By: Julie Payne
Heritage tourism is a branch of tourism focused on the cultural heritage of the location where tourism is occurring. The National Trust for Historic Preservation in the U.S. defines it best: “Traveling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present.” Heritage tourism is considered one of the fastest-growing segments in the industry and equates to a $171 billion annual spend.
Eighty-one percent of U.S. tourists are considered “cultural tourists,” and 56 percent of the U.S. population indicated it included at least one cultural, arts, historic or heritage activity or event while on a trip in the past year. Cultural tourists spend more and stay longer: Average spend is 60 percent more at approximately $1,319 per trip, as compared to $820 for the traditional, domestic leisure traveler. Cultural tourists take 3.6 trips vs. 3.4 trips annually.
Forty-one percent of cultural tourists are affluent and well-educated baby boomers. They tend to engage with locals through immersive experiences, seek to enrich their lives, and prefer leisure travel that is educational. Forty percent will pay more for distinctive lodging. Millennials are a growth market for heritage tourism, as 73 percent want to engage in a destination’s arts and cultural assets, while two-thirds rated authenticity as extremely important in their travel decisions.
Most people don’t leave their home saying, “I’m going to be a cultural tourist today,” but their motivations, actions, and activities are impacted by the availability of cultural assets. A specific historic or cultural event is the main reason for travel. Historical places and museums rank top on the list of activities at a destination (66 percent), followed by cultural events and festivals (45 percent). Shopping is always a favorite activity. Sixty-eight percent travel by auto, and they have a high rate of last-minute planning of one month or less. There is also a higher propensity for taking group tours for heritage tourists.
Heritage tourists travel to unique destinations. Their adventures take them to destinations that are off the beaten path. They are in search of authentic experiences and want to learn something new during their travels.
Reaching heritage tourists is a challenge because of their diversity in interests. Partnerships with your convention and visitors bureau, state tourism office, trade associations, and regional and local partnerships will provide saturation and diversity. Build relationships with receptive and tour operators to drive your product. Social media, email campaigns, and web promotions are effective tools as well as traditional advertising. Technology is a driver for travel decisions, and there is power in pictures of your destination.
Sustainability is a continued trend in heritage tourism. It is imperative to preserve and protect the resources that attract tourists while maintaining community pride in residents.
Identifying your local authenticity and what makes your destination “you-nique,” understanding the heritage tourist, and exceeding their expectations with balance for residents and resources will create a positive tourism experience.
Julie Payne, CTIS, CTP, is the founder, president, and tourism enhancement specialist at Attractour, a company focused on business development for the tourism industry. Attractour attracts tourism through building relationships, strategy, and education.