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A Guide to Regional Visitor Destinations

Regional visitor destinations within reasonable drive-times of their markets ... always good for an escape.
An annotated list of major destinations in select regions.

We offer this guide to regional visitor destinations as a help to those of our clients that are involved with economic development planning and tactics in their communities.   Regional visitor destinations are an interesting phenomena from an economic development point-of-view.   Some of these well-known tourist destinations have emerged organically from some combination of natural scenic, experiential, or purely locational factors.

 

In some other places, such organic growth has been punctuated by intervention – whether a production innovation, a shift in consumer preferences (more precisely,  a change in “guest trip motivations“), or some foundational shift in the economy that affected travel patterns.

 

And of course there are the strategic marketing campaigns and promotional tactics that have also spurred the growth of these visitor destinations.

 

We began to muse on this topic many years when starting when on a brace of new projects that were intended to transform the Niagara Falls region – an “evergreen” tourism brand to be sure, but one that has also not seen much innovation.   We compared the Niagara region to other regional visitor destinations such as the Wisconsin Dells.    The Dells got its start in the usual way, but has grown as the visitor product has evolved and entrepreneurs have innovated.   The most recent product innovation in the Dells has been the introduction of indoor water park (resorts) that have transformed this region into a year-round destination.    We ask, how might the “lessons learned” from places like the Dells, help to inform the economic development of other regional visitor destinations.

 

Regional visitor destinations - Lake Tahoe (California, Nevada).

Guide to Regional Visitor Destinations

Regional DestinationStateOriginsYear Est'dOrigin Factor
Anaheim / Buena ParkCaliforniaDisneyland opened in 1955, the only theme park designed and built under the direct supervision of Walt Disney. Also home to Knott’s Berry Farm and numerous hotels and smaller attractions.1955Walt Disney
AqabaJordanJordan's window to the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba. Famed for being among the filming locations for the 1962 film, "Lawrence of Arabia." Now an emerging regional destination.Coastal - Red Sea
Atlantic CityNew JerseyAtlantic City is a resort city on New Jersey's Atlantic coast that's known for its many casinos, wide beaches and iconic Boardwalk. Established in the 1800's as a health resort, today the city is dotted with glitzy high-rise hotels and nightclubs. Camden-Atlantic City Railroad extended a rail line to Atlantic City in 1854.1854Coastal - "the Shore"
Bainbridge IslandWashingtonPuget Sound island about a 35-minute ferry ride from Seattle. Early in the 20th-century, Pleasant Beach was a big attraction for daily visitors (by boat) from Seattle. Called the “Coney Island of Puget Sound,” In its day, Pleasant Beach had a dance pavilion, heated saltwater swimming pool, and a bowling alley.Wine Country
Branson

