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

New Hampshire Theaters Find Strength in Numbers - Professional theaters in New Hampshire have a long tradition of operating independently, but at times that has led to increased burdens in marketing and production costs, as well as overlapping of programming.

New Hampshire Creates New Partnerships - The New Hampshire Department of Cultural Resources knew that many cultural and heritage sites were struggling in a difficult economic climate.

New Approach Results in New Partnerships - Even before the economic collapse of 2008, the Maine Maritime Museum’s leadership knew that economic development was a real need in Maine.

New Alliances in Alaska - Tourism in Alaska has always been heavily influenced by the cruise industry.

Museum Merger Creates New Opportunities - “It is a rare occurrence in the nonprofit world when a museum seeks out another museum to entrust with its collections, to ensure those historical treasures are well cared for,” says Amy Lent, executive director of Maine Maritime Museum.

Mississippi’s Thematic Trails Shine the Spotlight on Unique Culture and History - Sometimes economic difficulties can be a good thing – in effect, a wakeup call to redirect from doing things the way they have always been done.

Miniatures Play Big at Kentucky Gateway Museum Center - The Kentucky Gateway Museum Center serves three important functions. The first is preserving and making available to researchers a large archival collection documenting Kentucky’s history.

Michigan’s Mackinac State Historic Parks Reaches Out to New Audiences - The U.S. economy may have plunged in 2008, but Michigan’s economy has been faltering since 2003. For the Mackinac State Historic Parks, this translated to years of declining state support and increased dependence on earned income.

Marketing Services to Museum Members - The Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia began offering digital restoration services to its members in 2008. Their photo specialists will digitally restore and print old family photos for a fee and even offer free consultations.

Making the Case for Wyoming’s State Parks - In preparation for the 2010 fall legislative committee meetings, the Wyoming State Parks and Historic Sites program is completing a study to demonstrate the economic impact of Wyoming’s state parks.

Making History Relevant to Younger Audiences at the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace - The Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum in Wytheville, Virginia - a museum with a single, “wearing all hats” employee - has embarked upon several successful partnerships.

Maine’s Native American Tribes Plan for Tourism - Since the 19th century, an important part of the economy of Maine’s four Native American tribes – Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Micmac and Maliseet – has been selling beautiful, handmade crafts.

Maine Opens Center for Crafts - When the Maine Center for Crafts opened in December 2009 –in the midst of a nationwide economic recession – executive director Tracy Michaud Stutzman admits, “We were a little nervous about the economy.”

Maine Attracts “Foodies” and Lighthouse Aficionados - Research by the Maine Office of Tourism showed two areas of interest for travelers that Maine has in abundance – great culinary experiences and intriguing historic lighthouses.

Louisiana Main to Main Helps Rebuild State’s Cultural Economy - Three years before the rest of the nation experienced an economic downturn in 2008, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated Louisiana’s cultural heritage tourism.

Knowing Visitors Helps History Sites Succeed - Attracting more visitors, writing successful grant applications, making the case for increased support from funders and targeting resources are ongoing tasks for historic sites and museums.

Keeping Alive the Dream of a Statewide Main Street Program in Idaho - Plans were well underway for a new statewide Main Street program in Idaho when the economy went under.

Iowa Museum Association Focuses on Partnerships - With Iowa’s museums facing the same challenges as others across the country during the economic downturn – attracting visitors, coping with budget cuts and even reducing staff.

Inviting Kentuckians to Explore Their State - With gas prices rising and the economy declining, the Kentucky Department of Travel & Tourism decided to encourage the state’s residents to travel close to home with a campaign called “Discover Your Own Backyard.”

Indiana Experience Brings the Past to Life - For almost 200 years the Indiana Historical Society has preserved, interpreted and shared the state’s history through its research library and archives as well as its publication and programming endeavors.

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