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Heritage Tourism A Fit for Your Community

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 Heritage Tourism  •  A Fit For Your Community?


Your community must have a good sense of what makes it your home
before embarking on an economic development strategy that could
forever change the look, feel, and sense of your place.

Larry Dickerson,  University of Missouri


Engaging Community Builds Community

Identify those elements of your community that are most important to ensure to keep as you move forward in heritage tourism planning. Discuss the lessons learned in protecting community assets, values, interactions and other intangible but important components of the web of community and how one thing affects everything else. Protecting those things that make and keep your community unique and healthy are critical in the process and cannot be over emphasized. Getting as many community members as possible involved in this process should be a major goal in your heritage tourism process. A community wants to be the same place to live that it always has been. You do not want to change into a completely different place. This section of will address those concerns.

The process of building heritage tourism for your community begins with taking a close look at what your community wants to be, or not to be. This can entail some form of visioning process, a holistic look at your community, using an appreciative inquiry approach, or taking a close look at what makes your community healthy or unhealthy.   This Healthy Communities Approach (12 page review) can help guide your community building efforts.


 Image of Local stone historic airport building, Leelanau Co. MI  Image of Verdin Gallery, Calumet, MI  Image of Gagetown Octagon Barn annual fall festival celebration, MI 

Local stone historic airport building, Leelanau Co. MI. Verdin Gallery, Calumet, MI.
Gagetown Octagon Barn annual fall festival celebration, MI.



Community Tourism Readiness

Tourism can deliver economic, social and environmental benefits,
but it cannot be implemented without costs.
Connie Mefford, University of Missouri


Assessment as a starting point –getting to know yourself

Before your community decides on tourism as an economic development strategy that brings visitors and guests to your community, it is important for stakeholders to assess how ready you are. How ready are you to plan for tourism? An overview of nine key areas will get you started. Your community does not need to have all of the items listed, but these questions can help you identify gaps in your tourism readiness.

Becoming a welcoming community takes time, effort and a certain amount of preparation. Conducting a community assessment helps to determine if tourism is a good fit for your community. Community resources must be considered first,and the benefits of tourism are not just economic. They can be a focal point for community engagement and excitement. The following questions are a guide to help you determine how ready your community is to be a welcoming visitor destination that can reap economic rewards.


   Image of Investigating natural science at the Michigan State University Museum, East Lansing  Image of PhotoMorgue image 1   Image of PhotoMorgue image 2   

Investigating natural science at the Michigan State University Museum, East Lansing. PhotoMorgue images.


Tourism Management

Is tourism right for your community?

As a starting point explore these questions with a diverse group of citizens and community leaders.

Who Will take the Lead?

•    Do you have a local tourism development and planning entity?
•    Do you have an active economic development organization?
•    Do you have a chamber of commerce?
•    Do you have an overall community partnership to coordinate all community endeavors?
•    Do you have the necessary leadership to get things done?

 Local Planning

•    Do you have an overall community vision and plan to guide your community into the future?
•    Do you have an economic development plan?
•    Do you have a tourism development plan?
•    Does your city, township or county have a comprehensive plan?
•    Does your city or area have a capital improvement plan for infrastructure needed for economic development?
•    Is your community part of a regional plan?

Local Support

Do you have local support for your tourism efforts?

•    Does your local government support tourism development?
•    Do your local financial institutions support and lend to local businesses and entrepreneurs?
•    Do local citizens support tourism?

Economic Climate

Is your local economic climate conducive to tourism development?

•    Do you have a diverse economic base?
•    Is your local economy expanding or declining? Is your economy stable or undergoing major changes?
•    Does your economy experience seasonal fluctuations?
•    Does your community have an entrepreneurial spirit?
•    Do your citizens support economic growth?

Infrastructure Capacities

Do you have the necessary infrastructure (facilities and services) needed to host visitors to your community?