MissouriOzark town. Marble Cave (now Marvel Cave), The Herschends. 76 Country Boulevard. The show known as The Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Drama & Homestead continues in its 56th season for 2015.
California CoastCaliforniaThe California coast is a destination onto itself. The Hotel Del Coronado opened in 1888 establishing the California coast as a premier destination. Earlier, an 1883 promotion about Capitola printed in the "Tourists Illustrated Guide to the Celebrated Summer and Winter Resorts of California" declared that "this (Capitola) great sea-side camping resort is situated on the beautiful Bay of Monterey, and is the oldest camping ground on the Pacific Coast."1883Coast; the Pacific
Cape CodMassachusetts
Colonial Williamsburg / JamestownVirginiaColonial Williamsburg is a living-history museum and private foundation presenting part of a historic district in the city of Williamsburg, Virginia, USA. Nearby, the Jamestown settlement in the Colony of Virginia was the second permanent English settlement in the Americas after Bermuda.Historic Settlement
Door CountyWisconsinDoor County is a popular vacation and tourist destination, especially for residents of Wisconsin and Illinois. Most businesses are targeted to visitors and close during the off-season.
EilatIsraelRed Sea setting, situated on the Gulf of Aqaba.
El Gouna
EgyptRed Sea setting.
Fisherman’s Wharf & EnvironsCaliforniaFisherman's Wharf is a neighborhood and popular tourist attraction in San Francisco, California. It roughly encompasses the northern waterfront area of San Francisco from Ghirardelli Square or Van Ness Avenue east to Pier 35 or Kearny St. The district gets its name and neighborhood characteristics from the city's early days of the mid to later 1800s when Italian immigrant fishermen came to the city by the bay to take advantage of the influx of population due to the gold rush.
Florida KeysFlorida
Forbidden CityChina
GalvestonTexasIn the late 1800s Galveston was known as the "Playground of the South" Today, it still retains a shared claim to the title among major cities along the Gulf Coast states. Galveston is a popular tourist destination which in 2007 brought $808 million to the local economy and attracted 5.4 million visitors. Home of Kemah Boardwalk, owned/operated by Landry’s.
Gatlinburg / Pigeon ForgeTennesseeGatlinburg, a mountain town in eastern Tennessee, is known as a gateway to the roughly 520,000-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Grand CanyonArizonaArizona’s Grand Canyon is a natural formation distinguished by its layered bands of red rock and its vast scale, averaging 10 miles across and a mile deep along its 277-mile length. In 1905, the Santa Fe Railroad built the extravagant El Tovar Hotel 1905Scenic Wonder
Great Wall of ChinaChina
Gulf ShoresAlabamaOcean fishing, beaches, boating cruises, and especially golf are major draws for the area. Chartered fishing boats and cruise boats for sunsets, dinner cruises, dolphin watching, and watersports embark regularly. Other popular attractions include the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, Pelican Place at Craft Farms, and Waterville USA, a family amusement/waterpark.
Hainan Island, SanyaChinaKnown for tropical climate and beaches.
Hoover Dam / Lake MeadNevada, ArizonaConstruction of Hoover Dam's wall began in 1931 during the Great Depression, and it officially opened in 1936. 1936
HurghadaEgyptRed Sea setting.
Lake Havasu CityArizonaAn active destination for a wide range of people. Home of the old London Bridge, it was bought for US $2.5 million from the City of London when the bridge was replaced in 1968.
Las Vegas Strip
NevadaThe Las Vegas Strip is a stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard South in Clark County, Nevada, internationally known for its concentration of resort hotels and casinos. The first casino to be built on Highway 91 was the Pair-o-Dice Club in 1931, but the first on what is currently the Strip was the El Rancho Vegas (1941) with 63 rooms. Organized crime figures such as New York's Bugsy Siegel took interest in the growing gaming center leading to other resorts such as the Flamingo (1946) and the Desert Inn (1950). 1941Bugsy Siegel
LaughlinNevadaLaughlin is best known for its gaming, entertainment, and water recreation, and is said to be the third most visited casino and resort destination in the state after Las Vegas and Reno. It is one of the top five destinations for American RV enthusiasts1966Don Laughlin
Macauan SAR, ChinaGaming
Mackinac Island
MichiganGrand Hotel. In the late 19th century, Mackinac Island became a popular tourist attraction and summer colony. Much of the island has undergone extensive historical preservation and restoration; as a result, the entire island is listed as a National Historic Landmark. The Grand Hotel opened on Mackinac Island in 1887.1887
Mount HuangChinaAlso known as Huangshan (“Yellow Mountain”).
Myrtle BeachSouth CarolinaThe hub of the Grand Strand, a 60-mile string of beaches. It’s known for its celebrity-designed golf courses and brown-sugar-colored beach. Along its beachfront boardwalk are arcades, souvenir stands and restaurants, as well as the old-fashioned Family Kingdom Amusement Park and the SkyWheel, one of the country’s tallest Ferris wheels. Some 16.1 million people visited Myrtle Beach in 2013, including day-trippers and overnight visitors. In 1881, Burroughs & Collins Company of Conway — predecessor of modern day Burroughs & Chapin Co. — purchases land that would become Myrtle Beach from the Withers family. The area's first post office, Withers post office, opens seven years later in 1888.1881
Napa ValleyCaliforniaNapa Valley is considered one of the premier wine regions in the world. The town of Calistoga is at the north end of the Napa Valley. Wine
New York CityNew YorkEntertainment; Power
Niagara FallsNew YorkScenic Wonder
Ocean City

