We’re used to seeing expiration dates on food and medicine bottles, but is generational nostalgia for certain heritage attractions something that can also go stale?
Seems like the mythic Route 66 is one of them. In a 2011 study, a team from the Rutgers Center for Urban Policy Research headed by David Listokin, documented just how passé the 2400-mile-long heritage attraction has become.
According to the study, a survey of Route 66 travelers indicated that they are 97% white and non-Hispanic, have a median age of 55 (in fact, almost half were 60 or over). Only 11% of the visitors were in the 20-39 demographic group.
So if Route 66 is a thoroughly baby boomer heritage attraction, what will happen to its economic sustainability and thus physical conservation when the traveling days of baby boomers come to an end?
It’s a problem of obvious concern to the proprietors of the hundreds of kitschy, quirky roadside attractions that line America’s “Mother Road” from Chicago to Santa Monica.
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One of these entrepreneurs, recently featured in a recent LA Times story, is Kumar Patel, manager of the family-owned Wigwam Motel in San Bernadino, California. There were once 7 “Wigwam Villages” built across the country between 1930 and 1949, with individual accommodations in the form of “teepees,” meant to lure vacationers to stay overnight at these roadside novelties.
But today’s Gen Xers (born c. 1965-1985) and Millennials (born c. 1985-2005) don’t seem to find resonance in the romance of the outdated, politically incorrect, and stereotyped landmarks of the open road.
Kumar Patel is one of the spokespersons for making the charms of Route 66 more attractive to younger travelers.
He’s organized “Indian Summer” hip-hop festivals at his Wigwam Motel and decorates the teepees as Christmas Trees in December. All this to create a sense of the weird and unique, rather than the nostalgic. The jury is still out whether this marketing strategy will work.
And it also brings up a big question about the inevitable transformation of heritage authenticity as generations change. At what point does literal preservation have to give way to new values? Do hip-hop, DJ strobe lights, and seasonal celebrations irreversibly change classic 20th century heritage into 21st century hipster culture? And does that matter at all?