         
        Cheers…let’s get to work Michael

        • Steven Thorne says:

          Michael –

          Your insightful comments have added enormous value to this post. I am delighted to discover in you a kindred spirit, whose understanding of culture – and of culture’s capacity to build communities and diversify Canada’s tourism economy – is articulated with such clarity and passion.

          Beyond commenting on my post, you have initiated a discussion about cultural tourism that probes a variety of important issues, each worthy of deep reflection and (I hope) further reader response.  

          Michael, thank you! 

          Best,

          Steven Thorne

          • Michael Haywood says:

            Steven….a postscript.  

            Let’s approach any determination of a ROI on cultural tourism by acknowledging the need to make a much stronger connection between peoples’ values and ROI.  This which would force us to interpret ROI as “Return On Integrity”.

        • Louise Stevens says:

          As the one who (unintentionally but happily) served as Steven’s launch for this dialogue, I am thrilled to read the subsequent discourse.  As a US citizen whose grandfather homesteaded in Alberta, whose father grew up there, and with family still owning the homestead, perhaps I am fascinated with Canada’s culture in some due measure because of family history. But I am also fascinated with it as a cultural planner because I see so much wonderful – if you will – raw material to work with, to build upon.  And I see in Canadian policy much more opportunity to look at culture as an economic and social pillar than we see in most US policy.

          Canada in many ways has a stronger rural culture than we have left in the US, and a more vibrant awareness of place-based culture and heritage. In many of its urban centers there is a more comfortable internationalism within its culture than in similar sized cities in the US.  There is more celebration of multiple, wide-ranging immigrant cultures than in most of the US.  For US visitors, its cities – not just in Quebec – are in many and sometimes subtle ways more culturally European, distinctly different from the US.

          My sense is that planning for cultural and heritage tourism offers significant benefits for digging into the real heart of the matter – identifying the unique local cultural strengths and building local pride of them – as Michael has so eloquently stated.  When others come into our communities to savor our local culture, and like it, we develop greater pride of place and stronger interest in what we may have been oblivious to in the past. 

          That’s why it is vitally important, in my mind, to link tourism planning to cultural planning.  If tourism agencies assess cultural assets and find something special, or if they determine a need to fill a cultural gap by creating something new, it should be examined, planned for, and developed as an integral part of a cultural plan strategy.

          As a planner I have frequently experienced this split in the US.  When I view a city in the US through the lens of cultural tourism planning, I often see something uniquely wonderful that, if strengthened and used as a catalyst to attract visitors, could have a powerful impact on local cultural pride-of-place as well.  But here in the US, too, there can be a wall between tourism agencies and cultural agencies, so it takes working outside the box to get the cultural council to join forces with what the tourism agency may see as a strategy. 

          A more unified process of assessment would be a good start.  I’d love it if our cultural needs assessments and tourism assessments would be joined rather than separate.  If would be excellent if cultural needs assessments examined assets, needs and gaps not only from the eyes of residents, but the eyes of visitors.  In our cultural tourism work, my husband and I have spent countless hours doing visitor interviews in scores of locations, and have through this heard insights that we have never heard in our cultural planning work, and v.v.   All of us need to hear and use the input of visitors and residents, and align our cultural development strategies accordingly to the benefit of tourism/economic development, but most especially to the lasting benefit of our residents.

          Thanks, all of you, for a rich and wonderful discussion.

          Louise Stevens
               

           

        • Steven_Thorne says:

          Michael –

          Your insightful comments have added enormous value to this post. I am delighted to discover in you a kindred spirit, whose understanding of culture – and of culture’s capacity to build communities and diversify Canada’s tourism economy – is articulated with such clarity and passion.

          Beyond commenting on my post, you have initiated a discussion about cultural tourism that probes a variety of important issues, each worthy of deep reflection and (I hope) further reader response.

          Michael, thank you!

