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Statewide Cultural Heritage Tourism Programs on the Rise 

12-09-2015 17:35

In Pennsylvania, state historic sites and museums are promoted on Coca Cola vending machines, and discounts to historic sites are offered on the two-liter bottles distributed within the state.

In Wisconsin
, the Department of Tourism produces 18 separate free guidebooks, including "Wisconsin Heritage Traveler," "Backroads Bounty," and guides to African-American, Native American, and Hispanic cultures within the state.

In Texas, visitation has surged at the historic sites now marketed together as part of the Forts Trail region.

There`s great variety-and great creativity-in state-level efforts to develop and promote cultural heritage tourism, according to a survey conducted in 2000 by the National Trust`s Heritage Tourism Program. In fact, the survey shows that state tourism pro-grams have clearly benefited from bringing in preservationists and other nontraditional partners.

In 1989, when the National Trust`s newly formed Heritage Tourism Initiative searched the country to recruit four pilot states, heritage tourism was virtually unheard of. A little over a decade later, more than half the states in the country have a dedicated heritage or cultural tourism program-a number of which are spearheaded by statewide preservation organizations. Some programs focus entirely on tourism development, some on tourism marketing, and some provide a combination of the two.

The recently completed survey of statewide programs was conducted as part of the national Share Your Heritage cultural heritage tourism initiative. Talking to key contacts in each of the 50 states has revealed many significant developments and trends.

Statewide Preservation Organizations Play a Leadership Role

While leadership for statewide heritage or cultural tourism programs is most commonly found in the state tourism office, in six states, a statewide historic preservation organization is taking the lead:

  • The Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) launched a statewide heritage areas program in October 1996. A percentage of Maryland`s real estate transfer tax is earmarked for this pro-gram, generating $1 million a year, and a dozen heritage areas have been designated thus far.

  • The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) began a three-phase heritage tourism initiative in 1994. Now in its third phase, the program currently includes a variety of creative statewide marketing partnerships that promote Pennsylvania history. Along with the collaboration with Coca Cola described above, the state has developed marketing partnerships with Amtrak (which promotes railroad sites in its customer information), the National Telephone Exchange (whose "Pennsylvania Trail of History" phone card program includes admission discounts and recorded messages about upcoming events), and others. PHMC marketing manager Gloria Schleicher comments, "Heritage tourism has really entered the mainstream market, which has made it possible for us to develop these cooperative marketing partnerships."

  • In 1998 the Texas Historical Commission launched the Texas Heritage Trails Pro-gram with a $600,000 annual budget provided through the state legislature. Trail regions can compete for $180,000 in grant funding provided to selected trails over a three-year period. The Forts Trail Region was the first trail selected in 1998. A second, the Texas Independence Trail, was designated in 2000. When the new travel brochure for the Forts Trail region was released, visitation at six monitored sites jumped almost 20 percent during the first year. According to Janie Headrick, the Heritage Tourism program director, "The Texas Trails Program is not just about printing a travel guide to market the region. Before we market a new trail, we spend hundreds of hours of staff time and invest development grant dollars to build capacity and enhance the visitor experience."

  • Utah has had a heritage areas program for almost a decade, although it was just recently formally established. With $250,000 in assistance from the state legislature and coordination assistance from state staff, the Utah Division of State History works in partner-ship with other state agencies, including the Utah Travel Council and Utah Business Development Office, to provide support to emerging heritage areas in Utah.
  • In 1991 the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) took the lead on heritage tourism development, and the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) has spearheaded heritage tourism marketing efforts. Over the past several years, working in various partnerships, DHR, VTC, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, the Public Service Programs and Outreach of Virginia Tech, and the Virginia Association of Museums have presented 25 conferences and training sessions about cultural tourism development for communities and regions of the state. DHR, VTC, and VCA recently collaborated to update and expand Virginia`s 56-page "Tourism Handbook, Putting Virginia`s History to Work," now in its third printing. In 1999 the Department of Historic Resources convened the "Virginia Cultural Network," a coalition of statewide cultural institutions that supports partnership efforts in cultural heritage tourism development.
  • The Preservation Alliance of West Virginia (PAWV) secured approximately $250,000 in grants to launch a two-year pilot program in heritage tourism in 1999. As the pilot program draws to a close in December 2001, PAWV is developing recommendations about the best way to continue this effort as a permanent statewide program.

Efforts in States Without Formal Programs

A number of states that do not have a dedicated cultural or heritage tourism program are working on related projects. For example, states located along the route of the Lewis & Clark expedition, such as Washing-ton, Idaho, North Dakota, and South Dakota, are gearing up for the upcoming Lewis & Clark bicentennial celebration. It is significant to note that a number of the other 22 states without a stand-alone program have incorporated a focus on cultural and/or heritage tourism into their overall efforts, or into targeted efforts such as rural tourism development.

