Vermont Builds Tourism Success on Anniversaries

Strategy: Collaborate in New Ways, Enhance Your Product, Leverage Anniversaries

Type of attraction: Tourism Organization

Summary: 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.

 

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. In 2009, the state marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of French explorer Samuel de Champlain, and in 2011 events will get under way to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

Meshing opportunity with challenge is the reality of an economic recession that began just as planning for the first occasion got under way and continues as the second is being planned, straining budgets and resources for many historic sites and communities that would take part.

Recognizing the opportunities these anniversaries presented, many sites and communities plunged ahead with determination and creativity. “They saw the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial as way to attract a wider range of visitors,” notes Catherine Brooks, cultural heritage tourism coordinator for the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing.

“For example, the Lake Champlain Land Trust offers great programs for their members, such as a walking tour of the Chazy Reef on Isle La Motte – a preserve with 480 million-year-old fossils. This tour addressed both geologic history and early Vermont industry, so we promoted it as a ‘Quad’ event with great results – instead of 20 people they usually host, they had 80 people for the tour.”

In Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, plans were well under way for an 11-day International Waterfront Festival to attract visitors during a slow segment of the summer season. “The economic downturn hit at same time,” Brooks says. “The lead organizer, Burlington City Arts, mounted an aggressive fundraising effort. The state, local granting agencies, individuals, and businesses stepped forward and provided funding, and the event was a success. Among other measures, Burlington’s lakefront aquarium and science center increased its visitors from nearby Quebec by 70%.”

The efforts made by communities throughout the region to commemorate the Champlain Quadricentennial were worthwhile. Brooks notes that “many events focused on Native American and French heritage. People now know so much more about these significant Vermont cultures. Two years ago there wasn't such awareness, and today there is more interest than ever.”

Now that the Champlain Quadricentennial has successfully concluded, plans are in full swing for the Civil War Sesquicentennial which begins in 2011 and continues through 2015. A planning group that includes the Vermont Historical Society and the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing has developed an interpretation framework that will guide historic sites, cultural organizations, and communities in telling their Civil War stories.

“To keep the message fresh for four years, the historians on the committee have developed themes to guide each year of programming,” Brooks says. “Themes include a strong focus on how the war affected those on the home front and offer opportunities to make connections to contemporary events. For example, a close look at the work of Vermont abolitionists provides connections to the current work in Vermont refugee resettlement projects.”

Keeping lines of communication open among various groups is key to successful events – and success in ongoing operations. With that in mind, Brooks plans to start a newsletter for the culture and heritage community. A centerpiece will be sharing opportunities for partnering, product development, and marketing assistance.

“You can be on Facebook and purchase advertisements and do other promotions, but if the core visitor experience isn't good, even great marketing is not going to work,” Brooks says. “Culture and heritage venues have much to learn from each other. By sharing best practices, I hope this newsletter will foster communication among our businesses and non-profits, and impact the ultimate bottom line: the visitor.”

For more information, contact Catherine Brooks, cultural heritage tourism coordinator, Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing, catherine.brooks@state.vt.us, 802-828-3683.