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

Tapping New Community Partnerships in Virginia - One Virginia museum tapped a wide variety of partnerships to create a community event that dovetailed with a new art exhibit.

Taking the Civil War on the Road in Pennsylvania for the Sesquicentennial - A state-of-the-art traveling exhibit will visit all 67 of Pennsylvania’s counties in the next four years to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

Taking a Chance and Building Goodwill - The annual Haystack Weekend Workshop, 3½ days of classes with master craftsmen, is one of the Maine Crafts Association’s most popular educational programs.

Stratford Hall leads the way for new historic house museum tour models - When the first group of ladies campaigned to save Virginia’s Stratford Hall, the birthplace of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, they succeeded in acquiring the property in 1929 – just as America sank into the Great Depression.

Stop and Smell the Piñons in New Mexico - In-state travel has always been a strong market for New Mexico tourism. New Mexicans rank second only to Texans in terms of travel within New Mexico.

Spend Time in the Past at Shaker Village - Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, located in central Kentucky’s famous Bluegrass region, is America’s largest restored Shaker community.

Smithsonian’s Annual Museum Day - Each September since 2004, Smithsonian Magazine has coordinated a “Museum Day” offering free admission for two adults at participating museums across the country. This event has grown from a few hundred museums in 2004 to 1,300 museums in 2009.

Site Stewards in Wyoming - The Wyoming Division of State Parks, Historic Sites & Trails operates a number of historic sites in Wyoming, and with staff and resources stretched thin it can be difficult to ensure that every site has all the staff it needs.

Rising Visitation and Membership Results from Conner Prairie’s Plans - At a time when many museums across the country are struggling to retain members and increase visitation, Conner Prairie Interactive History Park in Fishers, IN is seeing increases in both areas.

Research Connects Product with Visitors - Knowing who is coming to your state or community and what they are interested in can help in developing products that will appeal to these visitors.

Poplar Forest Builds on 200th Anniversary to Increase Visitation in a Challenging Economy - For the past 24 years, Poplar Forest has offered an opportunity to watch “preservation in progress.” Archeologists and restoration craftspeople have been working to restore the National Historic Landmark designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Partnerships Open New Doors - Historic Southern Indiana, an outreach program of the University of Southern Indiana, has always had many partners and focused on its role as a facilitator and information source to preserve, enhance and promote the region’s many resources.

Partnerships for Washington State’s Cascade Loop Heritage Tour - In times of diminished resources, partnerships can often yield results that organizations would not have been able to accomplish on their own.

Paddlers Bring Business to the Northern Forest - When the nonprofit Northern Forest Canoe Trail was created in 2000, organizers set as the mission connecting people to the natural environment, human heritage and contemporary communities.

Optimism in Bisbee, Arizona - “The most important thing in tough times is: just be optimistic,” explains Carrie Gustavson, director of the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum.

Old Sturbridge Village - Old Sturbridge Village, a living history village in Massachusetts that depicts early New England life from 1790 to 1840, ended 2009 in the black for the first time in a decade.

North Dakota Invests in Heritage - Reaching out to build grassroots support, keeping the governor’s office informed and seeking out champions in the state legislature has paved the way for several ambitious statewide efforts in North Dakota.

New Technology Enhances Event for Essex National Heritage Area - Transitioning from printing brochures and buying magazine ads to Internet and mobile phone communication tools can be a sure way to save money during tough economic times, but “you have to get people to look at it,” notes Annie Harris.

New Sculpture Trail Encourages Art appreciation and Exercise in New Mexico - The Billy the Kid Trail runs through the Village of Ruidoso and the Lincoln National Forest. The trail includes a town that Billy the Kid once called home—Lincoln, New Mexico.

New Programs Meet Mission for Iowa’s Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area - When Iowa’s Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area received its federal designation in 1996, organizers were surprised to find no federal money was forthcoming.

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