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Cultural Heritage Tourism

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National Trust for Historic Preservation National Trust for Heritage Tourism PreservationNation Web Site


A growing number of visitors are becoming special-interest travelers who rank the arts, heritage and/or other cultural activities as one of the top five reasons for traveling. These visitors are known as cultural tourists. Since 1998, the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) and Partners in Tourism have collaborated on research that illuminates the scope of this demographic trend in travel. The fact sheet below summarizes key findings in the latest report by TIA and Smithsonian Magazine, The Historic/Cultural Traveler, 2003 Edition.

How many cultural tourists are there?
Nearly 118.1 million American adults say they included at least one of fifteen arts, humanities, historic or heritage activities or events while traveling in 2002. This equates to more than half of the U.S. adult population (56%). One quarter of these cultural travelers take three or more of these trips per year. In fact, historic/cultural travel volume is up 13 percent from 1996, increasing from 192.4 million person-trips to 216.8 million person-trips in 2002.

What do we mean by cultural heritage tourism?
Cultural heritage tourism is based on the mosaic of places, traditions, art forms, celebrations and experiences that portray this nation and its people, reflecting the diversity and character of the United States. Travelers who engage in cultural tourism activities visit the following:

  • art galleries, theater and museums
  • historic sites, communities or landmarks
  • cultural events, festivals and fairs
  • ethnic communities and neighborhoods
  • architectural and archaeological treasures

Thirty percent or 35.3 million adults say that a specific arts, cultural or heritage event or activity influenced their choice of destination. In fact, many travelers will extend their stay because of an arts, cultural or heritage event or activity.

Who are the cultural travelers?
Most cultural travelers want to enrich their lives with new travel experiences. This is particularly true among those aged 18-34, 75 percent of whom agreed that trips where they can learn something new are more memorable to them.

  • The demographic profile of the cultural heritage travel segment today is younger, wealthier, more educated and more technologically savvy when compared to those surveyed in 1996.
  • Generation X and Y'ers (ages 18-34), are more apt than Matures aged 55+ to agree that trips where they can learn something new are more memorable to them (75% vs. 63%).
  • Households headed by Baby Boomers (ages 35-54) are most likely (41%) to participate in these activities.

How do cultural travelers compare to all U.S. travelers?
Eighty-one percent of the 146.4 million U.S. adults who took a trip of 50 miles or more away from home in the past year can be considered cultural tourists. Given this large volume of travelers, cultural/heritage tourism generates millions of dollars for destination communities in spending on shopping, food, lodging and other expenses. This can be attributed in part to the fact that cultural/heritage trips are likely to last seven nights or longer. In a nutshell, cultural tourists compared to the average U.S. traveler

  • Spend more: $623 vs. $457
  • Are older: 49 vs. 47
  • Are more likely to be retired -- 20 percent vs. 16 percent
  • Are more likely to have a graduate degree: 21 percent vs. 19 percent
  • Use a hotel, motel or B&B -- 62 percent vs. 55 percent
  • Are more likely to spend $1,000+/-: 19 percent vs. 12 percent
  • Travel longer: 5.2 nights vs. 3.4 nights
  • Travel by air: 19 percent vs. 16 percent

Top Ten States Visited by Cultural/Historic Travelers in 2002:
1) California
2) Texas
3) New York
4) Florida
5) Pennsylvania 6) Virginia
7) Illinois
8) Tennessee
9) North Carolina
10) Georgia

Sources: Travel Industry Association of America TravelScope survey 2003; The Historic/Cultural Traveler, 2003 Edition, TIA and Smithsonian Magazine.


As of November 2003, Congress has designated 24 National Heritage Areas, which are defined as places where "natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography." These heritage areas represent a significant component in the cultural heritage tourism infrastructure. Each area creates a thematic story out of its natural, cultural and historic resources, which are managed and interpreted by the National Park Service through strategic public-private partnerships. Anecdotal evidence has always indicated these heritage areas are effective in leveraging additional resources and investment. A 2003 survey by the National Park Service Heritage Areas Program shows that heritage areas have leveraged an impressive 8.7-to-1 match. The study's findings also reveal an impressive diversity of sources, which includes federal Transportation Enhancement funding, state and local government dollars and the private sector (foundations, corporate and individuals) support.

Source: National Park Service Heritage Areas Program, 2003

Source: National Park Service Heritage Areas Program, 2003 Transportation Enhancement funds in particular have been a very flexible source of funding for cultural and heritage tourism projects. Enhancement funds not only provide support for the restoration of historic properties and scenic byways, but also for interpretive materials in the development of historic driving tours such Virginia's Civil War Trails. For more information on Transportation Enhancements and how they been used by the arts and heritage organizations see Building on the Past: Traveling to the Future, published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the National Assembly of State Arts Agency’s Arts and Transportation: Connecting People and Culture.


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