          Best,

          Steven Thorne

    • Tim Bayne says:

      I would suggest that the title is a little misleading, are we really being left behind or are we just slightly trailing?  As Paul points out, on a national level, there are CTC initiatives that have influenced cultural development, specifically in the culinary and festival sectors.  You can see across the country including Taste of Nova Scotia and Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance.  In festivals, national funding through the Marquee Tourism grants has highlighted the importance of this sector on a national level.  You mentioned Stratford does a good job attracting and catering to cultural tourist.  It helps that the town has been attracting cultural tourists for nearly 60 years.  More recently Stratford has effectively leveraging the cultural tourism with the Stratford chef school and Savour Stratford and other festivals and events.

      There are many excellent programs out there across Canada:
      Within New Brunswick and Nova Scotia there has been many tourism products (museums, festivals, passport/trail programs) developed to showcase the Acadian, shipbuilding and fishing culture.  Cape Breton has recently developing a Creative Island program connecting visitors to local artisans to accompany the Scottish and Acadian culture also present. http://www.craftalliance.ca/Partners/creative-island.php

      In BC here is a recent handbook developed.  Steven it mentions you were involved.  http://cultural-heritage-tourism.com/new-cultural-heritage-tourism-handbook-released-in-canada/

      So I think Canada has a multitude of cultural tourism assets that are evolving and is on its way to creating a national-wide cultural tourism industry.

      • Steven Thorne says:

        Hi Tim,

        Thanks for weighing in with your thoughts on this topic. You have referenced some excellent examples of product development initiatives in cultural tourism in Canada, and these are all commendable. However, this is not quite what I am getting at in my post.  

        Without taking anything away from the initiatives you have cited, I would argue that, if anything, we are further behind our American cousins than the title of my post suggests.

        There are two issues here: a national infrastructure that supports the development of cultural tourism, and segmented marketing campaigns that target cultural tourists.

        Let’s talk about the infrastructure issue first. 

        Canada has nothing that compares to “Partners in Tourism: Culture and Commerce” – an alliance initiated in the mid-1990s in which 8 agencies and sub-agencies of the U.S. federal government, and 8 national cultural service organizations (plus the National Geographic Society and the Travel Industry Association of America) work together to advance the development of cultural tourism across the U.S. 

        If a similar alliance were brought together here in Canada, the federal departments and agencies would include Industry Canada, Environment Canada, Transport Canada, Heritage Canada, Parks Canada, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, Library and Archives Canada, and the Canada Council. The equivalent Canadian national cultural service organizations would include the Canadian Museum Association, the Heritage Canada Foundation, the Creative City Network of Canada, the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, the Canadian Conference for the Arts (sadly, now defunct), plus the Tourism Industry Association of Canada,

        For the moment, we can only dream of such an alliance of national partners working to advance the development of cultural tourism in our nation. What is remarkable is that Partners in Tourism: Culture and Commerce has now been active for almost 20 years. Small wonder that, relative to Canada, cultural tourism is so much more developed in the U.S.  

        I won’t reiterate from my post each of the other examples of the infrastructure that supports the development of America’s cultural tourism industry – from the Cultural & Heritage Tourism Alliance, to the Heritage Tourism Program of the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation, to the Cultural Heritage Tourism Exchange. Each is referenced in my post, with links you can explore.

        As for the second issue concerning how far we lag behind the U.S. – segmented marketing campaigns that target cultural travelers – such campaigns are few and far between. Most DMOs simply insert their cultural icons into their leisure travel campaigns and call the result, “cultural tourism.” This issue is explored more fully in my first post on this site, entitled, “Place-based cultural tourism, a new planning paradigm.” 

