Garden Tourism Conference, Part 1

Who knows how many parts this Garden Tourism blog series may be? I’ll try to keep it simple, and brief, but there was a lot of information packed into the two-day North American Garden Tourism Conference in Toronto last month.

To recap his presentation from 2013, he did a quick review
of the garden tourism trends from that presentation
and how they held up, which formed the basis of much of his talk.

Garden Walk Buffalo Niagara (GWBN), the Buffalo Niagara region’s garden experience and tourism group was kind enough to sponsor my trip to the Conference. So this series of blog posts is my report to them, and, as GWBN is a public benefit corporation, it is my report to the public.

I had attended this biennial conference in 2013 and enjoyed what presentations I saw immensely. In fact, I gave a presentation along with Buffalo News columnist and Channel 4 garden personality Sally Cunningham; along with Ed Healy, VP Marketing of our visitors bureau, Visit Buffalo Niagara. We met many people involved in garden tourism from around the world – and found where we fit within that garden tourism world. The good news is, we’re proactive, innovative, and definitely on the right track. There is no bad news.

This year’s conference theme was Gardens and Tourism: Making a Difference. More than 100 delegates from 11 countries were in attendance.

He has accumulated much valuable research from a variety of
international resources over the years, including this fairly recent survey
from Great Britain. Garden visiting is a #3 desire after “Going to the Pub”
and “Shopping”! Desire to see gardens exceeds desire to see museums,
art galleries and historic sites. Most surprisingly than even all that (to me) –
the median age was only 39 in this survey.

A welcome and opening remarks were by Harry Jongerden Executive Director, Toronto Botanical Garden & Chair, Ontario Garden Tourism Coalition; Michel Gauthier, the Conference’s Chair; Casey Sclar, Executive Director, American Public Gardens Association; and Terry Caddo, Executive Director, Canada Blooms. Moderators for this day’s discussions were Alexander Reford, Director, Jardins de Métis; Chair, Canadian Garden Council; President, Quebec Gardens Association; and Beth Potter, President & COE, Tourism Industry Association of Ontario.

First up, and subject of this post alone, was keynote speaker Dr. Richard Benfield, Professor of Geography, Connecticut State University; author of the book Garden Tourism; and Chair, International Garden Tourism Network. His topic title? How Gardens are Making a Difference in the World of Tourism.

Reaching audiences is a known quantity,
but spurring action by garden visits is harder to quantify.

I have some individual slides here from his presentation. Richard, being a fast talker, showed 188 slides in 45 minutes working at a breakneck speed that no other could match. Having his slides available after the event is invaluable. I told him that I’d have had to tape his talk and play it at slow speed to actually grasp everything covered.

I wrote notes during the lecture, which I’ve combined here with a few slides from his presentation. It’s difficult to distill such a fast-paced presentation into a blog post! Don’t worry, future blog posts on this topic will be shorter. And I’ll end it with a trip to a spectacular botanical garden/park in Mexico with prettier pictures.

Disclaimer: Richard’s a friend and has stayed overnight a few times at my place here in Buffalo, and I wrote a book jacket testimonial for his book. He’s visited Garden Walk Buffalo (America’s largest garden tour) often, and is a promoter and advocate for it nationwide. He’s smart, and charming, and there’s no one that thinks he is funnier than he thinks he is.

It’s even harder to quantify visitation when it comes to social media, though social media (blogs like Garden Rant were mentioned) are an ever-increasing method of garden learning – including learning what gardens are worth visiting.

Hamilton Gardens in New Zealand was singled out as a successful example of a botanical garden attracting more visitors (more than 1 million) than any other New Zealand tourist attraction, including Hobbiton, the movie set village from The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
South Africa’s Kirstenbosch Gardens new attraction, the Boomslang tree canopy walk catapulted visitation and ticket sales to new levels, and increased the Gardens’ standing in area attractions – further proof that new and different garden experiences are important and vital for continued growth and success. Richard’s point? Gardens don’t change up the experience often enough, and dramatic results happen when we do.
Regional garden tourism networks and entities are on the rise to capitalize on horticultural asserts. Many garden trails, maps and co-marketing efforts were featured, including the new website,  DC Gardens, and the Philadelphia area’s “America’s Garden Capital” with a 30 gardens in 30 miles promotion.
Richard finds that garden tourism is similar to, and sometimes related to other tourism segments. He suggests that garden tourism professionals may want to visit how art galleries/museums market to their audiences.
Economic impact is an important tool in determining a garden’s importance in a region’s long list of tourism attractions. Here the Dallas Arboretum carefully tracks and interprets economic impact information.
Closer to home, Richard covers some Canadian research on American garden visitors.
Garden tourism ranks among the top three activities for travelers.
More people visit gardens each year than Disney World and Disneyland combined. That’s more than visit Las Vegas. Tourism research shows that people embark on leisure travel planning with these considerations in mind, in this order: Destination, Distance, Budget, Transportation, Accommodations, and then, finally, Activities.

Gardens have an intrinsic ability to attract all five senses. Capitalizing in this ability is, and will be a key factor in not only attraction visitors, but also in holding a garden visit in a visitors’ memory.

More research and education is needed (according to the educator/researcher!) to justify garden tourism within the industry, as well as to tourism professionals. With 78 million visits a year, it is a tourism sector rivaled by few others.

I have a long-time garden blog, a popular garden on America's largest garden tour, and have co-written a book on garden design titled, "Buffalo-Style Gardens: Create a Quirky, One-of-a-Kind Private Garden with Eye-Catching Designs" When I'm not doing all that, I am an advertising designer always out looking to design things to promote your business. Look me up at #jcharlier.

0 comments on “Garden Tourism Conference, Part 1

  1. I have visited most gardens in the Philadelphia region and while they have some of the splashiest gardens around, I don't consider them the capital. Since I am originally from there, you would think I would promote them more, but find the Buffalo gardens the capital of gardens in the NE. As for New Zealand and South Africa, the intrigue there is the place, not necessarily the gardens. Look at those views. I have a post coming up on garden – sense of place, and both those views are all about sense of place. When in places having commanding views, visitors look less at the flowers and trees individually and more as a collective. “New and different garden experiences” is important and often seen in the Philadelphia gardens listed, the examples he cited are all about the place and those extended views. Just MHO….


  2. This comment has been removed by the author.


  3. Donna,Well, whomever says it first sort of owns it. If the Philly area is claiming to be the “Garden Capital” and putting $$ behind marketing it that way, it's hard to argue. And the title, as nebulous as it is, goes to them. Only visitors will determine if the claim is overreaching. Maybe we should look at doing more marketing down that way for Buffalo! Especially if the locals are predisposed to garden-looking and are looking for something new!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: