Chamber column: What’s a Pokémon; should tourist towns care?

Cristin Barta
Inside the Chamber

Pokémon fever has swept the nation. At every turn we either hear about the game on the news or see people with their heads down swiping at their phones.

As an early-30-something person who feels pretty in tune with technology and as the resident “internet geek” at the chamber, I found myself asking, “What the heck is a Pokémon?” And more importantly, “Is this something we should care about in tourism?”

Pokémon is a product of the late ’90s. What started off as a Nintendo Game Boy game quickly evolved into dozens of spinoff games, anime shows (a style of Japanese film and television animation), card games and graphic novels. Over the years, Pokémon maintained a large cult following, so I am not sure how I have stayed mostly unaware of this cultural phenomenon. Well, there is no escaping it now; Pokémon Go is mainstream.

Pokémon Go is a free mobile game that uses augmented reality (a real-world view supplemented by computer-generated sensory input) where players capture little creatures known as Pokémon. The game makes use of a smart phone’s mobile camera and GPS so the creatures appear on the phone’s screen as if in a player’s real world. Players have a map of their real-time location that helps them find not only the Pokémon to capture, but other game components like Poké-Stops and gyms. Gyms are essentially battle grounds where players can join teams and battle other teams for “prestige.”

Fundamentally, the main objective of the game is in its name: Go. The game encourages people to get out in the real world and explore, to move your feet to new places you may have never been before. Wait a second, isn’t that also the point of travel and tourism?

To make sure I was not missing some great opportunity to enhance the visitor experience or to bring more tourists to town, I spent a few hours wandering the streets of downtown Glenwood Springs swiping at Poké Balls (the weapon of choice for capturing a Pokémon). It wasn’t long before I began to notice other groups with their heads buried in their phones playing right along with me. Since the game does have a social aspect, I was able to occasionally ask out-of-town players their take on the whole thing.

Finally, we’ve come to the $64,000 question (yes, I know it is bizarre that I know this 1950s pop culture reference but not one from my own generation): What does all this mean for our local tourism businesses?

The biggest take-away from my field research was that visitors are not coming here because of Pokémon Go, but they are enjoying it tremendously while they are here. The consensus among the visitors with whom I talked was that the Pokémon are much more varied and prevalent here than in their home towns. In downtown Glenwood Springs there are at least a dozen Poké-Stops. Not to be confused with actual Pokémon, Poké-Stops are areas in the game where a player can get free in-game items, and therefore areas people tend to gather.

Businesses near Poké-Stops in other cities have capitalized on the Pokémon phenomena with catchy advertising like “Pokémon Go? Leaving here without a beer is a no-go!” Yes, believe it or not, people of drinking age are playing this game — it’s that much of a sensation. If your business is near a gym instead of a Poké-Stop, try scheduling a tournament and invite people to battle. Even consider giving the winning team a discount.

When I asked my fellow players for suggestions to capitalize on all this, the best I received was for businesses to set a “lure.” Lures are about $1 and will attract Pokémon for 30 minutes. This might be useful to businesses that are having an event like an open house or live music. If people walk to that area of town to catch a Pokémon, they might decide to stay.

Thanks to the handy in-app camera, businesses have a great opportunity to create free content for social media marketing. When you are about to capture a Pokémon, take a shot of today’s lunch special or your store front with a Pokémon in it. Or ask your visitors to share the photos they have taken.

All in all, after having spent too much of my day knee deep in Pokémon, my conclusion is that at this time there isn’t much to capitalize on with this newest craze. However, it is all in good fun, so why not play along!

Cristin Barta is the tourism marketing project manager for the Visit Glenwood online marketing efforts. For more information about this article or any other questions, email

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