        In addition, DMOs in Canada – provincial, territorial, regional and civic – rarely have cultural tourism development strategies, rarely engage in destination planning for cultural tourism, and rarely have dedicated cultural tourism personnel – all of which are common in the U.S. There are exceptions. Tourism PEI has a cultural tourism strategy, and a segmented marketing campaign. Stratford, Ontario, takes a destination planning approach to cultural tourism. Tourism Vancouver has a cultural tourism manager.  Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Tourism has a cultural tourism development officer. Also, BC’s Ministry of Tourism has a cultural tourism advisor.  However, these examples are anomalies in Canada. They are not the norm.

        To my mind, what’s most tragic about what hasn’t happened in Canada can be traced back to 1999, the year the Canadian Tourism Commission published “Packaging the Potential: A Five-Year Business Strategy for Cultural and Heritage Tourism in Canada.” 

        Unfortunately, the publication was just that: a publication. The CTC did not advance the publication’s vision for cultural tourism in Canada by taking the publication “on the road”: developing an education and communications strategy; building alliances with provincial, territorial, and civic DMOs; liaising with Canada’s cultural sector; organizing regional seminars, etc. – all of which were recommended in the strategy. As a result, Packaging the Potential soon gathered dust, and is now largely forgotten.

        Had the Canadian Tourism Commission implemented the recommendations found in Packaging the Potential, I do not believe we would be having this discussion today. Moreover, cultural tourism in Canada – and Canada’s entire tourism industry – would have benefited in ways we can only imagine. 

        Best,

        Steven Thorne

      • Steven_Thorne says:

        Hi Tim,

        Thanks for weighing in with your thoughts on this topic. You have referenced some excellent examples of product development initiatives in cultural tourism in Canada, and these are all commendable. However, this is not quite what I am getting at in my post.

        Without taking anything away from the initiatives you have cited, I would argue that, if anything, we are further behind our American cousins than the title of my post suggests.

        There are two issues here: a national infrastructure that supports the development of cultural tourism, and segmented marketing campaigns that target cultural tourists.

        Let’s talk about the infrastructure issue first.

        Canada has nothing that compares to, “Partners in Tourism: Culture and Commerce” – an alliance initiated in the mid-1990s in which 8 agencies and sub-agencies of the U.S. federal government, and 8 national cultural service organizations (plus the National Geographic Society and the Travel Industry Association of America) work together to advance the development of cultural tourism across the U.S.

        If a similar alliance were brought together here in Canada, the federal departments and agencies would include Industry Canada, Environment Canada, Transport Canada, Heritage Canada, Parks Canada, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, Library and Archives Canada, and the Canada Council. The equivalent Canadian national cultural service organizations would include the Canadian Museum Association, the Heritage Canada Foundation, the Creative City Network of Canada, the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, the Canadian Conference for the Arts (sadly, now defunct), plus the Tourism Industry Association of Canada,

        For the moment, we can only dream of such an alliance of national partners working to advance the development of cultural tourism in our nation. What is remarkable is that Partners in Tourism: Culture and Commerce has now been active for almost 20 years. Small wonder that, relative to Canada, cultural tourism is so much more developed in the U.S.

        I won’t reiterate from my post each of the other examples of the infrastructure that supports the development of America’s cultural tourism industry – from the Cultural & Heritage Tourism Alliance, to the Heritage Tourism Program of the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation, to the Cultural Heritage Tourism Exchange. Each is referenced in my post, with links you can explore.

        As for the second issue concerning how far we lag behind the U.S. – segmented marketing campaigns that target cultural travelers – such campaigns are few and far between. Most DMOs simply insert their cultural icons into their leisure travel campaigns and call the result, “cultural tourism.” This issue is explored more fully in my first post on this site, entitled, “Place-based cultural tourism, a new planning paradigm.”

        In addition, DMOs in Canada – provincial, territorial, regional and civic – rarely have cultural tourism development strategies, rarely engage in destination planning for cultural tourism, and rarely have dedicated cultural tourism personnel – all of which are common in the U.S. There are exceptions. Tourism PEI has a cultural tourism strategy, and a segmented marketing campaign. Stratford, Ontario, takes a destination planning approach to cultural tourism. Tourism Vancouver has a cultural tourism manager. Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Tourism has a cultural tourism development officer. Also, BC’s Ministry of Tourism has a cultural tourism advisor. However, these examples are anomalies in Canada. They are not the norm.

