Tauck-Ken Burns Country Music Event Could Drive Travel Trends

by David Cogswell
Tauck-Ken Burns Country Music Event Could Drive Travel Trends

Tauckis headed to the Music City to conduct a Country Music event in Nashville in partnership with Ken Burns and tied into Burns' new film series. Photo: Erwin Widmer / Shutterstock.com. 

Timing may not be everything, but it does count for a lot.

While PBS was still airing the debut broadcast of Ken Burns’ latest documentary film series, “Country Music,” last week, Connecticut-based tour operator Tauck announced that it would conduct a Country Music event in Nashville in partnership with Ken Burns and tied into the film series.

The Tauck Nashville Country Music Event will focus on themes from the eight-part, 16-hour series that aired Sunday-Wednesday (Sept.15-18 and Sept. 22-25). The Tauck-Ken Burns Nashville event is set to take place one year later, Sept. 9-13, 2020.

The event will feature an in-person appearance by Dayton Duncan, the writer of the film, who also collaborated with Burns on many of his most notable films, including “The Civil War,” “Jazz,” “Baseball,” and “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”

The itinerary, or program, will be packed with activities designed to bring the Nashville country music experience to life, including an after-hours evening at the Country Music Hall of Fame with dinner and live performances; a studio recording session; and a private performance and talk with Chelsea Crowell, the daughter of Rosanne Cash and Rodney Crowell, and the granddaughter of Johnny Cash.

The program also includes a private tour of RCA Studio B, where Elvis Presley, Chet Atkins, Dolly Parton, and Willie Nelson have recorded; and dinner at the Grand Ole Opry. 

The power of the movie tie-in
“Country Music,” like any Ken Burns film, is worth keeping an eye on for anyone in the travel industry, because Burns has become such an institution that each new film series launches its own mini-movement.

Ken Burns, through his 30 films since 1990, has established himself as a major voice on American history and culture, and earned himself the epithet “America’s Storyteller,” as well as many Emmy Awards, Academy Award nominations, and other accolades.

It’s hard to say whether Burns is better at anticipating trends or igniting them. Burns and his screenwriting partner, Dayton Duncan, have their fingers on the pulse of America and a sense for how public interests are trending. Whether Burns’ latest film will fire up interest in country music and boost travel to Nashville is an open question at this point. But if recent history is a guide, it’s a good bet that it will. 

The Burns Effect on national parks attendance
Some credit filmmaker Ken Burns and his 2009 film, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” with single-handedly causing the spike in national park attendance in recent years. In 2009, the year the National Parks series aired, attendance at the national parks jumped 10 million, according to the National Parks Service. But the film did not appear until the last week of September that year, when the vast majority of national parks travel for the year is over, so it could not have affected attendance much in 2009.

However, its effect on national parks attendance over the years following its airing would appear to be substantial. Park visitation had peaked in 1987. In 2008, fewer people visited the national parks than they had 20 years before. Beginning in 2009, National Park attendance grew as the centennial of the 1916 founding of the National Parks Service approached.

No one can measure the Burns influence on that trend, but with 33.4 million viewers catching at least part of the six-part series, it no doubt had an effect. It was the second most-watched limited series on PBS in the first decade of the 21st century. PBS, which airs all of Ken Burns’ films, credited the film with “starting a national conversation” about the parks.

Tour operators have been reporting on the Burns effect on travel since Burns’ 1990 film series, “The Civil War,” boosted interest in visiting Civil War battlefields and other sites associated with that history. And many other Ken Burns films have had similar effects. 

The Tauck-Burns partnership
Tauck’s relationship with Ken Burns dates back to 2010, when the tour operator unveiled an agreement outlining a multi-tiered relationship. Burns and Dayton Duncan work with Tauck tour planners to plan special tours offered under the Tauck Ken Burns American Journeys brand.

They make short film vignettes featuring Burns, Duncan, and clips from various Burns films that express their fascination, love and reasons for visiting the destinations featured in the tours. The 10-minute films are shown to Tauck guests on tour, sometimes on screens in traveling motorcoaches and sometimes in other locations.

Besides the tours, Burns and Duncan also collaborate with Tauck event planners for special Ken Burns-branded events that correspond with Burns films such as “The Civil War,” “Jazz,” “Prohibition,” and a number of others. 

Tours to events
For a tour operator, shifting to event planning is not a big jump. Most of the skills and techniques built up by the company operating tours for 90-plus years are the same that are required to produce events. The biggest difference is that tours move from place to place, and events are usually operated from a central headquarters location with excursions radiating from the center hub.

Tauck established its events division in 2004, beginning with traditional sporting events such as the Kentucky Derby and the Rose Bowl. It expanded the model when it experimented with a single-destination, themed event called Roman Holiday. Then in 2010, with the establishment of the Tauck-Ken Burns partnership, the company took its event model to a new level, incorporating the Burns-Duncan vision of America and cinematic experience ever more into the tour experience.

Tauck has also worked in partnership with BBC Earth in a similar kind of film-tour partnership. The Tauck-Ken Burns contract has been renewed and will continue for at least a few more years. 

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