Skip Glenn got back from Cuba on Wednesday night with a Caribbean suntan and a head full of ideas for how to boost Johnstown’s profile as a tourist destination.
Glenn, a marketing professor at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, was in Cuba to present a lecture at a Caribbean birding group’s 21st annual international conference – an event that Glenn described as “a United Nations of the Caribbean ... under the conservation or environmental flag.”
In Glenn’s lecture, he said, he advised BirdsCaribbean officials to “create a buzz around experiential travel,” focusing especially on a system of bird-watching trails the group runs throughout the island chain.
“That’s the audience right now,” he said.
“That’s the hot market.
“Personally engaging individuals in the moment and giving them experiences they can build a story or a memory around and share that with friends,” as Glenn put it, is the hot new trend in the tourism industry, he said – a trend that could boost the Johnstown area, which was listed by Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine editor Jess Daddio in July as one of four “Next Great Mountain Towns.”
Daddio’s article, which mentioned the Stonycreek River’s whitewater rapids and the region’s many hiking and biking trails, said that Johnstown “is working to harness (its) storied past and weave it with the threads of a more progressive future, one that embraces the arts, entrepreneurship and, of course, outdoor recreation.”
“We’re rendering experiences now,” Glenn said. “That’s our job.”
Glenn said he learned firsthand during his time in Cuba just how important experiences are for tourists.
The BirdsCaribbean conference was held at Topes de Collantes, a resort and nature reserve along the island’s southern shore, nestled deep within what Glenn described as “a cool, lush rainforest” in Cuba’s Escambray Mountains.
“Good food,” he said. “Great music. They always made sure they had some sort of music every night ... done by locals.”
Asked whether he thought anything he experienced in Cuba could be applied to the Johnstown region’s tourist industry, too, Glenn said: “Don’t underestimate the power of music.”
“It turns on the energy of the place. The more music we can inject into the culture, the more energy we’re going to get out of it,” he added.
Glenn said it’s important for a region’s tourism industry to cultivate a sense of place by preserving local history and cultural connections.
“The last thing you want is to go to a hotel and not know where you are,” he said.
“It could be anywhere in the world. The idea is that, (through) the experiences, you are connected to the place. The hotel is designed for that ... it gets you connected to the place.”
Asked if he thought Johnstown could create such a sense of place for outdoors enthusiasts and other tourists, Glenn said: “Oh, absolutely! This place is awesome.
“We’re in the Allegheny kingdom – a land of water and trees and amazing stuff.”
Social media, too, plays a key role in the new travel trend, Glenn said. Connecting Johnstown-area visitors to experiences is the point of Allegheny Underground, a smartphone application and information network run by Glenn’s Pitt-Johnstown marketing students that is dedicated to lists of upcoming local events.
“The idea is to dispel the myth of Johns-
town having nothing to do ... to link people to experiences they never knew existed,” Glenn said.