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Are We There Yet?

Places to go, people to see and souvenirs to buy

Consumers enjoy collecting proof they've "been there and done that"--that's why there's a gift shop at the top of the Empire State Building and poised cameras capturing terrified expressions on the last dip of every famous roller coaster. And with the strong economy putting more vacationers on the highway, researchers have tallied Americans spending $1.17 billion on souvenirs and novelties in the past year, a 20 percent increase from the year before. Americans' love for regionally flavored items, in particular, gives entrepreneurs the chance to counteract the homogeny of huge corporate retail outlets.

"When people travel, they really want to experience the regional flavor of particular places," says Pam Danziger, president and CEO of Unity Marketing in Stevens, Pennsylvania. "But today, if you go down any superhighway in the country, it's as though you could be anywhere because the malls and stores are all the same."

Assuming consumers also eschew this monotony, Danziger sees great potential for businesses that create gifts offering some regional flavor. "Small businesses can, in fact, compete very effectively if they bring that sense of local or historical flavor [to their businesses]," she says. "Here at the end of the millennium, it's time for us to look back on our history and realize there's an awful lot we can learn from tapping into that historical heritage, and people want to do that when they travel."

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This article was originally published in the January 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Are We There Yet?.

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