“Heritage tourism” is the business or practice of attracting and accommodating visitors to a place or area based especially on the unique or special aspects of that locale’s history, landscape, and culture. Early in the ACHP’s history, especially as it looked at federal agency resource management, the National Parks, and the resources on federal lands and installations, “public use” and “visitor experience” were discussed but not “tourism.” Tourism was seen as something states and localities did to market themselves, or that private entrepreneurs engaged in for commercial purposes.
However, since at least 2002, the ACHP has been a particularly strong champion for expanding heritage tourism as a means for supporting and promoting historic preservation, for educating the public about history, and for linking historic resources more directly to their associated economic benefits. While travelers to historic places gain educational and recreational benefits, heritage tourism can be a powerful local and regional economic strategy. State and local tourism programs understand this and link tourism to gains from lodging tax revenues and other revenue from visitors. In addition to its economic benefits, though, heritage tourism can be an important agent in promoting community pride, enhancing quality of life, and educating present and future generations. It can bring attention to the stories and traditions of the past that are important to a community’s foundations, while hopefully informing continued, sensitive development that helps protect these historic and cultural assets that are one of the reasons people travel and visit places in the first place.
In 2002 the ACHP convened a forum in New Mexico to explore examples of intergovernmental and public-private partnerships that might serve as models for federal policies, programs, and actions. This led to two Federal Heritage Tourism Summits convened by the ACHP to discuss federal policy improvements and interagency coordination, and subsequently to the 2003 issuance of Executive Order 13287, “Preserve America,” and creation of the Preserve America Program to promote heritage tourism as a local and regional economic development strategy. The ACHP has since participated in an intergovernmental coalition called Partners in Tourism and co-sponsored a U.S. Cultural Heritage Tourism Summit in 2005 with the Department of Commerce, the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, and other federal and non-governmental partners. (That date was the 10th anniversary of a White House Conference on Tourism that was held without the knowledge or participation of much of the larger historic preservation community, so this was an important change in thinking.) ACHP staff assisted in co-authoring a position paper on “Cultural and Heritage Tourism in the United States” for consideration at the summit.
Among other things, the Preserve America Executive Order included a policy for federal support for preservation through heritage tourism:
Sec. 5. Promoting Preservation Through Heritage Tourism.
(a) To the extent permitted by law and within existing resources, the
Secretary of Commerce, working with the Council and other agencies, shall
assist States, Indian tribes, and local communities in promoting the use
of historic properties for heritage tourism and related economic development
in a manner that contributes to the long-term preservation and productive
use of those properties. Such assistance shall include efforts to strengthen
and improve heritage tourism activities throughout the country as they relate
to Federally owned historic properties and significant natural assets on
(b) Where consistent with agency missions and governing law, and where
appropriate, agencies shall use historic properties in their ownership in
conjunction with State, tribal, and local tourism programs to foster viable
economic partnerships, including, but not limited to, cooperation and coordination
with tourism officials and others with interests in the properties.
Since the Preserve America Executive Order tasked federal agencies with certain responsibilities to support local economic development through heritage tourism programs and initiatives, the ACHP developed and provided guidance to agencies on effectively fulfilling these responsibilities. The ACHP also compiled and disseminated information on existing heritage tourism programs, including ongoing economic research and complementary federal funding and technical assistance. In 2008, as part of the work of its Archaeology Task Force and to offer additional guidance to agencies, the ACHP released a “Policy Statement on Archeology, Heritage Tourism, and Education.”
Much of the information on federal heritage tourism and education activities proved useful when the ACHP was asked to participate in development of a new interagency initiative under a 2010 Presidential Memorandum highlighting “America’s Great Outdoors” and the cultural and natural treasures on America’s public lands.
In the years following the Cultural Heritage Tourism Summit, the ACHP was included in meetings of the Commerce Department’s Tourism Policy Council. The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 (page 224) formally authorized the Preserve America program. In 2011, the ACHP commissioned a study on Measuring the Economic Impacts of Historic Preservation which included a focus on the economic benefits of heritage tourism. Then in 2012, the ACHP participated actively in the development of a National Tourism Strategy for the United States, led by the Department of Commerce.
The ACHP has remained engaged in interagency and public-private collaborations related to heritage tourism, including several conferences billed as Cultural Heritage Tourism Exchanges (2011, 20012, 2014), as well as ongoing work with the Partners in Tourism coalition and a regional industry tourism policy group representing tourism interests in the southeastern states.