Early-bird registration for Santa Fe's International Conference on Creative Tourism began in May and lasts until July 15. Registering early for the five-day conference means a price of $490 versus $575. Either way, it's a committed entry fee for investigating Santa Fe's most significant embrace of its inclusion in the UNESCO Creative Cities program.
I keep visiting the Web site (
), which calls the event "A Global Conversation," and trying to put my finger on what feels wrong. Sometimes I'm a little slow on the uptake and it takes a note from the ether to clue me in. An e-mail from a respected Santa Fean, who'd best remain anonymous in this situation, puts it bluntly: "I cannot imagine how they managed to find such an undistinguished list of white male wankers." Ouch.
In all fairness, one of the 12 key speakers is a woman and another is Native American. And, for what it's worth, I don't happen to think Jack Loeffler is a wanker and former Utne Reader editor Jay Walljasper, for example, seems pretty darned distinguished. But that still leaves an overwhelming preponderance of white dudes with a debatable span of respectability - and wankerness - to have this so-called global conversation. True, they will be coming from various parts of the world, but the lackluster and homogenous list appears to reinforce a kind of status quo dynamic in which the cute little brown people of the world are meant to create "authenticity," via handicrafts, food and ritual, and the over-educated white people are meant to pontificate and profit.
Curious about the core purpose of the conference and the decision-making process that led to the selection of speakers, I called Recursos de Santa Fe. The venerable literary and symposium-arranging organization is coordinating the conference. My call was returned by Steve Lewis, spokesperson for the Convention and Visitor's Bureau. Lewis says that Recursos took a look at who's making a difference in terms of creativity and in terms of tourism and maybe even in terms of "creative tourism," and picked those people. Asked if he finds the list of speakers a bit weighty with pasty men with deep roots in Western civilization, Lewis says he does.
"But some of these guys - literally now that you mention it - are the de facto fathers of creative tourism. They are logical people to have and I think they've just proven themselves as resources, so it's not to the exclusion of anybody else."
Obviously, it's reasonable to include key players in the field but, having not been a part of the selection process, Lewis is unable to speak to why a more diverse selection was not included, even if diversity wasn't intentionally excluded. But he is clear that the conference is intended to help communities understand creative tourism and implement aspects of it into their own communities. Creative tourism, in as much as it may be understood in advance of the conference, is apparently destination travel in which tourists seek out active ways to interact with creative activities, authentic regional cultural experiences and, in general, to vacation in more immersive, educational and anthropological ways than your average sunbather or looky-loo.
Santa Fe is claiming some expertise in the field, given its UNESCO designation as the first US city to be included in the creative cities program. While it makes good sense to invite representatives from other such cities here to compare notes and strategize, I've got to wonder if selling off the high points of our competitive advantage in this niche tourism market for a few hundred bucks is a very clever idea.
Expensive and nicely bound studies demonstrate that Santa Fe is losing market share in this arena already and, while I'm ordinarily a fan of the open source approach, it appears dubious to risk continuing this trend.
The Creative Cities Summit 2.0, occurring in Detroit, Mich., a competitive two weeks after the Santa Fe conference, is attempting to lure "communities that are integrating innovation, social entrepreneurship, arts and culture and business to make vibrant economies." There is no word yet on the diversity of the summit's keynote speakers and it appears to be less organized than Santa Fe, but arguably more hip: There's no real information on its Web site, but its Web site is a Facebook page with hundreds of friends. Lewis says the Santa Fe event will hopefully bring in 200 to 250 conference attendees, as the first major event in the new convention center, but said registration was "not robust at this point."
With belts tightening at state and municipal levels, just as they are in private households, income is more critical than ever, but tourists are less likely to spend freely.
If Santa Fe fails to pull in sufficient funds from creative tourists, or creative tourism professionals, it will increasingly need to rely on revenue gimmicks like the currently favored traffic light cameras, which automatically catch red light offenders. It's true that dangerous intersections need enforcement: that's where most accidents occur. Apparently police don't patrol intersections because they are busy with speeders, a less dangerous, but higher-revenue-producing enforcement strategy. So far, every conversation about the cameras has centered on revenue, with safety as a side point. (The other subplot in support of red light cameras is the idea that cops lose time dealing with accidents. Lose time? Funny, I thought it was their job.)
Here's a creative suggestion for tourists who get snapped running reds on vacation: When a picture of yourself breaking the law shows up in the mail, send back a photograph of yourself paying the fine.