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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Culture Connections

Culture is what makes a place a place, and it’s what makes every destination different. Although many communities share similar characteristics, there’s something about each one — the spice of the food, the twang of the music, the lay of the land — that sets it apart from its neighbors. Meeting attendees are no longer content to sit in a conference room and then shuttle to their hotel room; they want to experience the destination and its individual cultural offerings.

These cities offer more than just meeting space; they each have a distinctive culture that locals love to share with visitors.

Lake Charles, Louisiana

New Orleans gets most of the attention, but the city of Lake Charles delivers plenty of Louisiana’s “holy trinity” of culture: food, music and history.

If a group is game for it, the CVB will bring in an instructor to give meeting attendees zydeco dance lessons, said Colten Miller, public relations manager for the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau. The CVB often ties in a tour of the Mardi Gras Museum, which houses the largest collection of Mardi Gras costumes in the world, or a king-cake-decorating competition where guests learn about the history of the colorful confection.

An off-site location that “immerses the group in Cajun and zydeco culture,” is the Creole Nature Trail Adventure Point which opened in April, Miller said. Visitors will learn about wildlife they’ll find along the Creole Nature Trail, as well as experience hands-on exhibits about food and music. On an interactive stage that looks like the front porch of an old Cajun hut, guests will find stationary instruments such as an accordion and a fiddle that “play” music when touched.

The Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail offers a taste of the regional cuisine. Boudin is a Cajun sausage made with ingredients that vary depending on the family recipe, but it’s a staple in locals’ daily diets. The trail features mom-and-pop shops and restaurants along Interstate 10, most of which close early, so groups can arrange a boudin demonstration or tasting or can simply include sampler platters at their events.

Elko, Nevada

In Elko, Nevada, groups can do something they would be hard-pressed to do anywhere else: tour a working gold mine.

Elko has long been a mining hub, and the Newmont Mining Corporation offers regularly scheduled public tours as well as private group tours of the Carlin Trend Mine, just outside the city. Groups can tour the mill and see the crushers at work before riding to an observation tower that looks down into the open-pit mine, the scale of which is a bit mind-boggling.

“As you pass those big Haulpak trucks, everyone is just marveling at how massive they are. The tires are 14 feet tall,” said Don Newman, executive director of the Elko Convention and Visitors Authority. “Well, when you’re looking down on the pit from the observation deck, those same trucks look like little bugs.”

The Northeastern Nevada Museum is now working with Barrick Gold Corporation to create a mining exhibit at the museum, Newman said, but the museum also houses extensive collections of Western art and exhibits of Nevada’s wildlife.

The Western Folklife Center in Elko is headquarters for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Although the annual festival is a tough time for groups to visit, the city is a year-round home to cowboy artists and poets whom planners can hire to perform at their events. The center also has a historic bar and dance floor that can hold about 150 people for events.