        To my mind, what’s most tragic about what hasn’t happened in Canada can be traced back to 1999, the year the Canadian Tourism Commission published “Packaging the Potential: A Five-Year Business Strategy for Cultural and Heritage Tourism in Canada.”

        Unfortunately, the publication was just that: a publication. The CTC did not advance the publication’s vision for cultural tourism in Canada by taking the publication “on the road”: developing an education and communications strategy; building alliances with provincial, territorial, and civic DMOs; liaising with Canada’s cultural sector; organizing regional seminars, etc. – all of which were recommended in the strategy. As a result, Packaging the Potential soon gathered dust, and is now largely forgotten.

        Had the Canadian Tourism Commission implemented the recommendations found in Packaging the Potential, I do not believe we would be having this discussion today. Moreover, cultural tourism in Canada – and Canada’s entire tourism industry – would have benefited in ways we can only imagine.

        Best,

        Steven Thorne

    • Steven Thorne says:

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your thoughtful
      and detailed response to my post. 

      It’s especially good news that Canada’s
      culturally based tourism brand metrics are on the rise. If we can persuade more
      provincial and civic DMOs to develop cultural tourism initiatives that are
      holistic (i.e., that include the full range of a destination’s culture – its
      arts, human heritage, agritourism, culinary, and
      natural history experiences), and that are place-based (i.e., that communicate
      the “cultural terrior” of the place beyond its attractions – its history and
      heritage, its narratives and stories, its landscape, its townscape, and its
      people – “connecting with the place”, as you put it), then without doubt
      cultural tourism can make a significant contribution to the economic and social
      vitality of many Canadian communities, and to Canada’s tourism industry
      overall.

      I think it’s worth adding that, in a world where urban form has become
      increasingly homogenized (James Howard Kunstler described this phenomenon 20
      years ago in his book, “The Geography of Nowhere”), cultural tourism offers
      communities not only a tool for economic diversification, but equally, a
      powerful rationale for preserving and sustaining each community’s built
      heritage, along with other cultural assets that the community treasures –
      including its intangible assets such as language, customs, and traditions.

      Key to Canada’s moving
      forward (I believe) will be DMOs engaging arts, heritage, culinary, and natural
      history specialists, along with cultural service organizations, in conceiving
      the destination’s cultural tourism offering and ensuring the absolutely
      critical component of authenticity. Also, not unlike a gallery exhibition, a
      destination’s cultural offering must be, in the best sense of the word,
      “curated”. I often refer to this activity as “place interpretation”.
      Newfoundland and Labrador’s current leisure travel campaign is an excellent
      example of place interpretation: using imaging and messaging to evoke a potent,
      alluring, and unique sense of place. Quite magical, really. I’m sure it will
      return dividends.

      Hopefully, we will also see
      national cultural service organizations such as the Creative City Network of
      Canada, the Canadian Museums Association, and the Heritage Canada Foundation
      become proactive in cultural tourism, and (if you will allow me) partner with
      the Canadian Tourism Commission and other relevant agencies on a national
      cultural tourism strategy that further enables provincial and civic initiatives,
      much as Partners in Tourism: Culture and Commerce does in the United States.

      By the way, earlier in my
      career, I was also involved (peripherally) in Cultural Cascades. I was working
      in Kelowna – which Amtrak does not serve. Because Amtrak was a key sponsor of
      Cultural Cascades, the Okanagan (and its wine tourism industry) were not
      included in the marketing campaign. More’s the pity. Yes, the ROI was not
      there, largely, as I recall, because the campaign relied too much on one print
      vehicle to drive traffic to the Cultural Cascades website. The marketing
      dollars were never there to do justice to the initiative.

