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Heritage Tourism ‚ÄĘ Initiating

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Initiating Heritage Tourism

Determining whether heritage tourism is a fit for your community and
if you have the assets and capacities to make it work is the foundation
necessary for tourism as an economic strategy.
Connie Mefford, University of Missouri



Assessing Your Community, County, or Region’s Potential for Economic Development

Assessing your community is the first step in initiating your efforts. The first step in implementing heritage tourism is to define your area.  Do you want to develop heritage tourism in your community/city or town, in a larger geographic area or an entire region? These are all defined by you and your situation. When making this decision, you need to keep in mind the number and quality of attractions and services that are available or that you can plan to create.  Visitors are more likely to stay in an area longer and spend more money when they have multiple things to do and enjoy. They are also more likely to return to the area when events are going on throughout the year. Therefore, a careful review of your target area should be your first priority.

Your second step is to determine whether heritage tourism is a good fit for your area both economically, organizationally and publicly. Heritage Tourism requires that an area have marketable attractions and businesses that provide all the services that a visitor will need when staying there. Do you have adequate hotels, restaurants, car repair/gas stations, public restrooms, visitor or welcome centers, etc. to make their stay amenable. The community, county or region will also need to determine whether they have adequate infrastructure--good roads, proper signage and traffic controls--to move the visitor easily from one attraction to the next. Another area to consider is the employment base in your defined area and its potential to provide enough seasonal or year round employees for the tourist industry. Volunteerism can also play an important role in heritage tourism, so assessing the area’s potential for available volunteers is another factor to consider.


      Image of  Imagination and Junteenth Celebration at the African-American Museum of Iowa  Image of Cedar Rapids  Image of Scenic stream

 Imagination and Junteenth Celebration at the African-American Museum of Iowa, Cedar Rapids. Scenic stream.

Once you have considered these factors, the next step is to determine whether heritage tourism is a sound economic strategy for your area. Keep in mind that every location is unique and the manner in which this assessment is conducted will need to fit your community.  If you have funding, you might hire a consultant, organization and/or agency that provides this service. Another approach would be to form a committee. The makeup of this committee is crucial. Consider including:  community leaders, elected officials, owners of lodging and attractions, and others with sites and interest in promoting tourism. The committee should be broad-based and include citizens directly involved in the tourism industry as well as others. Should you decide to form a committee the National Trust for Historic Preservation suggests the following goals for your assessment:

‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Gather a wide variety of opinions and suggestions from stakeholders.
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Learn about the community‚Äôs/region‚Äôs history and culture.
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Evaluate the current visitor experience.
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Evaluate current visitor services, including signage, operating hours, hospitality, etc.
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Evaluate current marketing efforts.
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Assess the level of public and private support for tourism.
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Meet with organizers and assess organizational capacity for program development.


Through the Eyes of a Tourist

     Image of Tourist video  Image of Pow Wow Dancer  Image of Scenic Nature courtesy PhotoMorgue  Image of Alcona County Quilt Trail, MI

Tourist video, Pow Wow Dancer, and Scenic Nature courtesy PhotoMorgue. Alcona County Quilt Trail, MI.


If your community decides to pursue heritage tourism as a means for economic vitality you may want to do another assessment before getting started. Many communities use a technique called ‚Äúthrough the eyes of a tourist‚ÄĚ to assess if their area is tourist ready. This technique involves inviting people from outside of your community (preferably visitors not familiar with your community or area) and ask them to evaluate the area for visitor services, hospitality (how welcoming and helpful were the employees of the local businesses and citizens of the area), level of entertainment and number of local attractions. One way this can be done is by arranging an exchange bus tour with members of another tourist community some distance from your own. Members of the community can also be asked to evaluate their own community by asking them, ‚Äúif you were a tourist what would you want to see and do while visiting?‚ÄĚ, and ‚Äúwhat do you feel is missing to have the best visitor experience?‚ÄĚ

If local attractions involve natural and/or cultural resources, you will need to develop a plan to make sure those resources are preserved and renewable to ensure that the attraction will be there to sustain tourism long into the future. This will also ensure that the quality of life remains the same for local citizens.

If planned and monitored actively, heritage tourism can bring many benefits to rural communities. Heritage tourism brings in money, helps to promote the area to outside interests, and can ultimately result in bringing in additional investors and business. Local citizens have the opportunity to meet and learn from others and, most importantly, heritage tourism gives locals citizens the opportunity to share their culture and way of life to the outside world.

However, heritage tourism brings with it costs as well as benefits. Economic, social-cultural and environmental impacts are inevitably elements of tourism development (Cooper et al.1998).¬† As a result, your community should carefully evaluate the costs before it decides to engage in this kind of economic strategy.¬† Heritage tourism can lower the level of privacy that local citizens enjoy. It can attract illegal activity or persons who prey on tourists. It can also stress an area‚Äôs infrastructure with constant repairs to roads, addressing litter and the need for the area to present a unified ‚Äúneat‚ÄĚ appearance.¬†




Community Assessment Tools:  an overview

Many tools and approaches are available to assist you in assessing your area’s potential for tourism. This overview of frequently used approaches briefly reviews these tools as resources for your planning and development.


Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry is an ‚Äúasset-based approach". It starts with the belief that every organization, and every person in that organization, has positive aspects. It asks questions like ‚ÄúWhat‚Äôs working well?‚ÄĚ; ‚ÄúWhat‚Äôs good about what you are currently doing?‚ÄĚ It then builds upon the past and current successes of a community to expand existing events/attractions or develop new opportunities. For more information go to the Appreciative Inquiry Handbook.


SWOT Analysis

SWOT stands for: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This analysis approach is a communication tool and a great way to enlighten the community about sustainable tourism. Using a simple diagram, community members review the community’s internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats that affect and influence successful tourism development.



