Friday, July 13, 2012

An Open Letter to Travel Writers Documenting Cincinnati

For those of you reading this who are not in Cincinnati, the Queen City is currently wrapping up hosting the World Choir Games. It's proven to be a grand opportunity for this city to showcase itself to groups from all across the world, and thankfully the first phase of The Banks project, the new Smalle Park along the riverfront and the Washington Park renovation were completed before our international visitors arrived. With our city putting its best foot forward this past week, naturally we've attracted a few travel writers as well. To those travel writers who are visiting, I have one simple request for you:

Please don't be like Vanity Fair contributing editor A. A. Gill.

Back in 2010, Gill paid Cincinnati a visit to write an article about our rather regrettable local attraction, The Creation Museum. As religious themed attractions go, it's not the one I'd personally direct visitors to. I'd rather show them St. Peter in Chains cathedral, the Holy Cross-Immaculata church in Mt. Adams, or the Touchdown Jesus off I-75 (or at least I would if it hadn't been struck by lightning and burned to the ground.) Alas, the purpose of his article was to highlight the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of the Species, and the 201st birthday of Charles Darwin, and so a visit to the Creation Museum made sense.

He devotes one paragraph to his time spent in Cincinnati before venturing twenty miles south of the Ohio River to the Creation Museum, and in that single paragraph he managed to pack in the most condescending impression of Cincinnati I've ever read. He describes Cincinnati as a city whose citizens have little to boast about, aside from a little optician's shop that makes glasses in an hour. (Why this stood out for him at all is beyond me, as I'm sure that in New York, they have LensCrafters.)

That was it. That was the best he could come up with to describe Cincinnati to others: as a city of nothing noteworthy, except maybe for one bloody optician's shop. Keep in mind that Gill's article came out months after the New York Times wrote about how to experience as much of the city as possible in 36 hours, an article which barely scratched the surface of things to do in town.

Now I'm not expecting every travel writer who comes to Cincinnati to write glowing reviews about it. The downtown nightlife and restaurants may be great, but the shopping experience leaves much to be desired. Getting around the city outside of downtown isn't exactly easy to do if you're not from here and don't have a car.

Hell, even I'll admit I can't quite imagine people wanting to visit Cincinnati if not for business, or to see friends or family. One time I found myself flirting with a bartender in London and talking about my hometown, which prompted her to say, "Maybe I should visit there sometime."Without thinking, I responded, "Really? For your first trip to America you want to visit Cincinnati?"

No disrespect to my city, but it's not exactly like we're an international travel destination. It'd be the equivalent of visiting England for your first time and deciding to see Liverpool or Manchester over London. You'll certainly get a better idea of what everyday life for an American is by visiting Cincinnati, but the casual tourist spending thousands of dollars to visit America might have a more exciting time visiting a city like New York, Chicago or New Orleans if it's their first trip.

That being said, there's still many positive things to be said about Cincinnati, such as our architecture, our food (which is worth bragging about, internationally), and our museums (the real ones, not counting the Creation Museum). We've got a top-notch zoo, fantastic theatre options, and our little Midpoint Music Festival keeps getting bigger and bigger every year. Even in terms of non-touristy things, we have much to boast about. Good luck trying to make it through your day without laying hands on even one product by Cincinnati's own Procter & Gamble.

With each passing year, our downtown has taken major strides to becoming more and more attractive to visitors, such as the participants of the World Choir Games. What's been great about the games is that the people in charge of them have made a point of showing participants as much of the Greater Cincinnati area as possible. All week long I've practically been tripping over visitors everywhere I go. Hopefully when they return to their home countries, we'll have given them plenty of good things to talk about.

My request to the professional travel writers who have visited Cincinnati this past week is to be honest. We may not be as fancy as New York, or London, or whatever major cities you come from, but we really have rolled out the red carpet for our visitors this week. When you write about us, talk about the things you found lacking as much as you talk about the things that impressed you. Just don't write that we have nothing to boast about.

1 comment:

  1. A.A. Gill is a known troll. We fed the troll so hard, though, that I was almost more embarrassed by our sheep-like backlash than by his characterization.

    That said, it bears mentioning that, like all trolls, A.A. Gill is also a known idiot.