Strategies for Survival

When it comes to helping your organization survive and thrive in a bad economy, remember the golden rule: Don’t Panic, and Don’t Forget the Basics.

While the economic downturn has hit some cultural and heritage sites hard, many of the same principles for cultural heritage tourism development that worked well in good times will continue to work well in challenging times. (Example: Our five basic principles for successful and sustainable cultural heritage tourism.)

While you may need to adapt in the short term, don’t forget to keep this challenge in perspective. This isn’t the first time that the economy has taken a turn for the worse, and it won’t be the last. The changes that you make now in response to the economic downturn will position you well to weather the inevitable ups and downs yet to come.

To that end, here are 11 key survival strategies to keep you going in uncertain times:

1. Be Ready to Make Your Case

When budgets are tight and programs are on the chopping block, it's more important than ever to have compelling facts and statistics about your work's value and importance to share with key decision makers.  Have a concise list of what you have accomplished and the impact that your program or organization has had. If you receive financial support, in addition to showing how funds were used, consider tracking how this financial investment was leveraged to have an even greater impact.

You may be able to find regional, state or national research to help you build your case.  For example, a national research study on cultural heritage tourism was released in late 2009, and includes compelling statistics about cultural heritage travelers. In addition, a number of states and regions have conducted other research studies to determine the economic impact of cultural heritage travel in their state, and all have found significant expenditures and increased economic impact. 

Don’t discount the value of qualitative information, either.  Compile testimonials about the value and importance of your work and gather quotes from local leaders to help you make your case. 

Read stories about how cultural and heritage attractions have worked to make the case about the importance of their efforts.

2. Collaborate in New Ways

Collaboration is one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s five guiding principles for successful and sustainable cultural heritage tourism. And in challenging economic times, partnering is more critical than ever.  

True partnerships need to be based on shared goals so all partners benefit. As you consider approaching potential new partners, do so with a “handshake” and not a “hand out.” In some cases, partners may have very different organizational missions, yet they have identified their shared goals and have found ways to work collaboratively towards shared interests.

Read stories about how cultural and heritage attractions are collaborating in new ways.

3. Know Your Customer and Your Product

Knowledge is power. Understanding your customer -- whether you think of them as customers, visitors or your audience -- will help you make informed decisions and better determine how to attract your target audience.

 If you aren’t able to commission a research firm to analyze your customers, you may be able to get some information from your local convention and visitors bureau or your state tourism office.  You may also be able to work in partnership with a local college or university to do the research you need.

Equally important is understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your product -- whether it is a museum, a historic site, a byway, a heritage area, a business, a Main Street program, or even an entire state.  This knowledge will help you find ways to position your product to maximize its appeal for different audiences. Staff and volunteers are also part of your product, and ensuring that you have the right people in the right jobs can make all the difference.

Don’t forget that you need to understand how your cultural heritage tourism product fits in to larger tourism trends at the local, regional, state, and national level. Being aware of trends in the tourism industry will help you decide how to best allocate your limited human and financial resources.

Read stories about how to know your customer and your product.

4. Enhance Your Product to Increase Its Appeal

Once you have a handle on your product and your customers, you may realize that in order to attract customers you need to make some changes or improvements to the product or experience that you offer. While you need to carefully consider investing in improvements when budgets are tight, some cultural and heritage attractions have found that a strategic investment into their product has paid off in terms of increased number of visitors or increased visitor spending.

Read stories about enhancing your product to increase its appeal.

5. Leverage Anniversaries and Other Celebrations

 Anniversaries provide an ideal public relations opportunity to garner media coverage for cultural and heritage tourism attractions. A timely focus on anniversaries can provide efforts with an edge to secure stronger media coverage, which helps ensure a successful effort. Drawing additional media attention will in turn draw more visitors to cultural heritage attractions. Anniversaries and other celebrations can also provide a rallying point for fundraising to preserve historic resources or develop new programming that reflects that occasion.

Read stories about leveraging anniversaries and other celebrations.

