The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

Shaping National Preservation Policy

Heritage Tourism

Promoting historic preservation as a community development tool through heritage tourism.

“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.

Want to explore this topic further? Check out these original documents and interviews with key players from the ACHP archive!

Interviews

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The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

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