Cultural and Ethnic Themes

Thematic cultural and heritage trails are becoming increasingly popular. Ethnic heritage trails, craft heritage trails, folklife trails, art museum trails, music trails, maritime trails, and more have been developed to link smaller sites together into meaningful visitor experiences.

Ethnic heritage programs are well established in several states. Alabama`s state tourism office was one of the first to get involved in cultural heritage tourism, releasing an African-American heritage guide in 1983. America`s population is becoming increasingly diverse. Statistics show that by 2010, Hispanics will be the largest minority. Thus it should come as no surprise that programs featuring ethnic sites and traditions are growing in number and popularity.

Grassroots Collaborations

Efforts at the national, regional, state, and city level are really just the tip of the iceberg-an indication of a much larger grassroots surge of interest in cultural heritage tourism. Much of the richness of cultural heritage tourism comes from the small museums and historic sites, the mom-and-pop businesses, local performances and events. These smaller attractions are realizing that there is strength in numbers, and that by working together they can do what no one could do on its own. For example, historic sites, cultural attractions, and other tourism services in Nashville, Tenn., have pooled their marketing resources to form "NAC," the Nashville Attractions Coalition. In Washing-ton, D.C., the D.C. Heritage Tourism Coalition is drawing attention to heritage and cultural attractions scattered throughout the District.

National Networks

The creation of these new cultural heritage tourism efforts has also created the need for ways to network and share experiences at the national level. Two other specialized groups have formed in addition to the National Trust`s Heritage Tourism Program.

Partners in Tourism, a national coalition of over a dozen cultural and tourism agencies and organizations, has developed a mailing list of more than 2,000 key leaders in cultural heritage tourism. Partners in Tourism has sponsored workshops and publishes Cultural Tourism News, a newsletter with the latest information about programs and projects at the state and national level. For more information about Partners, check out

The Cultural Tourism Alliance, an informal national network of practitioners, has provided another valuable vehicle for information exchange. The Alliance will be hosting its fourth annual conference in San Antonio, Tex., in early November 2001. For more information, call the City of San Antonio Office of Cultural Affairs at (210) 207-6961.

Share Your Heritage Initiative

The survey of state-level pro-grams was the first phase a new a national initiative of the National Trust`s Heritage Tourism Program. Called Share Your Heritage, it is funded by American Express and the National Endowment for the Arts. The initiative will pro-duce a directory of statewide heritage and cultural tourism programs as well as a book of success stories. The initiative will also include the development of how-to workshop materials featuring real-life best practices, and will run pilot workshops for a targeted group of participants in Missoula, Mont.; New Paltz, N.Y.; and San Diego.

The Share Your Heritage initiative will culminate in January 2002 with a national workshop in Phoenix, Ariz. One delegate from each state (the statewide cultural heritage tourism coordinator or the closest equivalent) will be invited to attend. This work-shop will provide the first-ever national gathering of statewide cultural heritage tourism coordinators, providing peer-to- peer networking opportunities that have never before been possible.

Results from the 2000 Survey of Statewide Cultural and Heritage Tourism Programs
Note: A statewide program is defined as an effort that goes beyond "business as usual" with dedicated part- or full-time staff that explicitly includes "cultural" or "heritage" in the name of the program.

Number of Statewide Programs

28 states currently have dedicated statewide cultural or heritage tourism programs (AL, AZ, CT, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MD, ME, MO, MN, NC, NV, NY, MS, OH, OR, PA, SC, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WI, WV).

20 of the 28 programs are less than 5 years old.

Several states that do not have a statewide program are currently looking at ways to start one, suggesting that the number of statewide programs will grow.

A number of the other states have incorporated a focus on cultural and/or heritage tourism into their overall efforts, or into targeted efforts such as rural tourism development.


21 statewide programs are part of the state tourism office (AL, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, ME, MN, MO, NC, NV, NY, MS, OH, OR, SC, TN, VA, WI, WV). 6 statewide programs have state preservation organization leadership (MD, PA, TX, UT, VA, WV).

4 statewide programs have state arts council leadership (ME, MO, NC, VT).

2 statewide programs are part of the state humanities councils (AZ, CT).

Several states, including ME and MO have programs that are partnership efforts between two state agencies.

Other states, including NC, VA, and WV, have two programs at the state level, each of which focuses on a different aspect of cultural heritage tourism.


13 programs have at least one dedicated full-time staff per-son (FL, KY, LA, MO, NC, NY, OH, SC, TN, TX, VT, WI, WV).

North Carolina has the largest staff with 10 full-time employees within the NC Division of Tourism and a full-time director of marketing & cultural tourism at the NC Arts Council.

Several other states have more than one full-time equivalent dedicated to cultural or heritage

Publication Date: September/October 2001

#ForumNews #HeritageTourism

Author(s):Amy Jordan Webb

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