Most people are unfamiliar with the term “heritage tourism,” even though many have already personally engaged with this, the single highest growth segment of the overall tourism industry. Often based upon archeological, cultural or religious sites, heritage tourism is far from limited to world class destinations like Machu Picchu, in Peru or the Vatican, in Rome. Despite our more recent history in the United States, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has defined cultural tourism as the exploration of cultural, historic and natural resources through a process of “traveling to experience the places, artifacts and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past.”
Cultural and heritage tourism is so important that a Position Paper on Cultural & Heritage Tourism was developed by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities for the 2005 U.S. Cultural & Heritage Tourism Summit. The conclusion was that “America’s rich heritage and culture, rooted in our history, our creativity and our diverse population, provides visitors to our communities with a wide variety of cultural opportunities, including museums, historic sites, dance, music, theater, book and other festivals, historic buildings, arts and crafts fairs, neighborhoods, and landscapes.”
According to the report, cultural and heritage tourists spend more, and represent a significant international component (where the top 5 markets at the time were the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, France and Australia) of guests who stay longer than others, in their quest for uniquely American experiences. The report also outlined how “Every place in America — rural area, small town, Native American reservation, urban neighborhood and suburban center — has distinctive cultural and heritage assets that can potentially attract visitors and their spending.”
The report continued, “Communities throughout the U.S. have developed successful programs linking the arts, humanities, history and tourism. Cultural and heritage organizations — such as museums, performing arts organizations, festivals, humanities, and historic preservation groups — have formed partnerships with tour operators, state travel offices, convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs), hotels, and air carriers to create initiatives that serve as models for similar efforts across the U.S.” It is time to take the initiative to add campgrounds to this list!
We often tend to be unaware of the historical treasures in our own backyards. For example, I was born and raised in metropolitan Springfield, Massachusetts; however, it was probably not until I was in my forties that I visited the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, when we had guests coming to visit from another region of the country. Founded as “The Arsenal at Springfield” under orders of George Washington, the Springfield Armory became famous for its innovative manufacturing techniques, the use of interchangeable components that simplified maintenance and repairs in the battlefield, and the development of the M1903 Springfield and the M1 Garand rifles that were manufactured in tremendous numbers and saw decades of legendary service. Now under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, a visit to the Springfield Armory National Historic Site (more locally, still referred to as the Springfield Armory Museum) is an essential stop for anyone with an interest in American history in general or its manufacturing or military components. This is the essence of local heritage tourism and its ability to draw in vast numbers of visitors from near and far alike.
According to an article published in the Springfield Republican newspaper on July 28, 2014, the Springfield Armory National Historic Site hosted 17,783 visitors, comprised of both individuals and groups, in 2013. Admission to the park is free, but these visitors directly contributed $980,200.00 to the local economy, on a per capita basis outspending visitors to any other National Park in the northeastern United States, including the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Bell. Some of that spending should have gone to campgrounds in the local area, and it should certainly be a goal for local RV parks to promote this type of heritage destination. The things to do in the local area form the essence of why many people will choose to stay – or extend their stays – at the local campgrounds that make an effort to capitalize upon their proximity. Some of the major attractions in the Springfield area are Six Flags New England (open about half the year) and The Big E (open for 17 days in September.) The Springfield Armory National Historic Site is open 7 days a week from Memorial Day through October 31st, then 5 days a week throughout the rest of the year.
Continuing with heritage tourism in the City of Springfield, Massachusetts as my example, a visit to the Springfield Armory National Historic Site goes hand-in-hand with a visit to the relatively new Museum of Springfield History, located in the Quadrangle museum complex about a mile down the road. This museum offers superb collections and exhibitions that highlight the city’s important role in the American industrial revolution. In its Automobile Gallery alone, transportation buffs will see examples of vehicles built by Stevens-Duryea (locally argued to be the first automobile built in America), Knox, Atlas, and Rolls-Royce of America – which built nearly 3,000 luxury vehicles in Springfield between the years of 1920 and 1931, when this only manufacturing facility outside of England fell victim to the Great Depression. The fact that the site of the Rolls-Royce manufacturing plant was demolished in 2011 makes the preservation of what remains all that much more important.
In other wings of the museum, visitors will marvel at over two dozen rare Indian Motocycles, built in Springfield from 1901 to 1953, and the largest collection of Smith & Wesson firearms (still in Springfield and now employing 1,200 workers) anywhere in the world. Other displays showcase Milton Bradley Company board games, Granville Brothers aircraft, and dozens of small manufacturers who once called Springfield home.
What I have described here is precisely what the Position Paper on Cultural & Heritage Tourism explained in the following words, “Linking similar assets together as a linear ‘strings of pearls’ allows consumers to travel by motivation and interests — such as military history, ethnic settlements, music, commerce and industry, architecture or landscapes — to expand opportunities for these visitors to stay longer and spend more.”
I have concentrated on only one component (manufacturing) within one city (Springfield) in Western Massachusetts. Wherever your park is located, there is an equally fascinating history that is waiting to be discovered by heritage tourism enthusiasts from around the country and around the world. The first step is for you to become aware of what is in your backyard, then to actively promote those unique resources to your guests. Consider arranging possibilities such as field trips, discount admission passes, and special presentations at your park.
In order for your business to grow and prosper, it is important to continually add to its customer base. Look toward the old to find a new component of business in local cultural and heritage tourism.
This post was written by Peter Pelland