Step One: Assess the Potential

Heritage Tourism: The Four Steps

Step One: Assess the Potential | Step Two: Plan and Organize |
Step Three: Prepare, Protect, and Manage
| Step Four: Market for Success

Make good use of human and financial resources. They are the keys that open the doors to sustainable cultural heritage tourism.

Assessing your area’s potential for heritage tourism is an essential first step. Evaluate your assets in these five areas:   

  • Attractions
  • Visitor Services
  • Organizational Capabilities
  • Protection
  • Marketing

Start by listing resources. But don’t stop there. Your goal is not just to enumerate assets but also to evaluate potential, quality, and level of service. Your initial assessment also gives you baseline data, benchmark information you can use to measure progress and help you make key decisions as your cultural heritage tourism program develops.

Begin by assessing your attractions, current and potential. What historic, cultural, and natural resources does your area have to offer?

To assess historic or archaeological resources, find our which of your area’s historic sites are already listed on the National Register of Historic Places. List the sites that are currently open to the public or that add to the story of your area. Also, look at sites that are eligible for the National Register—normally at least 50 years old and significant for their architecture or archaeology, or association with an event or person. State and local designations also exist so consider listing these sites as well. All states have standard recording forms to use for surveying historic resources and many states also supply survey guidelines, so you’ll probably want to contact your State Historic Preservation Office. You may find that your community or region has already been surveyed.

Don’t underestimate the drawing power of other cultural resources such as museums, theaters, or local cuisine, crafts, songs and dances. Every state has a state arts agency and many states have state museum associations, so if you aren’t sure who your cultural partners are locally, that’s a good place to start. If you need help identifying the cultural resources in your community, consider working with a folklorist with experience in cultural heritage tourism.

The culture and heritage of an area are often shaped by natural resources. Keep in mind that natural resources like local, state, national parks need not be right next door to serve as a resource for your community. If a major natural resource is within a day’s drive, it can bring tourists your way. Another suggestion: check out parks, sports facilities, and recreational facilities that already attract visitors. You can partner heritage sites and events with attractions like these to keep visitors in your area longer. If they are linked by a visually appealing drive, even better. Scenic byways make the journey as rewarding as the destination.

Do you have untapped resources that could play an important part in heritage tourism? What could become a resource if it were rehabilitated, developed, trained or interpreted? Use your imagination.

Now, prioritize your resources. Not all sites will draw visitors. A site may be the actual reason why an individual or group will travel to a place—a destination in its own right. Tourists will add sites or events as part of the itinerary when they plan trips to a particular destination. Visitors will learn about some sites once they are in the region and tour while there. Finally, there are sites that are important to local residents only but will not hold much appeal to visitors.

Keep in mind the need for service and quality. Are museum collections designed to educate and engage visitors? Are exhibits visually appealing and interactive? Are sites accessible to the public? Are museums and other attractions open daily or only occasionally? If you have historic neighborhoods, are there organized tours and printed maps easily available to tourists? Are cultural events well organized, held at times that make sense for tourists, well publicized? Are attractions easy to find? Can they accommodate visitors? Ask questions like these now, so you get an accurate sense of your area’s tourism potential.

When you have done a thorough job of site assessment, you’ll know where you face challenges in site interpretation, staff training, hours of operation, and so forth—the components addressed in steps 2, 3 and 4.

Next you need to assess other aspects of visitor services. Visitor services encompass the basic elements most travelers need: places to eat, park, sleep, go to the restroom, and get gasoline. It also includes services which make traveling more enjoyable: shopping and touring. Take a look at these areas: lodging, restaurants, shops and infrastructure. Keep your goal in mind—to record the variety of resources available and the levels of service they provide.

To assess your organizational capabilities, identify all the local organizations that are involved in tourism, preservation, the arts, museums, humanities, economic development and other related fields. Are these groups financially strong? Are some of them members of national organizations that provide additional resources? The purpose of your assessment is to scout the possibilities—and potential support—for identifying or establishing a “primary provider” organization that can focus local energies at a single group.

Some other key questions to answer during your assessment:

  • Have these organizations worked together in the past? If yes, do they have a good working relationship?
  • While the missions of the organizations are (and should be) different, can everyone agree on the common ground for a working cultural heritage tourism partnership?
  • Is there one organization or individual that stands out as a natural leader, or will it be necessary to create a new entity to manage the cultural heritage tourism efforts?
  • What can each organization contribute to the effort? Consider human and financial resources as well as advice and political support.

The protection of your area’s assets is a major concern. Protection in this context means the full array of measures needed to protect the value of historic, cultural and natural assets. At the assessment stage, find out what protection local zoning ordinances, preservation ordinances, and city, county or even regional land use plans already offer. Which measures need to be strengthened? Where are the gaps?

Marketing is such an integral part of successful cultural heritage tourism that it is a step in its own right. Your assessment should include an initial inventory of all marketing related activities which are currently in place.

  • Assess all available demographic information about who comes to visit your area, why they come, how much they spend, and what they want. Talk with your state travel office, state divisions of economic development, local chambers of commerce, state and national parks, major tourist attractions and other entities to gather information that can help you learn more about your visitors.
  • Assess promotional materials. Pull together copies of all of the brochures, maps, guides and so forth that are already available. What kind of image do they convey? Do they promote historic and cultural sites? If not, could they be adapted? Are the materials effective—informative, accurate, attractively presented? Have you uncovered possibilities for collaboration—for marketing attractions jointly or developing themed itineraries?
  • What travel-related associations do local sites, agencies or organizations have memberships in? What information and resources do they provide? What organizational activities could enhance your marketing efforts?
  • What trade shows, conferences, educational tours and sales missions have been organized to market travel to your area? What activities are annual? Are there ways for heritage sites to be included?

Compile all of these components—the list of attractions, visitor services and marketing materials, the organizational and protection profile—to get a good idea of where you are, where you want to go and what you have to do to develop and market your heritage for tourists.

Worksheets: Creating a Community Resources Inventory | Site Assessment Form