MarylandOcean City is a resort town in the U.S. state of Maryland between the Atlantic Ocean and Isle of Wight Bay. It features miles of beach and a wooden boardwalk lined with restaurants, shops and hotels.
OdaibaJapan, TokyoArtificial island in Tokyo Bay, started as port and shipyard.1999
Okanagan ValleyCanada, BCA beautiful wine country with its signature Kettle Valley steam train.Wine Country
Old MontrealCanada, Québec
OrlandoFloridaHome to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando, SeaWorld, and scores of additional attractions, resort hotels, restaurants, and recreation activities. 1971Walt Disney
Palm SpringsCaliforniaThe Desert Inn's Hollywood clientele was part of establishing a national reputation. opened by Nellie Coffman in 1909. The Desert Inn was a sanatorium for patients with tuberculous and other respiratory ailments. The first hotel in the area was the Palm Springs Hotel, opened in 1886. The Desert Inn was demolished in 1966.1886
Panama City BeachFloridaPanama City Beach is a waterfront town and vacation destination in northwestern Florida. It's known for miles of sandy beaches fronting the Gulf of Mexico and raucous spring-break parties. Popular theme parks include Gulf World Marine Park, offering swimming with dolphin experiences, and Shipwreck Island Waterpark, featuring waterslides and pools.Pristine Beaches
Port GhalibEgyptRed Sea setting.
Qiddiya Entertainment CityKSA, RiyadhA Saudi Vision 2030 project.TBD
San AntonioTexasKnown for The Alamo, and the San Antonio River Walk. Following the San Antonio River, the miles-long River Walk is a landmark pedestrian promenade lined with cafes and shops.
San DiegoCaliforniaAn array of activities including Sea World theme park.
Sandusky / Lake Erie ShoresOhioHome to Cedar Point amusement park, with associated Castaway Bay Water Park, Challenge Park, and Soak City.
Santa Fe - TaosNew MexicoThe Santa Fe art colony was an art colony in Santa Fe, New Mexico which developed in the early 1900's. Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in North America.
SedonaArizonaSedona is an Arizona desert town near Flagstaff that’s surrounded by red-rock buttes, steep canyon walls and pine forests. It’s noted for its mild climate and vibrant arts community. Uptown Sedona is dense with New Age shops, spas and art galleries.Scenic Wonder
Sharm El-Sheikh, Naama BayEgyptRed Sea setting, known for its sheltered sandy beaches, clear waters and coral reefs.
South DakotaSouth DakotaMount Rushmore, the Black Hills, Crazy Horse Memorial, Badlands, Custer State Park, etc. The sculpting of Mount Rushmore was formerly called complete, in 1941.1933Mount Rushmore
St. AugustineFloridaThe oldest city in the U.S., and is known for its Spanish colonial architecture as well as Atlantic Ocean beaches like sandy St. Augustine Beach and tranquil Crescent Beach.
Sun ValleyIdaho
Taba / Taba Heights, Gulf of AqabaEgypt
Terracotta Army, Xi'anChina
The Bund, ShanghaiChinaThe Bund is situated along the Huangpu River.
The CatskillsNew YorkThe Catskills are well known in American culture, both as the setting for many 19th-century Hudson River School paintings and as the favored destination for urban vacationers from New York City in the mid-20th century. In 1824 a group of businessmen opened the Catskill Mountain House, which some consider to be have been American's first grand resort hotel, in a spectacular location at the top of a ledge about 1,500 feet above the Hudson Valley hamlet of Palenville (New York).Scenic Beauty; Popularized in Literature.
The PoconosPennsylvaniaThe wooded hills and valleys have long been a popular vacation area, with many communities having resort hotels with fishing, hunting, skiing, and other sports facilities. Two of the earliest resorts in the Poconos were opened by Philadelphia Quakers: Inn at Buck Hill Falls (1901) and Pocono Manor (1902). 1901
Traverse CityMichiganThe Traverse City area is the largest producer of tart cherries in the United States. Near the time of cherry harvest, the city hosts the annual week-long National Cherry Festival in the first full week of July.
UlcinjMontenegroKnown for its Old Town, history, and City Beach, and the grand Velika Beach just to the south. Under the new government of Montenegro following Yugolavia's breakup, the resort was among the first assets of Ulcinjska Rivijera.1964
VancouverCanada, BC
Virginia BeachVirginiaThe city is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as having the longest pleasure beach in the world. A 3-mile boardwalk stretches along its beach-lined oceanfront. In the late 19th century, the small resort area of Virginia Beach developed in Princess Anne County after the 1883 arrival of rail service to the coast. 1883Pristine Beaches
Washington, DCDCHistory; Power
West Lake, HangzhouChinaWest Lake is a large freshwater lake, the symbol of Hangzhou.
Wisconsin Dells
WisconsinKnown for its glacially formed gorge that features striking sandstone formation along the bank of the Wisconsin River. The Wisconsin Dells area has more hotel rooms and lodging options than any other destination in the state, at just over 10,000. Not to mention, 20 campgrounds with nearly 3,200 sites. The railroad arrived in 1857. H.H. Bennett’s stop-action photo of his son Ashley leaping to Stand Rock occurred in 1886. Ducks, the army surplus land and water vehicles, were first brought into Lake Delton by Mel Flath in 1946. Scenic Wonder
YanbuSaudi ArabiaRed Sea setting.
Yellowstone National ParkWyomingYellowstone National Park is a nearly 3,500-sq.-mile wilderness recreation area atop a volcanic hot spot. Mostly in Wyoming, the park also spreads into parts of Montana and Idaho. 1872Scenic Wonder
Yosemite National ParkCaliforniaThe national park is set within California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s famed for its giant, ancient sequoias, and for Tunnel View, the iconic vista of towering Bridalveil Fall and the granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome. 1890Scenic Wonder
Zhangjiajie National Forest ParkChinaThe first national forest park in China (established 1982) and is part of the Wulingyuan Scenic Areas.1982

Regional Visitor Destinations

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