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Heritage Tourism • Product Development

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Product Development

Product development for tourism is a long-term community and/or region-wide
commitment to understanding and engaging community participation.
Julie A. Avery, Michigan State University


Product Planning and Development

Which comes first:  the place, the visitor or the experience? In a marketing textbook you would start with the market you want to attract; then develop product and experiences and create the most effective communications to reach your target market. In reality, destinations already have product, experiences and existing visitors. 

Tourism product development is a complex intertwined process that involves research, information, planning, training and implementation, bringing all of these together. The planning and organizing of tourism products involves: 

a) knowing what you have as a starting point and being able to identify what may be missing;

b) securing community understanding and engagement to be inclusive in planning and impact;

c) learning about tourist/visitor interests, behavior and needs to better serve and inform;

d) developing a comprehensive approach to planning, developing, training and stewardship

to guiding development and maintenance;

e) collaborating across multiple sites and communities for larger impact to build destination and to conduct joint marketing;

f) identifying what success will look like and developing methods and measures to assess your success and continually improve visitors’ tourism experience.


Products in tourism are the places and experiences that you identify, create, and market to visitors. Accompanying services and support systems are another element critical to implementing your vision and planning for attracting visitors. This includes product development, marketing, becoming a hospitable and welcoming community, and developing and sustaining the resources and capacities needed to keep your efforts going and successful.


  Image of Traditional music on the square  Image of First person "Charles Darwin"  Image of Tractor Show 

Traditional music on the square. First person "Charles Darwin". Tractor Show.


Product Development 

Tourism is a team effort. For visitors to have a rewarding experience in your community, many organizations and efforts are needed--working in concert--to deliver products and services. Some organizations know they are directly involved in tourism, but others don’t. As communities develop heritage tourism resources and determine ways to attract visitors, all of these organizations may be called upon to contribute in their unique ways.

To understand the tourism product and product development it is important to consider who is on the team and what their contributions will be. Understanding what attracts visitors to your destination is an important step in building a tourism plan. “Attractions” are the gravitational core of the tourist destination--they “pull” visitors to the destination by creating a reason to travel. 

This discussion:
   • Starts with the consumer
   • Explores the importance of attractions
   • Examines products and services and the consumer experience
   • Considers destination planning requirements for successful product development. 



Product-Orientation --or-- Consumer-orientation?     BOTH!


One of the greatest challenges for any marketer
is to consider their product from the consumer’s perspective. 
Jonathon Day, Purdue University


In tourism, failing to understand the consumer and see the destination from their perspective creates two major problems.

The first problem is that many destinations don’t see the unique tourism experience they have to offer. Many examples of this problem manifest themselves in heritage tourism. For instance, residents in some rural areas cannot see how special their destination is because it is so familiar. It is hard to look at what is around you as if you had never seen it before. Planning requires looking at the product through someone else’s eyes!

The flip side of the same coin and the second problem is when tourism managers are so focused on the product that they forget the consumer. This is common with folks associated with new facilities. They focus on every attribute of the building or operation and forget to consider what really creates value for the consumer. 

The challenge for the tourism product developer is to be completely aware of the many product options available within the destination area. With this knowledge, sites and experiences can be organized and presented to the visitor in a way that creates value for the consumer and maximizes benefits for the destination. 


Nature of Tourism Attractions and Products

To understand the product options, it is worthwhile to consider the nature of tourism attractions and products. Attractions can take many forms. They can be a single product such as Disneyland or a series of products loosely “tied” together. For example, new trails, opening across your region, are great examples of products coming together to attract visitors. Attractions can be commercial or cultural or natural (or all three). They can be “hard”, such as historic sites – or “soft”, such as listening to a particular type of music or learning an almost forgotten craft. They can be deliberate –such as a purpose built monument–or incidental–the architecture of your downtown that brings back memories of a simpler time – or is built from area field stones -- and is still functional; these reflect the uniqueness of your area.

Not all attractions are created equal. Attractions have different amounts of “pull.”Some will attract people from across the state; others will attract people from across the world. And not every attraction has universal appeal. Knowing about and understanding who is attracted and why they are important will drive your marketing efforts. Your attraction may have special appeal to a certain audience that will travel across the world to see it and general appeal to everyday folks who may include it in their Sunday drive. As tourism planners, understanding the appeal or “pull” of any attraction will be extremely useful in developing marketing. How do you get started?


Products, Experiences and Services 


Tourism is a service industry and people are the most important part of the tourism product.
Jonathan Day, Purdue University

Image of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore sites  Image of Alcona Co. (MI) tourism planning retreat  Image of Three Oaks annual fall color tour
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore sites. Alcona Co. (MI) tourism planning retreat.
Three Oaks annual fall color tour.


