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.

Search the Case Studies

Type of Attraction/Organization

Indiana Attracts Tourists through Emails - Faced with a significant budget cut, the Indiana Office of Tourism Development (IOTD) needed to maximize available resources to reach visitors

Hosting the 2014 World Acadian Congress in Maine - What does a community do when its economy is shrinking and young people are leaving in search of jobs? Does the community lose its cultural identity? Do the people who leave forget their heritage?

History Riding High: Building Bicycle Friendly Communities in West Texas - Like many rural areas, Far West Texas depends on tourism as an economic driver, yet has few resources to develop new businesses.

Helping Tennessee’s Downtowns - Tennessee’s landscape is dotted with historic downtowns that were once the centerpiece of their communities. The Tennessee Main Street Program has helped 24 towns reclaim this position through successful revitalization.

Helping Locals Discover the Arts and Culture in Los Angeles - LA INC. is helping Angelenos discover the arts and culture in their own backyard.

Health and History Join Forces in Marathon - Happenstance is defined as something good happening by chance, and the word certainly describes Freedom’s Run, a marathon that combines the goals of encouraging health & fitness and appreciating the rich heritage of the Shepherdstown, WV, region.

Great Idaho Getaway Program - Idaho’s state tourism office decided that with the downturn in the economy, it was time to try something really different in their tourism marketing.

Grants Fund Discovery of the Past in Iowa - In working with Loess Hills Scenic Byway, a 200-mile route stretching through seven Iowa counties, Shirley Frederiksen faced her biggest challenge yet: documenting the Native American cultures that inhabited the region as far back as 1000 A.D.

Georgia Antebellum Trail Group Starts Pilgrimage - Georgia’s Antebellum Trail, the state’s first tourism trail, follows a 100-mile route through seven communities from Athens to Macon.

Gearing up for Success in Detroit - When the City of Detroit decided they could no longer fund the Detroit Historical Museum, the future of the museum looked bleak.

Five Alive on Benefit Street (Providence, RI) - It can be difficult for heritage attractions to promote their sites on their own. Recognizing this challenge, the Providence-Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau worked with five heritage attractions along historic Benefit Street in 2010.

Facebook Helps Save Washington State’s Main Street Program - In 2010, when the state of Washington proposed eliminating the Main Street Program as part of the state’s budget cuts.

Experiencing the Arts in August in Rhode Island - After carefully reviewing museum admission numbers, the Rhode Island School of Design decided to close their museum during the month of August in 2009 and again in August 2010 as a cost-cutting measure.

Establishing Butte as “Montana’s Festival City” - Butte has long been known as a center for copper mining, but if Main Street Uptown Butte has its way it may become known as “Montana’s Festival City.”

Equestrian Games Bring the World to Kentucky - When the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games came to Kentucky for 16 days in the fall of 2010, the Kentucky Department of Travel & Tourism capitalized on an opportunity to reach a new audience arriving from 60 countries around the globe.

Encouraging Repeat Visitors in Hawai’i - In June 2010, the Hawai’i Tourism Authority (HTA) launched a new Hawai’i Heritage Sites program to promote significant heritage sites on the Hawaiian Islands.

Economic Downturn Has Surprising Benefit for Hermitage Restoration - When President Andrew Jackson’s stately Greek Revival mansion was finished in 1836, the centerpiece of this 1,000-acre plantation near Nashville, Tennessee looked as if it was built for the ages.

Dinosaur Trail Links Sites in Eastern and Central Montana - In 2005, 10 funding partners including four tourism regions, two chambers of commerce, the federal Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Montana State Parks and the Montana Office of Tourism joined forces with 13 non-profits.

deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum Reaches out to Families - The deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts has been enjoying strong visitation despite the economic downturn.

Creative Programs Help Shelburne Museum Weather Economic Storms - “Have good staff and invest in creative programming,” says Stephan Jost, director of Vermont’s Shelburne Museum, succinctly summarizing the museum’s extraordinarily successful effort to not only survive but thrive in a difficult economy.

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