•    Do you have the physical infrastructure (roads, sewers, water, electricity, etc.) capacities to handle visitors?
•    Do you have all the services (police, visitor center, etc.) you need to serve and manage visitors?
•    Do you have sufficient broadband and internet capacities to serve visitors’ needs?
•    What are the conditions of your attractions?
•    Can you provide for the safety and security of visitors?
•    Do you have the capacity and funding to grow?
•    Do you have all the human resources needed for visitors?

Tax Base

Do you have the tax base and structure to support tourism development?

 •    Do you have a sufficient tax base to support developing tourism infrastructure?
•    Do you have a sufficient tax base to support the community services needed for visitors?
•    Can you expand your tax base such that visitors pay for what they use?
•    Will citizens support appropriate sales taxes to support the visitor industry?
•    Will current tax revenues support a tourism development effort?

Work Force

Do you have the trained work force needed to support tourism businesses and services?

•    Do you have a large enough work force for the visitor industry?
•    Do you have an adequately trained workforce?
•    Do you have educational entities to train your work force?
•    Does your workforce know the basics of visitor hospitality?
•    Do you have people willing to work in the visitor industry?

Environmental Concerns

Will tourism affect the environment of your community?

•    Will tourism negatively affect your community’s environment?
•    Will visitors create trash or pollution problems?
•    Do you have a pleasant clean-appearing community?
•    Do you have locations that you do not want tourists to visit?

Social Concerns

Will tourism affect the social components of your community? 

•    Do you have a strong sense of community that will come across to visitors?
•    Do most people in the community have an understanding of the local culture and heritage?
•    How will your community treat visitors?
•    Will your community have a “welcoming” attitude toward visitors, or will it just tolerate them?
•    Do you think visitors will detract from or enhance the community’s quality of life?


  Image of Visitors at the MSU Museum (MI)Image of Chinese food  Image of The Gilmore Car Museum, Hickery Corners, MI

Visitors at the MSU Museum (MI). Chinese food. The Gilmore Car Museum, Hickery Corners, MI.


Economic Strategies

Once you have taken the first step of community building, you can then look at what economic development strategies best fit your community and see if tourism, specifically heritage tourism, is viable for you.. You need to engage in some form of economic development analysis and planning. You can do this in many ways; the attached economic opportunities process for a community is one approach. In any approach, it is important to look at what viable economic strategies, projects, and entrepreneurial opportunities exist, based on the assets and the capacities in your community, and ensure that they fit with the vision and sense of home that makes your community the place where you want to work and live.


References & Resources
Agricultural Extension Service Tourism. Worksheets for Your Community, 1993. 
American Express Company. Cultural Heritage Tourism, How to Get Started, 2010. 
Avery, Julie, Editor. Your Community Culture: an informal guide to discovery, Michigan State University Museum, 1998. 
Heritage Area/ Greenway Association. Resource Assessment Model and Forms for Tourism: Schuylkill River Heritage Tourism, 2010.
Laboratory for Community and Economic Development, University of Illinois at Urbana. Champaign Tourism Development Capacity Index.
Michigan State University Extension Tourism. Greeting the Guest – How Does Your Community Rate , BulletinnE-138, 2000.

National Trust for Historic Preservation. Cultural Heritage Tourism Assessments, 2010.
Pence, Chantelle. Tribal Tourism Development, A Handbook for Planners, Mt. Sanford Tribal Consortium, 2003.

State of Texas Department of Commerce, Tourism Division.   Developing Tourism in Your Community, July 1993.

Tennessee Valley Authority. TVA’s Guide to Hospitality: Getting Back to Basics, 1995.

Texas Western Rural Development Center. Community Tourism Assessment Handbook, Tourism Development Inventory, 1998. 
Texas Historical Commission.  Heritage Tourism Guidebook, 2007. 
University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension. Tourism Assessment Guide Sheet, Larry Dickerson, 2002. 
University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service.  Tourism Development Process Guide Sheet, Larry Dickerson, 2002. 
Weaver, Glenn.  Tourism Development: A Guideline for Rural Communities United States Department of Commerce, U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration, 1993. 
Weaver, Glenn.  Inventorying the Tourism Package: Tourism Development Series, Missouri Recreation Extension, 1989.