City Seeks Tourist Dollars, Museum Seeks New Audience

City Seeks Tourist Dollars, Provides Museum with New Audience

Recently the Press & Sun Bulletin of Binghamton, NY reported that the Roberson Museum and Science Center is partnering with the city to attract Chinese tourism. Binghamton’s location on the highway between Niagara Falls and the New York City makes it an ideal way-point.   The Roberson contains a museum, planetarium, and historic mansion. With translation assistance from volunteers and interns from Binghamton University (BU), tours of the mansion will be available in Mandarin, as will a section of the museum’s website. 1 The program is still in its infancy, and its success is still uncertain. Through its connection with BU’s international students, the Roberson has the opportunity to further its mission of engaging “people of all ages and backgrounds” in its present community while it works with the city to welcome international visitors into that community.2

Though I believe this example is an opportunity for growth, it raises some broader questions:

Do programs that target tourist groups risk viewing people as numbers rather than visitors?

What can a museum do to avoid this and make travelers truly welcome?

Is it appropriate for a city to ask a museum for help attracting money like this?

Sources:

1 Steven Howe. “Binghamton Eyes Boost for Chinese Tourism” Press & Sun-Bulletin. September 15, 2014. http://www.pressconnects.com/story/news/local/2014/09/12/binghamton-seeks-chinese-tourism/15516377/.

2 “Home” Roberson.org. Accessed September 19, 2014. http://www.roberson.org/.

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6 Responses to City Seeks Tourist Dollars, Museum Seeks New Audience

  1. gretchensorin says:

    In partnering with the Chinese tourists I wonder if they have asked them what interests them about the mansion or the museum or if they just assume that they are interesting?

  2. wagnmw says:

    I wonder why Birmingham chose to focus with one group of tourist. If they are in an area where they are in between major sites, wouldn’t they be receiving all kinds of visitors. The article leads me to believe this project was completely rushed in the preparation. I am curious to what kind of surveys they have done to see what visitors they receive.

    In order to avoid making this issue about number and being appealing to all group, couldn’t the city choose to focus on multiple groups? Sure that would mean a higher one time cost but what if in 10 years, we have a huge conflict with the Chinese. All this work the city had done would be useless. Not only that, we leave a global world. Would we be good neighbors by only focusing on one group? Probably not.

    Also what would mansion have to change in the tour? Would they have to add exhibit labels written in Chinese? I am curious about the questions Gretchen has asked.

  3. emilykp47 says:

    I wonder why they chose to focus on Chinese tourists. Does Binghamton get a lot of visitors who speak Mandarin? In order for this to be successful, the museum staff really need to find out what visitors want to see and do, not just assume that by including information in Mandarin, the visitors will automatically come. How will they market themselves to these new potential visitors?
    I do like that they are involving international students, though. That seems like a good first step.

  4. cgpkimberlyrose says:

    Like many upstate New York communities, Binghamton is struggling financially and tourism is seen as a form of economic development. According the Press & Sun Bulletin article, the Chinese tourism industry is worth 102 billion dollars. The city also intends to bring local businesses into this campaign, which is still in development. For them, it’s really all about money, but I get the impression the state is pushing Chinese tourism too. The state’s Division of Tourism is providing resources and conferences to help Binghamton determine what these visitors are interested in and how to market local attractions. The Division of Tourism has offices in both Shanghai and Beijing. You can find more details in the article.

    I cannot remember whether or not there is signage in the mansion portion of the museum. The mansion tours are not self-serve, they have someone leading them. When the mandarin tours begin, my guess is that someone fluent in the language would lead them. I have not visited recently, so I don’t know what changes they may have made to the general format.

  5. I would like to know whether they are incorporating culture and collection objects from diverse backgrounds into their exhibits? It is one thing to translate exhibits in a group’s predominant language like Mandarin, but if the Roberson does not represent or reflect the ideas or interests of the people they are trying to appeal to than they might not be able to keep their visitors. Museums provide a lens into a new culture and the perceptions groups of people have about history from different perspectives so the museum should find topics and objects that the people from their targeted tourist group will find interesting.

    On the other hand, the Roberson museum should really try to bring in people from different backgrounds such as other ethnic groups, museums that fail to bring in visitors from different ethnic, cultural, economic, or political groups are actually not being welcoming to diversity in their audiences. Targeting a specific group may not bring them success in widening their audiences.

  6. In response to the question as to whether this type of marketing makes us see people as numbers instead of people I would say Kimberly’s response to others says a lot. They say that “Chinese tourism industry is worth 102 billion dollars”. This speaks to the money aspect of it and I think takes some of the personalization out of the effort. It is important to incorporate the needs of the group, and ensure they feel welcome. I worry that they have looked for the group that will bring the most money and focused their sights there. I am not sure they have adequately addressed the issues that arise when you specify one group. I’m not saying that this won’t open doors and expand their audience, but I think more research needs to be done first.

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