How Cultural Heritage Tourism Organizations Can Beat The Recession

The recent downturn in the economy has had a major impact on many sectors of the cultural and heritage tourism industry. The news over the past few years includes a number of losses -- heritage sites and museums closing, state programs eliminated, tourism agencies drastically reducing budgets, and cultural heritage tourism programs and organizations cutting back their operations.

Amid the bad news, however, there have been rays of hope -- attractions and marketing organizations standing up to the challenge and finding ways to survive -- if not thrive -- despite the economic downturn. Many of these cultural and heritage sites have found creative ways to stay true to their organization’s mission while reaching for new opportunities.

To share these lessons and respond to the challenge, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Heritage Tourism Program received an award from the National Endowment for the Arts to create a survival toolkit with three key components:

While the impact of the economic downturn has varied from state to state, the 11 survival strategies have already helped a broad range of attractions -- individual sites, community-wide efforts, and regional and statewide programs -- across the country. By pulling them together here, this toolkit provides urgently needed assistance to the key fields that make up the cultural and heritage tourism industry, including the arts, preservation, tourism, museums, humanities, and other related areas.

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Type of Attraction/Organization

“Berea Proud” in Kentucky - Berea, Kentucky has long been known as an arts community that draws cultural travelers. Still, when the economy began to falter, the Berea Tourist & Convention Commission’s staff knew that they couldn’t take their success for granted.

Working Together in North Dakota - Collaboration has always played a key role in North Dakota’s heritage tourism efforts.

Wine, Social Media and Southern Biscuits Help Belle Meade Plantation Weather the Economic Downturn - An unlikely combination of wine, social media and Southern biscuits are the strategies leading Alton Kelley, executive director of Belle Meade Plantation, to declare: “These are going to be our best years.

Winchester Builds Tourism Around Unique Features - “Winchester is a heritage travel destination,” says Nancy Turner, director of the Winchester-Clark County Tourism Office in Kentucky. “We want to get families to come and see that history is a great thing.”

West Virginia Builds Tourism Despite the Economy - When the economy entered its steep decline, West Virginia tourism officials saw not a devastated travel industry, but an opportunity to gain market share by promoting the state’s culture and heritage.

Volunteers Expand Louisiana Festival - The success of Experience Atchafalaya Days, a popular event showcasing the Atchafalaya Basin in south central Louisiana, is a testimony to the grass-roots power of a dedicated group of volunteers.

Virginia Tourism Corp. Makes Advertising Affordable - The Virginia Tourism Corporation has had a cooperative advertising program for many years, but with the economic downturn, they wanted to do even more to ensure that destinations and attractions could afford to advertise.

Virginia TimeTravelers Streamlines Operations and Seeks New Sources of Revenue - Virginia’s TimeTravelers program has undergone several changes in response to the economic downturn.

Virginia Shows Tourism Savvy - To promote travel to Virginia and to help the state’s destinations and attractions in difficult economic times, the Virginia Tourism Corporation staff developed the Outreach and Training Help Desk.

Virginia Museum Works with Barnes & Noble - During a week-long Barnes & Noble book fair in 2009, a percentage of shoppers’ Barnes & Noble purchase amounts went to the History Museum of Western Virginia to support the museum’s education programs.

Virginia Historical Society Eliminates Admission Fee for 2010 - Times are tough, and many museums are struggling to make ends meet. At the same time, the board of the Virginia Historical Society recognized that the same financial pressures have affected the pocketbooks of their visitors.

Vermont Builds Tourism Success on Anniversaries - Commemorating an anniversary related to a state’s history can often be an opportunity to encourage residents and visitors to enjoy special events and explore all the state has to offer. In Vermont, two such occasions are occurring just a few years apart.

Trolley Tours Keep Rolling in Corvallis, Oregon - When the downturn in the economy affected Visit Corvallis’ budget, staff needed to find a way to cost-effectively market programs such as the Saturday Trolley Tour of historic homes.

Travel Michigan Reaches Out Using TV and Technology - When Michigan’s state tourism budget was cut by half in 2010, marketing efforts had to be adjusted accordingly.

Tourism Plans Respond to Visitor Interests in St. Augustine - For many years, St. Augustine, Florida, has hosted some five million visitors annually to enjoy the city’s historic sites, dining, shopping and beaches.

The Slow Economy’s Silver Lining - The downturn has brought the community together. Also, the downturn has meant that many of the developers who had come to Hawaii when the economy was strong to build new developments that endangered our historic communities aren’t here anymore.

The Missouri History Museum’s Time Travelers Program Sweetens Membership Appeal - Bringing in new members can be a challenge for any organization, but the Missouri History Museum has figured out a creative way to sweeten the deal for their own members.

Technology Helps North Dakota Visitors Become Legendary - Using up-to-date technology gives visitors to North Dakota the edge on creating their own legendary experiences as they follow in the footsteps of historical giants.

Tax Credit Incentive Helps Washington’s Main Street Communities - Businesses usually don’t look forward to paying taxes, but a program developed by the Washington State Main Street Program makes the obligation more appealing as it helps revitalize downtowns across the state.

Tapping Social Media to Help Save California’s State Parks - In 2009, California’s overwhelming state budget crisis led to a proposal to close 220 of the state’s 278 state parks.

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