Step Three: Prepare, Protect and Manage
Heritage Tourism: The Four Steps
Make good use of human and financial resources. They are the keys that open the doors to sustainable cultural heritage tourism.
As you take this step, look to the future as well as the present. When you prepare for visitors, be sure that the choices you make also improve your community for the long term. Plan to win the war, not just the battle.
Preparing for visitors means readying your historic resources by preserving their historical integrity, constructing new museums, and generally cleaning up your community—but it is also the time to figure out how you are going to tell your story and make your community hospitable to visitors.
Remember that good interpretation is vital. What exactly does interpretation mean? It means making your community’s history, culture, or scenery emotionally accessible to visitors. To engage visitors in experiences they understand, learn from and respond to emotionally use these materials to interpret your resources:
- Living history
As you make your heritage resources emotionally accessible, make them physically accessible, too.
- Keep attractions open at convenient times. Remember tourists travel seven days a week, not just on weekdays. Hours of operation need to reflect the times visitors are in your community.
- Use entryways, signs, maps and information centers to help visitors find their way around your region.
- Make sure sites meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility requirements.
Remember that visitors take home memories. Much of the pleasure of a trip comes from how well visitors are treated. A short-tempered ticket agent, an uninformed guide, a rude bus driver—most travelers have had an unfortunate experience with someone like this, and it can be the experience they remember longest. The travel industry depends on many different people doing different jobs, so the challenge is to build community pride and understanding of the visitor’s needs.
To build a strong tourism employee base, try an approach that has produced good results elsewhere: hospitality training. The goal of hospitality training is to teach participants how to welcome visitors and to encourage a better understanding of the area and cultural heritage tourism. Visitors are likely to meet front line staff, and often these entry level positions turn over quickly—so it’s important to schedule hospitality training on a regular basis.
To ensure that your cultural heritage tourism resources have a long and productive life, you need to protect them. How? Developing a comprehensive preservation plan can provide overall guidance to help protect your historic structures. Other regulatory and planning mechanisms include:
- Seeking the designation of historic resources (be sure to determine which designations bring restrictions and which do not)
- Using zoning to specify land uses and restrictions on the density of development near sensitive historic sites
- Establishing design review ordinances that establish design guidelines so that renovations and new buildings will be compatible with neighboring historic structures and a design review board to administer the guidelines.
- Providing design assistance to people interested in rehabilitating their property
- Requiring demolition review so that property owners cannot abruptly tear down buildings that have historic significance.
- Developing a sign ordinance that regulates such matters as size, materials, illumination and placement of signs.
Be sure that your museum collections are stored or exhibited in protected environments. Remember that collection items can be fragile. Sunlight, temperature changes, humidity and even just handling the items can have a negative impact over time.
Some of your contemporary cultural resources can be protected as well. For example, if you are promoting an artists district, consider what you can to keep the district affordable and appealing for the artists you have—and artists who may become part of the district in the future.
Preparing, protecting and managing heritage resources is a big job, one that involves not only producing tangible improvements to places and structures but also coordinating multiple activities and maintaining momentum on numerous projects simultaneously. To keep the job reasonable and feasible, develop a management plan.
If your assessment of visitor services has revealed major omissions or difficulties, include remedies in the management plan. Plan to improve roads, public facilities, police and fire protection, and other aspects of the infrastructure that affect—and are affected by—tourism.
A well-managed cultural heritage tourism program is one that balances competing considerations. Balancing the “carrying capacity” of your area—its ability to host visitors without compromising service or overstraining resources—with the demands visitors make on it is one particularly important consideration. Why? Runaway “success” can destroy the very resources on which heritage tourism depends.
Say a summer festival begins to draw so many visitors to your revitalized “Main Street” that the roads into town clog with traffic, overwhelmed vendors start importing mass-produced quilts from China, and the city council paves a huge new parking lot for 3,000 cars at the expense of green space or a historic building. Danger! You’re on the verge of killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
Organizational management includes monitoring change and adjusting your program—or your personnel—to meet your objectives. Incorporate ways to monitor and measure progress into your plan. Build in systems of measurement from the beginning—ways to count numbers of visitors, for example, or to measure the economic impact of the money they spend—so you’ll know where you have made progress (and where problems may be brewing). You’ll also be able to demonstrate accomplishments to hard-working committee members and interested donors.
Worksheet: Tour Product Definitions