Tourism involves a variety of organizations and facilities --museums, theme parks, festivals, individual sites–- but tourists and visitors are really buying services and experiences. Consider the variety of options available to product developers. Tourism attractions can be permanent “bricks and mortar” that people visit all year round; they can be seasonal; and they can be temporary, such as festivals that run for a weekend or a week.

This is just the beginning of our exploration of tourism products, services and experiences. Even at a permanent facility, products can deliver services and experiences in many ways. Let’s use a museum or historical site as an examples. They may present collections in a special way for a short period of time, rearranging materials to tell different stories that may appeal to new visitors or attract repeat visitors. There may be special activities that cater to a different group of visitors than would normally visit during the day. The museum may mount seasonal exhibits and add or subtract activities to fit the time of year. The changes are small but memorable: pioneer Christmas or, early Thanksgiving decorations can change the visitor experience.

Add into the mix the product variation and the opportunities for creative product development grow exponentially. At the most basic level, training in customer service can create a competitive advantage. We have all experienced bad customer service from indifferent, disinterested staff or volunteers; those memories stay with us for years.

Remembering that good customer service doesn’t just happen–that it needs to be managed and supported--is often step one in creating great product experiences. But people can add so much more to the consumer experience: the docents in our example are passionate about their topic and knowledgable and enthusiastically share this with visitors. They may be volunteers, not even be on the payroll, but visitors may remember the conversation long after they forget the exhibits. Combine people and programming and new product options emerge --from docents in period costumes reinacting traditions and talking with visitors about what it was like. Tourism is a service industry, and product developers must remember that their people are the most important part of the tourism product. 

Co-creating tourism experiences takes place when the visitor 
becomes an active player in the creation of the memory. 
Jonathan Day, Purdue University


Another element can also be considered in creating tourism experiences–the consumers themselves. Our museum or historic site example holds spinning and weaving lessons on Wednesday nights using authentic spinning machines. Once a quarter,  a weekend workshop where enthusiasts –tourists-- come from miles away to participate. Immersion experiences like these create memories for which people will pay substantial premiums.



Packaging and Clustering

Packaging combines complementary products and clustering combines similar products. Both add value to the visitor and the community. Packaging is combining products in a way that creates value for customers and increases their likelihood to buy or visit. In our example museum, we could package the entrance price with a guided tour and spinning class may create not just one, but three, reasons to visit all at a “value” cost. 

Make the move from a single product to a more complex tourism experience! It is worthwhile to step back and look beyond the example of the single museum stop to the visitor’s total experience. – they come to town, have breakfast at a nice little diner downtown and then head to your site. A longer visit might include a bed & breakfast, dinner-out night and a walk through the nature preserve. This might also include a little shopping and antiquing. Each of these activities combines to create the consumer’s destination experience. 

Offering a weekend escape–with two nights at the inn, entrance to the museum and a discount at the diner is a traditional travel package. This package offers the consumer an easy way to understand--easy to buy weekend experience and significantly increases the value to the visitor and to the community. From a product supplier’s perspective, packages like this include a commitment by the partners and single point of purchase where the consumer can buyall the elements in one easy step.

Not all ‘packages’ need to be contracted. In this fast-paced world where time is at a premium and no one has the patience to research their weekend escape in detail, just presenting activities in a way that shows how the visitor can combine possibilities to create a great get-away experience may be all that is required. The ‘packaging’ is something you suggest through your information and promotions.

If “packaging” is combining complementary products then clustering combines similar products. As noted earlier, individual products may have limited “attraction”, so combining similar products can be a useful technique to enhance the appeal of the destination. A destination that is known for its arts and crafts stores is a good example of clustering. From a product developer’s viewpoint, clustering can be achieved in a number of ways. Sometimes it is just a matter of presenting several products that previously haven’t been presented together, in other cases “trails” and “routes” cluster products (wineries, historic sites) that are geographically spread out. 



Partners that Aren’t Attractions

Heritage tourism destinations bring together products and services
to make the whole experience more satisfying, more memorable and more attractive.  
Jonathon Day, Purdue University

Enabling Heritage Tourism 

Remember that not all tourism-related products are "attractions". The service industry --restaurants, hotels, speciality shopping, tour opportunities and more-- are not attractions in their own right but make the tourism experience possible. While shopping and restaurants an be attractions, they are not often the main reason for people to visit. The are, however, critical to heritage tourism.

First, these organizations may be your core tourism partners. They have the greatest stake in ensuring the success of your heritage tourism strategies because visitors will spend money on lodging, shopping and food when they stay in your destination. Second, the experience the visitor has at these venues will be key to their satisfaction with their visit and the likelihood that they will return!