      You mentioned Tourism Vancouver’s cultural tourism program. Although I’ve not
      been tracking it, I am impressed with the sidebars it’s developing on the “arts
      and culture” page of TV’s website. They provide a content
      richness that cultural tourists value, making each experience more intriguing,
      and rewarding.

      Paul, thanks again for weighing in on this important topic. You’ve added real
      value to this post, and opened the door for other comments that I hope will
      follow.

      Best,

      Steven Thorne

    • Steven_Thorne says:

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your thoughtful and detailed response to my post.

      It’s especially good news that Canada’s culturally based tourism brand metrics are on the rise. If we can persuade more provincial and civic DMOs to develop cultural tourism initiatives that are holistic (i.e., that include the full range of a destination’s culture – its arts, human heritage, agritourism, culinary, and natural history experiences), and that are place-based (i.e., that communicate the “cultural terrior” of the place beyond its attractions – its history and heritage, its narratives and stories, its landscape, its townscape, and its people – “connecting with the place”, as you put it), then without doubt cultural tourism can make a significant contribution to the economic and social vitality of many Canadian communities, and to Canada’s tourism industry overall.

      I think it’s worth adding that, in a world where urban form has become increasingly homogenized (James Howard Kunstler described this phenomenon 20 years ago in his book, “The Geography of Nowhere”), cultural tourism offers communities not only a tool for economic diversification, but equally, a powerful rationale for preserving and sustaining each community’s built heritage, along with other cultural assets that the community treasures – including its intangible assets such as language, customs, and traditions.

      Key to Canada’s moving forward (I believe) will be DMOs engaging arts, heritage, culinary, and natural history specialists, along with cultural service organizations, in conceiving the destination’s cultural tourism offering and ensuring the absolutely critical component of authenticity. Also, not unlike a gallery exhibition, a
      destination’s cultural offering must be, in the best sense of the word, “curated”. I often refer to this activity as “place interpretation”. Newfoundland and Labrador’s current leisure travel campaign is an excellent example of place interpretation: using imaging and messaging to evoke a potent, alluring, and unique sense of place. Quite magical, really. I’m sure it will return dividends.

      Hopefully, we will also see national cultural service organizations such as the Creative City Network of Canada, the Canadian Museums Association, and the Heritage Canada Foundation become proactive in cultural tourism, and (if you will allow me) partner with the Canadian Tourism Commission and other relevant agencies on a national cultural tourism strategy that further enables provincial and civic initiatives, much as Partners in Tourism: Culture and Commerce does in the United States.

      By the way, earlier in my career, I was also involved (peripherally) in Cultural Cascades. I was working in Kelowna – which Amtrak does not serve. Because Amtrak was a key sponsor of Cultural Cascades, the Okanagan (and its wine tourism industry) were not included in the marketing campaign. More’s the pity. Yes, the ROI was not there, largely, as I recall, because the campaign relied too much on one print vehicle to drive traffic to the Cultural Cascades website. The marketing dollars were never there to do justice to the initiative.

      You mentioned Tourism Vancouver’s cultural tourism program. Although I’ve not been tracking it, I am impressed with the sidebars it’s developing on the “arts and culture” page of TV’s website. They provide a content richness that cultural tourists value, making each experience more intriguing, and rewarding.

      Paul, thanks again for weighing in on this important topic. You’ve added real value to this post, and opened the door for other comments that I hope will follow.

      Best,

      Steven Thorne

  4. Barbara Steinfeld says:

    Really nice to see the discussion here.  I started in cultural tourism in Portland 15 years ago and initiated the Cultural Cascades. It was a great program but didn’t have the ROI to keep it going–and not funded substantially to really create the momentum. But the cultural themes are still highly active in each community one way or another!

