In 1989 I had the great privilege of working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation on a new initiative to study the relationship between preservation and promotion. That initiative led to a heritage tourism movement that has lasted three decades, in part to five principles guiding asset-based economic development. These five principles continue to serve as a roadmap for appropriate and sustainable growth of heritage tourism, whether focusing on historic, cultural, or natural assets.
As we approach a new year, consider these principles when developing or marketing your destination. They will ensure the distinctive “personality of place” is maintained for current and future generations of travelers and residents.
- Focus on Authenticity and Quality
In the late 80s, authenticity was not as common a word as perhaps it is today. However, the intent is the same: focusing on what’s real versus manufactured, recycling historic sites into new and valued attractions, and telling true stories about the people of the past and present. And ensuring each transaction is completed with quality and integrity, to be competitive in the marketplace and respectful of the asset.
- Preserve and Protect Resources
Let’s face it, a sign that says “here once stood” is not as powerful as actually standing in the place where history happened. While not every building can or should be saved (or converted to a museum), important structures and landscapes that tell the story of America and its peoples are significant treasures worthy of preservation and protection. The significant architecture, structures, and sites that provide a visual lens on the past make destinations more interesting, both for residents and visitors.
- Make Sites and Programs Come Alive
Storytelling has become the mantra for many marketers seeking a way to differentiate their destination or attraction from all others. Yet interpretation goes beyond storytelling. It should evoke emotions and connect – perhaps even challenge – visitors to learn more, behave differently, or respond to a call to action. While technology has opened a myriad of opportunities to reach people with information, offering experiences that relate – and resonate – with all types of audiences is vital to being meaningful in today’s world.
- Find the Fit between Tourism and Community
Perhaps no other principle is more relevant than this one. Focusing on a balanced approach to tourism is vital to sustainability. The rise of “overtourism” and lack of capacity management is countered with good planning, policies and pro-active solutions for experience engagement that benefit resident, resource, and visitor. Infrastructure and itineraries to redirect visitors to lesser-known areas and attractions, a focus on high-value-visitor ROI rather than volume, and respectful instruction in marketing are positive strategies for sustainable tourism.
Heritage tourism requires engagement of multiple stakeholders to ensure the brand promise is delivered with quality and provides a benefit to local residents, governments, destination, resource managers, organizations, businesses, and of course, the visitor. Without strong, pro-active communication and collaboration, the necessary policies, programs, preservation, and promotions cannot be achieved for the desired outcome.
The saying goes “hindsight is 20/20.” Perhaps we can all learn from a set of three-decade-old principles to be more relevant in our planning and implementation of heritage tourism – and other forms of asset-based economic development – in 2020.