6. Balance Your Budget

When budgets are cut in difficult economic times, there are two ways to balance the budget -- cut expenses or find new sources of revenue. As cultural and heritage attractions across the U.S. have  felt the impacts of the downturn, sites have instituted all kinds of belt-tightening measures from reducing hours of operation, eliminating programs, or reducing staffing costs.

That said, others have noted that the slowdown in the economy also created an opportunity to renew, refresh, and rejuvenate. While cutting the budget is often one of the first reactions when resources are limited, keep in mind costs (ex. construction and real estate) may also be down. So if there is flexibility in your budget, this may be a good time to invest in professional development for staff, take on a much-needed restoration project, or purchase property.

In addition to reducing expenses, attractions and tourism entities are also seeking new sources of revenue and finding ways to diversify their sources of support. Securing income or revenue from many different sources may seem like more work, but if you have diversified sources of financial support, you won’t be in danger of collapse if any one source goes away. 

Read stories about balancing your budget.

7. Be Creative and Do More With Less

To help reduce costs, some organizations are finding creative ways to use volunteers for projects that once would have been assigned to staff. Others have found ways to leverage limited dollars to maximize the impact of their efforts. By approaching challenges in new ways, a number of organizations have found ways to accomplish just as much—if not more—with a more limited staff and less in the way of financial resources. Challenging times force us all to reevaluate how we are spending our time to ensure that our efforts are providing the greatest return on investment possible.

Read stories about how to be creative and do more with less.

8. Take Advantage of Technology & Social Networking

With increased emphasis on finding ways to sustain visitation numbers, some cultural heritage attractions are finding creative ways to reach out to new audiences. Technology has opened new avenues for cost savings and outreach through social media, and savvy cultural heritage attractions are embracing this opportunity.

Printed newsletters and publications are being replaced with more cost effective e-versions, saving on both printing and postage costs. The use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube enables viral marketing efforts to leverage limited budgets. Just remember that social media opportunities are constantly changing and evolving, so it is important to track trends and stay up to date on the latest technologies

Read stories about taking advantage of technology and social networking

9. Focus on Customers with the Greatest Potential

As marketing budgets shrink, everyone is looking for the best way to get the biggest bang for their marketing buck by strategically focusing on the most promising customers, which vary by attraction.  In many states, this has meant marketing closer to home, focusing on in-state travelers and the nearby “drive states” because travelers may have more limited travel budgets. But at least one state has done exactly the opposite and is instead focusing almost entirely on the out-of-state market.

Other cultural and heritage attractions are reaching out to new audiences instead. For example, some sites are finding ways to reach out to younger or more diverse audiences, while others are appealing to special interests or needs that they have recognized in their communities. 

Read stories about focusing on customers with the greatest potential.

10. Serve the Local Community

Just as it is important to have diversified sources of financial support, having a diversified audience can also provide stability. Cultural heritage sites are reaching out to the local community in new ways, working to establish a deeper connection with locals who may have the ability and interest to do more than just a one-time visit or tour. 

In this way, cultural and heritage attractions are building stronger and more meaningful relationships with the local community beyond simply becoming a member. Affinity groups, classes or even other activities which meet a specific need in the community are just some examples of how cultural and heritage attractions are becoming even more vital and indispensible community resources.

Read stories about serving the local community

11. Emphasize Value

There’s no doubt about it -- people have less disposable income in a down economy and they are looking for opportunities to save. Although budgets may be tighter, people still want to travel. According to a survey by the U.S. Travel Association, travel ranks second to dining out as the leisure activity that people try to afford.

Recognizing that travel plans may need to adapt to the downturn in the economy, a number of states are promoting in-state travel or “staycations.” Others are emphasizing value with discount offers to encourage visitors to keep traveling despite the downturn.

Read stories about emphasizing value.


The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Heritage Tourism Program can help you get started or take your cultural heritage tourism program to the next level. In addition to the case studies included in this toolkit, you can learn from many other cultural heritage tourism success stories.

Or, if you need additional assistance, search the directory of statewide cultural heritage tourism contacts for your state, as well as for national organizations and federal agencies that assist cultural heritage tourism.