If you preserve it,
will they come?
Jacqueline L. Evans
The question from Part 1 was: Does the average tourist wait to visit an historical building, a community, a district, or a main street until it has been registered by The National Trust for Historic Preservation?
The answer was, NO! You ask, why not?
Many heritage tourism development efforts wait for just that - perfection. They wait for the perfect preservation, the perfect time and the perfect season to invite tourists. In the meantime, tourism revenue as has passed them by to other communities who know how to make the most with what they have and know how to market it - market it progressively until perfection.
The average community seeking a registration from The Trust waits on a multitude of steps to take place: to agree, to submit, to form, to write, to meet, to conduct, to collect, to write again and, well, you know the rest.
In truth, that could take forever or at least…years; and in the meantime, the energy for great plans and by enthusiastic fundraisers go by the wayside from lack of positive, tangible results in the form of tourism revenue. And isn't that what it is all about - sustainable preservation?
Why do some communities let time go by without doing anything? Quite often, because while their history is being discussed by the committee, there is no immediately visible recognition and/or identification for the tourists to see and, therefore, nothing to draw them to the areas. Sadly then, no excitement is generated. Worse yet, no memories are created and no new (tourism) dollars are left by them in the community.
The average – and I repeat average – tourists (individual & group) want simply to have quality informative sites to see with visitor-friendly interpretation about what happened on a particular spot, its redeeming value and some ounce of personal identification/connection. Now while this is the first step, the next step is creating an eye-catching technique to get the attention it deserves from the tourist. That eye-catching technique might be in the form of Interpretational Signage*, an appropriate decorative fence surrounding the area (or at least leading up to the area) or a slight touch of paint in the right spot or all of the above.
A prime example of this is shown in the simple preservation of the original settlement of Jamestown, Virginia (see photo). While this restoration did not include replicating the structures, it did serve perhaps in an even greater sense to represent its history with a slight touch of paint. It created a real, touchable, authentic visual of - what was - when history happened during the American Revolution in a visitor-friendly manner.
Have you recognized yet that the key words here are “visitor-friendly?” That alone identifies the greatest need for the average tourist seeking historical flavor. True students of history on the other hand, will and should want to know that every little historic detail has been authenticated. The average tourist, however, won’t pause long enough in front of a lengthy-written bronze plaque for them to actually appreciate what is before them. You've heard the expression, "less is sometimes more." It often applies here, they simply do not need more to remember how valuable their experience was with you.
That doesn’t mean the average tourist doesn’t have an appreciation for the greater historical value, it just means they don’t always need that depth of research and authentication to make their experience worthwhile. Nor do they need that depth for them to leave their dollars but they must be attracted to the site first. You must get their attention to pull off the road, to turn the bend, to take that next exit. Something visual about the site or your community needs to express to the visitor its worth in history and that stopping to experience it is worthy of the visitors time.
So much can be done to create a visual message of worthiness with these immediate and simple enhancements without or before any restorations - restorations that may never happen – costly restorations that may not need to ever happen to get the message across to the visitor. Jack Romig of The Morning Call explains the reality of preservation in his article, "Tackling restorations without going broke."
Communities that recognize the economic gain in immediately developing and marketing their history for the average tourist will have a greater opportunity to generate tourism revenue in the here and now - thus providing sustaining funds for all other endeavors on so many levels.