When I joined two area tourism commissions to brainstorm ways to facilitate richer, more compelling interactions and experiences for tourists coming to Acadiana, what everyone wanted was something new. They imagined that technology would solve their problems, and for a while they locked onto the newest device in museum exhibit design, the visiguide, which is essentially a highly-customized handheld computer. Bu what I heard Gerald Breaux describe to us as he imagined a future was the frustration he had with the past and its collection of one-off products — films, kiosks, brochures — that lined the shelves of his closets and was either outdated or unusable for a variety of reasons — some of which had to do with the fact that he didn’t have permission to pull apart a film he had in fact paid for.
As I sat and listened to Gerald talk, I imagined an ideal arrangement in which humanities scholars — faculty and students — would engage in field research whose contents would be of a nature — as good textual descriptions and narrations, as high-quality audio, video, and images — as to be immediately usable in various commodities meant for tourists: audio CDs (for driving tours), CD-ROMs, DVDs, on-line web pages, print-on-demand booklets, maps, and guides, among other possibilities.
Gerald Breaux got it, and funded a first iteration that led to a maintenance grant overseen by another faculty member. The first time around, I ended up calling the project Rich the First Time: A Media Infrastructure for Tourism. The text below is what the proposal looked like:
The Center for Louisiana Studies/ Center for Cultural and Eco-Tourism propose a multi-platform media infrastructure for delivering interpretive information to an underdeveloped portion of the tourism market. By taking advantage of evolving information technologies, this flexible system is designed:
- to meet the need for new forms of interpretive materials among visitors to this region and,
- to add value to the unique tourism assets of communities and businesses presently struggling to attract visitors.
To enhance the quality and variety of tourism experiences offered in the Lafayette area and to meet the growing demand among tourists for unconventional encounters with distinctive places, peoples, cultures, communities, heritage, and history.
Without an interpretive infrastructure to meet this demand, many of our greatest assets are never matched with the tourists who value them most. Over the years, Louisiana has worked successfully to strengthen and sustain its conventional tourism infrastructure, such as museums, parks, restaurants, and visitor centers. At the same time, however, we have also witnessed the tremendous expansion of a tourism market sector interested in a decidedly different kind of experience. This market brings to Louisiana visitors seeking firsthand:
- a unique and authentic sense of place, often in remote locations;
- a more, independent self-guided interaction with their surroundings;
- a sense of active discovery in a place, instead of a passive display;
- a ready access to the smaller stories that give real texture to a place and its people;
- an experience scaled to suit the visiting individual or family (typically in their own automobile), rather than a guided group;
- a means of learning and experiencing whereby a visitor can pursue those topics that interest him most, and in as much depth as he desires.
In general, Louisiana’s traditional tourism infrastructure is quite familiar and accessible to visitors and, within its own scope, it succeeds. But for that growing portion of the tourism market seeking the more unconventional experiences found in folk culture, for instance, or in remote rural environments, visitors often do not have the resources and tools they need to find what they are looking for. Conversely, local communities and businesses that can offer such experiences to visitors do not have a ready means of attracting and engaging them.
In short, many of our greatest cultural and historical assets are never shared with the visitors who value them most.
Apply the unparalleled resources of the CLS to develop focused, structured interpretations of this region, delivered through multiple media platforms and designed to satisfy the demand for both conventional and unconventional tourism experiences. Such a strategy would rely on the effective use of advances in information technology. (See “Developing a Tourism Media Infrastructure.”)
Good tourism depends on good information. The information that Lafayette provides to visitors works to structure and guide their interpretation of the people, places, and things that make this area worth visiting. But equally important is how that interpretive information is mediated and delivered.
In the case of our own local cultures and histories, the issue is not necessarily a lack of documentation. Rather, it’s a matter of getting that information into the hands of tourists in a way that satisfies their demands, as those demands arise. (Think of this as just-in-time inventory control for interpretive information.) Traditional vehicles for this kind of information delivery have included:
- Historical markers
- Driving tour guides
- Video kiosks at fixed locations
We are not suggesting that any of these be abandoned. Far from it, there is a generous supply of tourists for whom these forms satisfy all their needs.
Instead, we are suggesting that the LCVC take advantage of advances in information technology to develop a wider portfolio of interpretive materials, well-researched and professionally produced, that can be delivered on multiple media platforms and serve multiple functions-that is, one input with multiple outputs. Designed to for maximum adaptability, this model is something we call Rich Structured Data (RSD).
With an emphasis on those tourists most interested in a self-guided, interactive experience of the region, those RSD outputs could include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Downloadable or streaming MP3’s (“podcasts”)
Image (stills and video)
- DVDs (linear as well as interactive)
- VisiGuide handheld computers
- Video clips and stills, for download or streaming
Interactive (blending text, audio, and image)
- Interactive CD-ROMs
- Internet (conventional and wireless)
- VisiGuide handheld computers (with or without GPS features)
Guided by LCVC, the CLS project team designs and executes a series of focused, structured tourism experiences. The CLS is capable of providing three tiers of service in executing these projects.
Tier One: Survey
- CLS inventories and catalogues extant historical, cultural, and ecological resources with potential value for tourism.
- Independently, the LCVC team works to identify market needs, with assistance from CLS-provided consultant.
Tier Two: Asset Acquisition and Assembly
- A group composed of both LCVC personnel and the CLS project team decides on three tours/experiences to be developed.
- The CLS project team researches, collects, and produces the necessary content, formatted to suit the Rich Structured Data model. Content would consist of text, images, audio recordings, and video recordings, catalogued and organized into a database ready for production. Content is then configured for multiple output platforms. The model allows for the adaptation, updating, and reconfiguration of content as necessary.*
###Tier Three: Structured Outputting
CLS conducts post-production structuring and assembly of digital assets for the desired output
platform, ready for uploading to the target medium.
- Project Director: Oversee all three field teams and coordinate production personnel to maximize their time spent in the field. 10 hours. $65/hr. ($650)
- Senior Field Team Leader: Design and develop research and writing particular to the tour-experience specifications. Establish schedule for production personnel. 40 hours. $65/hr. ($2600)
- Junior Field Team Member: Research and write tour-experience details, prepare shooting script for any production necessary, and crew productions. 120 hours. $32.50/hr. ($3900)
- Field Production Personnel: Produce publication quality audio, still, and video materials for use in tourism products. 40 hours. $130/hr. ($5200)
- Subtotal: $12350.00
- Contingency (15%): $1852.50
- Total: $14202.50
Usage fees and rights to be determined.
(VERSION: 2005-10-01. Original author: John Laudun. Revision authors: John Laudun and Charles Richard.)