  5. Louise Stevens says:

    Steven, thanks for remembering that conversation of ours!  Canada has so much to offer in Cultural Tourism, and packaging is key.  It is a multi-year effort, as well, and as Barbara Steinfeld notes, it needs real support to build momentum.  When it happens – for example, the way that Buffalo NY has built cultural tourism around architecture, art, and design – it is a true winner, with superb ROI.    — Louise

  6. Michael Haywood says:

    Steven,  I agree wholeheartedly. But, to my mind, we face a conundrum.  Community stakeholders have limited knowledge and appreciation of culture (how it differentiates destinations) and how best to leverage its potential in ways that are truly meaningful and value-laden. 
     
    Despite the great examples of cooperation in the U.S., tourism’s essential community stakeholders rarely collaborate.  They only meet in order to market.  Indeed, I have found that actual decision-makers (marketers as well as developers, entrepreneurs, operators, etc.) are rarely interested in history and culture (confusing the two) and lack the perspectives they provide.  Their interest lies in surviving and thriving in what actually is to an ephemeral, incoherent, fragmented and fractured industry.  In response, DMOs invariably flounder in a sea of tactics and manoeuvres designed to overcome vacillating demand, repair tarnished images, and create distinctive destination brands.  Cultural activities, as part of a destination’s attractions, may be part of the “product/experience” mix, but their inclusion and purpose are likely to be marginalized and subjugated to outcomes that only can be monetized. 
     
    “Culture”, “place” and “tourism” are dealt with in abstraction and isolation from each other, rather than a universal and emergent whole.  In order to understand and legitimize this whole, it is essential that we work harder to communicate the causal power or influence that is generated and transferred among them.  It is the relationships and connections among them that ultimately provide meaning and a deeply moving human experience.
     
    If, as is often the case, tourism systemics are in disarray, then our task is find effective ways of moving  beyond analysis, synthesis and critique (assessment) to systems restoration and redesign that acknowledges and accommodates operational as well as contextual (social, political, economic, environmental) realities. There is a desperate need to help communities broaden their perspectives; identify and visualize their issues, opportunities and options; facilitate their “intentional becoming” (utilizing and encouraging both divergent and convergent flows of ideas); help identify tourism’s noble purpose within, and in the best interests of, their community; seek intention, recognize limits, encourage unity, develop form and achieve realization. 

  7. Michael Haywood says:

    Steve,   Let me add a few additional thoughts based on some of the commentary you have received.   First of all, let me say that I appreciate the need for  marketers to categorize cultural tourism, and create themes that can be associated with specific market segments.  On a personal and behavioural level, however, I find that “cultural afficionados” have broad interests.  They cringe at the idea of fitting into a particulat theme or category.  Rather they prefer, seek and profit from multi-dimensional offerings that overlap and complement each other. 

    The culture they seek has an omni-present but an ill-defined, ephemeral quality to it.  As operators within touristic  industries we provide the “consumables”, but the “true” cultural aspects of destinations, activities, and attractions are far more intangible.  There is an over-arching aspect that is hard to characterize.  Its essence can be captured in sentiments associated with words such as “ambience” and “personality”, or  expressed as feelings or emotions.  After all we are dealing with beliefs, values, mores, and lifestyles rather than museums, galleries, performing arts centers, and so on.  

    As operators our problem is that we are profoundly inadequate in the way of seeing, understanding and revealing culture.  Hence the challenge we face in capturing, interpreting, embellishing, re-creating or its animating its essence.  As such, we need to be quite circumspect in the use of the word “authentic”.

    Nevertheless, it is still amazing why so many of us in the so-called tourism industry, have tended to ignore culture. And, as I read some of the other comments, I think I understand why.  Some wise people  have determined that its potential ROI is too low.  Really!  How do they know? How do they measure ROI?  I appreciate the need for metrics, but if they are needed then I would be more inclined to identify the multiplier effects of “culture” on all reasons associated with visiting Canada, on all aspects of the visitor experience, on length of stay, repeat visitation,  net promoter indices, etc.

