Will millennials ruin Wild West tourist towns like Tombstone?

Street actors and tourists roam the streets of Tombstone, AZ outside the Historama
(Photo by Alexa Morelli)

Tombstone could face some trouble over the next few years as Wild West loving generations age out and millennials take over.

Millennials don’t enjoy the same activities as their parents and grandparents once did, and Wild West culture is an example of that.  Tombstone lacks the technological advances that younger generations crave in order to spend their time and money there.  The town’s website isn’t flashy, its social media presence is lacking and the town lacks a strong WiFi connection for millennials to use cell phones that has emerged as a staple item for young adults.

But will all that change as Tombstone puts more work into marketing to these younger generations?

Glenn Schlottman is the chief of marketing for Arizona State Parks. And while only the courthouse in Tombstone is listed as a state park, his goal is to market the entire community, not just one landmark.

Schlottman has a lot of plans for Tombstone’s marketing future and many of these are centered on reaching more millennials and getting them to town.  “We have put a new focus on millennials.  They seem to really love the outdoors and exploring.  So we try to reach them through various forms of social media,” Schlottman said.

“Tombstone is a high priority for us right now.  Tombstone is a special case because of everything the community has to offer,” Schlottman said.  

An important part of Tombstone’s marketing is their website.  This is especially important to millennials.   “Tombstone’s website and internet presence seems to be very outdated.  I think that makes it difficult for millennials to want to make a trip there,” said Kailey Wilde, millennial and communications major at UA.

Schlottman also said this is a priority for them.  The new AZ State Parks website, AZStateParks.com, was launched in January. 

“The future of Tombstone’s website is a high priority for us because we want it to be easier to use and more accessible to young people,” Schlottman said. 

Millennial and University of Arizona retail and consumer science student, Michael Martin, said “It is very hard to convince me to go somewhere because it is such a commitment with time and money.  There has to be a good night life and nice places to eat.” 

Millennials see, millennial do.  This all starts with the right kind of marketing for this age group.  Martin’s suggestion for Tombstone is “an Instagram page that shows all the places to go and things to do in the town.  It would be pretty useful as long as it is done professionally.”

Tombstone does not have its own Instagram page, but it does have a strong presence on Facebook.  Its Facebook page has over 20,000 followers, professional photographs, and a list of everything the town has to offer.  AZ State Parks has an Instagram page that is ran by their marketing team and is aimed to promote Tombstone. As of now, the page has just over 7,000 followers. 

John Denker, senior director of marketing at the University of Arizona, has some ideas on how Tombstone can better market to millennials as well. 

“The first thing you have to do is your research,” Denker said.  “The culture of millennials, what drives them, understanding how they consume information.  You need to understand what unique traits Tombstone can bring to millennials and how to best market these things and where to advertise them.”

Through hiring outside marketing-research companies who specialize in internet advertising and reaching people of all ages, the Chamber has learned a lot about bringing in more people of various ages.  

“We really take advantage of the internet,” said Kenn Barrett, volunteer at the Chamber.  “Young people don’t know names like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.  They did not grow up watching Westerns and they do not know the history of the town.

“Young people who do visit Tombstone usually check us out on the internet first.  That’s how we get them here. Then, once they get here, there is plenty for them to do.  Tombstone is the only place you can go and dress up and become part of the show.  Anyone can step into the town and feel like they’ve gone back in time.”

As young people arrive in Tombstone, locals are eager to help them find what they are looking for and something that they will enjoy doing.

“When young people come into my business I’ll ask them what they are interested in and point them in the right direction,” Owner of Big Iron Shooting Gallery Heather Davis said.  

Davis also said that her shop which is licensed to sell ammunition, and allows people to shoot Old West style weapons, is a popular spot for young people. 

“They come to shoot the guns and to buy ammunition if they are gun owners,” she said.

Millennials said that one of the main activities that would attract them to a tourism town like Tombstone is an active bar scene. While Davis agreed that that many of the bars/saloons in Tombstone have an older crowd, she also said, “There is that over 21 crowd of young people in town who frequent the bars on the weekends.”

Tombstone is home to over 10 different drinking establishments/saloons.  The only issue with the bars in Tombstone may stem from young people’s lack of interest in Wild West culture and the “old-timey” feeling of these bars.

A suggestion for the Tombstone bar scene comes from another Wild West town, Sheridan, Wyoming.

Sheridan is another Old West town with rich history and a lot to offer centered around their past.  The town is over 200 years old and was once filled with cowboys and cowgirls from all over.  A man named, “Buffalo Bill” Cody, helped put the town on the map in the early 1900’s.  He held tryouts for his Wild West Show in the Sheridan Inn, which eventually became known world wide.  But Sheridan has adapted and modernized over the past few years in order to attract a younger audience.

Max Brown, Sheridan Visitors Center employee, said, “In our town there are two things that attract young people the most: outdoor activities and craft beer,” said Max Brown, a Sheridan Visitors Center employee.

“Historically we did not attract as many young people as we do now.  What helped us with that are the new micro-breweries that have been popping up around town.  They bring in young employees as well as young customers.  They also put on various events that attract young people,” Brown went on.

As of 2016, Tombstone has become home to one micro-brewery and that is Tombstone Brewing Company.  This establishment has beers only available to the area.  And as its popularity grows with time, so will the presence of millennials.  The business has a strong internet presence and a 5 star rating on Yelp, a website and app that is used by people of all ages, but especially young people (according to Yelp’s data records, 40.5 percent of it’s users are 18-34 year olds) in order to decide where they are going to visit.  The establishment also has an Instagram and a Facebook page.

Tombstone Mayor Dusty Escapule said that they town’s biggest problem with appealing to millennials is not its lack of activity offerings.

“We have a lot of activities great for young people in Tombstone,” Escapule said.  “It’s just a matter of what they like to do and someone will be able to point them in the right direction.”

The Tombstone Chamber of Commerce is hoping to point them in that direction. It is working on more internet and social media advertising and has hired outside organizations to handle Tombstone’s website and existing social media.

Something else Kenn Barrett, Chamber of Commerce volunteer, mentioned was a dream he has for Tombstone’s future.  

“I would like to see the resurgence of Western TV shows and movies.  We rely on Hollywood and the media to rekindle the enthusiasm of Westerns with young people,” Barrett said.  

And with that, Barrett believes that Tombstone will be viable for years to come.

Alexa Morelli is a writer for the Arizona Sonora News Service at the University of Arizona.  She can be reached by email and alexamorelli@email.arizona.edu

For high resolution photos click here.

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