Who is in the Tourist Industry?

You may be surprised! Some of the individuals and organizations that are core to the successful tourism experience may not consider themselves in the “tourist industry”. The success of tourism relies on bringing together a broader team than may first appear obvious. Town planners, economic developers, police and many other support organizations are stakeholders in the development of effective heritage tourism plans. The best practice will also include involving community members in the planning process to ensure the broadest support for your plans.

  Image of Volunteer drum corps  Image of Quilt shop and artist gallery  Image of Tourists finding their way  

Volunteer drum corps. Quilt shop and artist gallery. Tourists finding their way. 


Authenticity – Keeping it “Real”

While it is helpful to know the players in any game, it is always important to remember that the team is more than the sum of the individuals. The same is true in tourism product development. 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has developed the most respected and utilized definitions for tourism today . . . travel to experience the places, artifacts and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present. This attention to authenticity extends the capability of tourism products and experiences to every place and people–your place and your people. These real stories bring to life the history, culture and meaning of your place.


IN SUMMARY      Product development for tourism is a long-term community and/or region-wide commitment to understanding and engaging community participation. It is important to identify and work with sites and services that complement your opportunities to provide options and companion activities for visitors. This will provide more activities and services for your visitors. Cultural tourists are more inclined to stay in an area if they find  numerous authentic things to do, places to stay and good food to eat. 

Work together in “clusters/bundles”: Clustering allows your team to present your product as the customer will experience it. It gives you a team and multiple sites to work with across a region with organization and marketing.

Individual sites are not in competition with one-another! Multiple sites create density
and a destination that will attract visitors to come, to stay, and to return.
Julie A. Avery, Michigan State University


Keys to remember:

Tourism experiences are developed in collaboration with partners and with other sites. 

It is legitimate to decide that some experiences or places are sacred–to be held apart from the tourist experience.

From the beginning, think about how you will know if you are successful.

Money is only one factor.

Your primary goal is to provide experiences and activities that educate and make memories. 

You are working with heritage. This is not just the past; it is what we define and identify as important enough to steward and pass on to future generations. 


For tourism to be sustainable, what we are working with must be carefully cared for
so that it --the land, the sites, the experiences, the stories-- will continue to exist.
Julie A. Avery, Michigan State University

  Image of Alpena MI community and tourism project logo

Alpena MI community and tourism project logo.



Heritage Tourism Product Development Web-based Resources & Publications

Alaska Office of tourism DevelopmentTools for Tourism Planning includes: Alaska Community Tourism Handbook http://www.commerce.state.ak.us/ded/dev/toubus/planning.htm

GeorgiaHeritage tourism Handbook: a how to guide for Georgia. Historic Preservation Division , Georgia Department of Natural Resources.  March 2010

Indiana Office of Tourism Development. Product Development Research, October 2006.  68 pages.http://www.in.gov/
Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington [MRSC]Cultural and Heritage Tourism:  about tourism; resources on Cultural and

Heritage Tourism; Economic Impact of; examples of. . . http://www.mrsc.org/subjects/econ/ed-tourculture.aspx

National Endowment for the ArtsThe Community Cultural Planning Handbook:  A Guide for Community Leaders by Craig Dreseszen

National Trust for Historic Preservation, Cultural Heritage Tourism Planning.-Getting Started:  4 Steps and 5 Principles*;

Success Stories;  Resources; training; -Cultural Heritage Toolkit links: Colorado, Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Wyoming http://www.culturalheritagetourism.org/

United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is a world wide forum for tourism policy issues and a practical source of tourism knowhow.  See:  http://www2.unwto.org/Sustainable tourism development guidelines and management practices are applicable to all forms of tourism in all types of destinations. Sustainability principles refer to the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, and a suitable balance must be established between these three dimensions to guarantee its long-term sustainability


(UNWTO) Mac Nulty:  Fundamentals & Principles of Tourism Product Development.  Rpt. Oct 2011. http://sdt.unwto.org/en    

Utah State History:  A Toolkit for Heritage Development http://history.utah.gov/heritage_toolkit/assess/index.html#tools



Borrup, Tom. The Creative Community Builder's Handbook: How to Transform Communities Using Local Assets, Arts, and Culture. Fieldstone Alliance Publishing Center. 2006.  www.communityandculture.com 

Shilling, Dan.  Civic tourism: The Poetry of Politics of Place. 118 pgs. 2007, Sharlot Hall Museum Press, Prescott, Arizona.

Dreeszen, Craig. The Community Cultural Planning Handbook:  A Guide for Community Leaders.