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Cultural Heritage Tourism

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Getting Started: How to Succeed in Cultural Heritage Tourism

The five principles and four steps outlined in this section were first developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and released in 1993 with the publication of the American Express funded publication, Getting Started: How to Succeed in Heritage Tourism. The principles were developed during an intensive three-year initiative funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. During that initiative, the National Trust for Historic Preservation worked with sixteen pilot areas in four states—Indiana, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. The program produced measurable results in preservation, tourism, organization and economic development. It also provided a rich source of lessons in how to develop and manage cultural heritage tourism.

Developing cultural heritage tourism is an incremental process, and communities will repeat the four steps described in this section at each stage of development. Keep in mind that developing a strong cultural heritage program will require an investment and a commitment—an investment of financial resources and a commitment of human resources including strong leadership.

Not every community can have a successful cultural heritage tourism program. Communities that have lost too much of their heritage, or not nurtured their cultural potential may not have the historic, cultural and natural resources it takes to develop a program that will attract cultural heritage visitors.

The National Trust’s definition of cultural heritage tourism is “traveling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present. It includes historic, cultural and natural resources."

Tourism is a powerful economic development tool. Tourism creates jobs, provides new business opportunities and strengthens local economies. When cultural heritage tourism development is done right, it also helps to protect our nation’s natural and cultural treasures and improve the quality of life for residents and visitors alike.

Linking tourism with heritage and culture can do more for local economies than promoting them separately. That’s the core idea in cultural heritage tourism: save your heritage and your culture, share it with visitors, and reap the economic benefits of tourism.


In the past, the tourism industry saw its primary role as marketing ready products to travelers, such as package tours to Florida. The mission of the preservation community is to preserve and protect historic, cultural, and natural resources. The cultural community is looking for ways to attract new audiences. Today, tourism, preservation, heritage and culture are much more likely to overlap. Some state tourism offices now help develop heritage resources, and a number of preservation organizations are marketing their sites to tourists.

By following the guiding five principles and four steps for getting started or for moving to the next level outlined in this section, you will increase your chances for both success and sustainability. Good luck!

The Benefits of Cultural Heritage Tourism
Cultural heritage tourism can have a tremendous economic impact on local economies. To economic benefits like new businesses, jobs and higher property values, tourism adds less tangible—but equally important—payoffs. A well-managed tourism program improves the quality of life as residents take advantage of the services and attractions tourism adds. It promotes community pride, which grows as people work together to develop a thriving tourist industry.

An area that develops its potential for cultural heritage tourism creates new opportunities for tourists to gain an understanding of an unfamiliar place, people or time. With the arrival of visitors in turn come new opportunities for preservation. Well-interpreted sites teach visitors their importance, and by extension, the importance of preserving other such sites elsewhere.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of cultural heritage tourism is that opportunities increase for diversified economies, ways to prosper economically while holding on to the characteristics that make communities special.

The Challenges of Cultural Heritage Tourism
When a community’s heritage is the substance of what it offers visitors, protecting that heritage is essential. So a major challenge in cultural heritage tourism programs is ensuring that increased tourism does not destroy the very qualities that attract visitors in the first place.

Because tourism is a highly sophisticated, fast-changing industry, it presents its own challenges. Tourism is generally a “clean” industry; no smokestacks or dangerous chemicals. But it does put demands on the infrastructure—on roads, airports, water supplies, and public services like police and fire protection.

These problems—travelers increasing in numbers and adding stress and strain to infrastructure and heritage sites—are, as Safer says, only beginning, and the travel industry is already addressing them. But a challenge results not only from visitor impact, but also from visitor expectations of quality products and services. Tourism is essentially a service industry, which means it depends on the competence of people in many different jobs and locations. Tourism, while not a panacea, is an attractive form of economic development.

National Trust for Historic Preservation ®

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