A survey is another way you can learn the strengths and weaknesses and also assess public opinion.  A good survey can reveal a wealth of useful and easily quantifiable information.  True needs assessment surveys have some common characteristics:
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†A pre-set list of questions,
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†A pre-determined sample of people to answer these questions,
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Are conducted by in-person or phone interview,¬† or by¬† mail, and
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†The results of surveys are tabulated, summarized, distributed, discussed
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Results, most importantly, are,used

The size and complexity of the survey will depend on what kind of information you want to gather and the financial resources you have at your disposal. Depending on your resources (time, money, and people), a needs assessment survey may take many different forms. See one example here. It can be as informal as asking people you know in your community. Or, it could take the form of a professionally-written survey that is mailed to hundreds of people in your area. The results of the survey then guide your future action.


Examples of how others approach and utilize tools are often very helpful.

‚ÄĘTexas Cultural Tourism Assessment Survey

‚ÄĘ Community Tourism Assessment Handbook -- Published by the Western Rural Development Center, Utah State University, this nine-step guide is designed to facilitate the process of determining whether tourism development is right for your community.

¬†‚ÄĘ Alaska Community Tourism Handbook: How to Develop Tourism in Your Community¬†¬† How to Develop Tourism in Your Community



Asset Inventory

An asset inventory is a technique for collecting information about your community. It’s similar to a shopkeeper taking stock of his merchandise and checking it off the list. An asset inventory works best at a community meeting or large gathering where people of the community can work together to complete the list. This Community Tourism Inventory provides a chart as a guide to consider your community resources.  Your Community Culture is an example of a cultural asset work book for community use.

Community Mapping  

Community mapping is a tool used to reveal different people’s perspectives and understanding about their community. In this facilitated activity, groups of individuals draw conceptual maps of their community and mark points of interest/importance and how often they visit them. This information is overlaid on a map that also indicates the natural and political boundaries. Then the facilitator leads a discussion about the map and what it demonstrates about your area. Are there natural clusters of activity? What is missing? Another facilitator records the discussion. This activity helps communities identify the use and access of community resources and compare perceptions of the importance of various resources.


Focus Group

A focus group can be useful in assessing a community’s preferences and opinions on a particular issue. It is a guided discussion involving six to ten members who have some similarities in a specific area, for example: similar age group, status in a program, etc. It is also carefully planned and conducted to engage leaders in a meaningful discussion about their community, to establish relationships and to identify underlining issues. Questions are carefully designed and shared with participants prior to the meeting. During the meeting, the facilitator asks the questions and gives time for all the participants to respond.  All responses are recorded either electronically or by another facilitator.

Tourism Development Capacity Index

The Tourism Development Capacity Index (TDCI) can assist you develop an objective assessment of the status of the tourism development infrastructure in your community.


State of Alaska Division of Community and Economic Development, Department of Community and Economic Development. Alaska Community Tourism Handbook.

Western Rural Development Center, (1997) WRDC/MSU Extension, Utah State University. Community Tourism Assessment Handbook: A nine-step guide designed to facilitate the process of determining whether tourism development is right for your community.

Creating Engagement

The mission of vibrant and progressive communities is to encourage innovation, entrepreneurship
and sustainability. Heritage tourism is one manner to achieve those goals.
Julie A. Avery, Michigan State University Museum


All communities need to think about ways to enhance their place and create more economic activity. Many factors are critical to achieving a vibrant and progressive community. One of them is to have a rich and diverse social fabric. It is imperative to have as many diverse parts of the community as possible engaged in the planning process to enhance the heritage tourism assessment and implementation. This increases awareness broadly and will demonstrate community buy-in and identify social capital necessary to bring the plans to fruition. Conditions of citizen participation are many and this information sheet provides a overview and food for thought.


 Image of People engaged with collections  Image of nature  Image of history  

People engaged with collections, nature, and history, photos courtesy Michigan State University Museum and PhotoMorgue. 


A shared vision results in a movement toward:
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Collective purpose
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Activities related to mission
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Agreement on agenda
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Collective direction
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Defined goals


Better ideas come from diverse sources
Make sure that all ages, genders, incomes, races, ethnicities and social elements within the community are included in the process.  
Citizen participation is a key concept of American society and is ingrained in our culture.
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Citizen participation can meaningfully tie programs to people.
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Citizen participation is the essence of democracy.
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Citizen participation ensures more buy-in and acceptance in the community.


Citizen participation in community development is a critical piece of building a healthy community.
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Volunteer citizen participation continues to be one of the key concepts in American society.
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†It is the people‚Äôs right to participate that defines our society.


Citizens have many opportunities to participate in community efforts.
Direct citizen participation has declined, but ample opportunities still exist in most places for citizens to get involved in their community’s destiny.


The importance of citizen participation cannot be overstressed.
It can be viewed from the perspective of benefits to be gained and costs to be borne.
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Implicit in getting involved¬† is the relationship between self and society.
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Involvement in volunteer groups is an important science for individuals‚Äô definitions of self-esteem and self-identity in American society.
‚Äʬ†¬† ¬†Volunteer groups function as links between individuals and larger societal structures.


Five advantages of citizen participation
Citizens can bring about change by expressing their desires.
1.    Individuals learn how to make desired changes.
2.    Citizens learn to understand and appreciate the needs and interests of all community groups.
3.    Citizens learn how to resolve conflicts for the general welfare of the group.
4.    Individuals begin to understand group dynamics as applied to mixed groups.


Dickerson, Larry Creating Healthy Communities, The Process of Community Discovery; University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension, 2001.

Dickerson, Adams, Flora, Gulick, Jeanetta, Nakazawa  Building A Strong Community; University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension, Forthcoming Fall 2013.