    Whether FutureBrand is correct in noting that Canada’s cultural offferings or image is improving, its potential in driving visitation remains abysmal.  Perhaps that is an unfair assessment given that our cultural capital is so poorly and inadequaltely developed and marketed…let’s forget branded, as if that would make a difference.  True differentiation has to be focused on a community’s product/service/hospitality/place/experience mix, and how that mix is combined and how it solves or resolves peoples’ problems, interests or the job they want done.

    The public is composed of numerous groups whose cry to us is “comfort me”, “amuse me”, “touch my sympathies”, “make me dream”, “make me laugh”, “make me think”.  I know it is important to identify and bring cultural tourism offerings to market, but the real problem in tourism today the is that we are insufficiently focused on, or  failing at, resonating.  Yes, we need to identify our diverse attractions and provide the essential  facts; however,  it’s not the information itself that’s important, but the emotional impact of that information and actual experiences.

    As Seth Godin once said “The problem is this:  No spreadsheet, no bibliography and no list of resources is sufficient proof to someone who chooses not to believe.  The skeptic will always find a reason, even if it’s the one the rest of us don”t think is a good one.  Relying on too much proof distracts you from the real mission – which is ’emotional connection’.” 

    In this regard many of us are well aware of the need to create more meaningful and delightful visitor or guest experiences.   But, this is not enough.  Where we fall short is in our ability to master the art of engaging and helping our guests and visitors form connections – people with people (representing other cultures?), people with place (and its cultural markers), people with communities and cultures.  Not only should this task be the central role for cultural tourism, but in our communications and delivery of  our so-called “authentic” experiences .

    If exploration of Canada’s destinations is be truly adventurous, then it is vital to recognize that the best adventures are captured in stories and narratives related and relevent to all decision-making and visitor experience stages.  And, considering the power and immediacy of social media,  we want to ensure that the stories and narratives of our visitors use to extol the virtues of Canada, its diversity of cultures reveal the “tears of joy” they shed.   If we desire to unite the idea of a magnificient vacation with positive emotions then it is essential that we tell compelling stories that are based on inherent and verifiable truths. 

    Cultural, indeed all, tourism activities can translate into glorious adventures when their stories arouse emotions and energy.  Of course, it takes vivid insight and storytelling skill to present ideas that pack enough emotional  power to be memorable.  The same goes for ensuring that our collective efforts in delivering truly memorable and delightful vacation experiences are met with applause.  If we truly  want to bring Canadian culture to light then we need to learn how to harness imagination, and the principles of a well-told story. 

    Our stories, and knowledge of our rich and diverse cultures will get people to come to Canada instead of yawning and ignoring us.  But, just as important if not more so,  these stories must stir our collective imaginations, business-by-business, community-by-community, to develop, embellish and treasure our cultural capital in ways that demonstrate our true pride-of-place.  

    Cheers, Michael

  8. Glad that you noted the Stratford Festival’s excellent efforts to target cultural travelers. Five years ago I started a blog that aggregates reviews of the festival and I was amazed how many visits the site received from the American North East. There’s a lot of work ahead but it’s good to know we have, at least, one organization that is succeeding.

  9. Marie-Andree Delisle says:

    Participants to this subject may not agree with this but this is how it is perceived.  Why then?
    Because the culture is too close to the US one. Where is the difference?  Apart from Quebec (not mentioned anywhere in the article and comments) and particularly Montreal, where culture is one of the most important aspects of our promotional campaigns, the ROC is not sufficiently pushing its cultural ‘difference’. What could be truly Canadian in a distinctive manner? (the Olympic Games illustration of the Canadian culture was so simplistic). Is multiculturalism the reason? Is the US culture too much of a bulldozer? Or is it that Canadian artists do not feel threatened by the americanized people culture, which could give them an impulse to create differently?  Let’s keep exploring for some gems are not sufficiently known !

  10. […] How America's cultural tourism industry has left Canada behind … […]

  11. Joe Smith says:

    Great read. Thanks.

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