New Bedford celebrates destination distinction

By Steve Urbon
NEW BEDFORD New Bedford, Paducah, Ky., and Eureka, Calif., now have something in common: They’re being held up as examples for the rest of America on how to take local culture and history and turn it into an economic engine, a tourist draw, and a vibrant, one-of-a-kind community.
The three cities are among the 12 selected this year in the “Distinctive Destinations” competition run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Word of the award drew about 75 people to the New Bedford Whaling Museum Tuesday morning for an hour of mutual congratulation, songs from Candida Rose and a big continental breakfast spread.
The city will use the slogan “Not Just Anywhere” to promote the designation. The phrase is the title of a 1995 book by Marsha McCabe and Joseph Thomas of Spinner Publications, telling the story of the rescue of the city’s waterfront district.
Rebecca Williams of the trust’s Northeast office in Boston told the audience that culture and heritage tourists spend, on average, $994 on their vacations while traditional tourists spend $611. Those figures arose in a 2009 survey by a research firm and are widely quoted by tourism promoters.
Williams didn’t get to make her remarks, though, before Mayor Scott Lang sprung a challenge on her: Read the first three paragraphs of Chapter 3 of “Moby-Dick,” “The Spouter Inn.” She rose to the task and drew a round of applause.
A skeptic commented on the trust’s website that American tourists prefer tacky and overpriced vacation spots such as Las Vegas and Orlando. But a tour through the contest’s website demonstrates that small-scale cities can and do leverage their history and culture for a unique and fun experience.
Lang said that with the help of various organizations, the National Park Service and city government, New Bedford has a “confident tone. We know we’re on the right track.”
State Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, himself an immigrant, said of New Bedford: “Most of us know that this is a distinctive destination. We knew that close to 200 years ago.”
The new designation, he said, “is a confirmation of what we live every day.”
Jennifer Nersesian, superintendent of the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, told of how she has “fallen in love with New Bedford. Our history is who we are today. This is the country’s first truly international city.”
The announcement of the winners drew a story in USA Today, and now a monthlong promotion begins as the cities urge people to vote for them daily in an online poll at Visitors to that website can view summaries of the winners, along with photos and videos.
The other winners are: Alexandria, Va.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Dandridge, Tenn.; Eureka, Calif.; Muskogee, Okla.; Paducah, Ken.; Saint Paul, Minn.; San Angelo, Texas; Sheridan, Wyo., and Sonoma, Calif.
February 16, 2011 12:00 AM
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