Cashing In on History’s Riches

We often get invited by state economic development agencies on media tours that highlight success stories in targeted growth sectors. The itineraries for these tours usually are jam-packed with visits to bustling new plants, gleaming corporate headquarters and leading-edge research facilities.

There isn’t a lot of time to get a taste of the real flavor of a community on these excursions, except during the occasional down-home dinner or while sampling offerings from the obligatory goody bag handed out on the trip back to the airport.

Our favorite tours are to states and metros that have embraced their heritage and made it a key component of their development strategy. We’re still savoring our encounter with Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail, which draws thousands of people each year to the Bluegrass State to taste the golden elixir the locals create in oak-staved barrels (we’re still working our way through the samples we carried back with us from KY, one sip at a time).

A growing number of states are applying the expertise of their economic development agencies to the task of putting their rich histories to work in service of expanded tourism revenue.

New York recently got with the program, unveiling its “Path Through History” initiative. The Empire State is putting its historic and cultural assets front-and-center with a new mobile app to help people plan their trips. The state also has put up promotional signs on the Thruway and interstates pointing to historic sites, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has challenged NY’s ten regions to develop their own heritage marketing plans.

The Southern Tier Regional Committee held a meeting at Binghamton University this week to get public input on its ideas for the Path Through History campaign. Among the historic gems found in the Southern Tier are Mark Twain’s home (and burial place) in Elmira, the birthplace of IBM in Endicott and the Corning Museum of Glass.

“We may not have the single huge attraction like Gettysburg or Seneca Falls (for Women’s History), but we have a lot of stories that need to be told,” Broome County Historian and Southern Tier “Path Through History” Workforce Chair Gerald Smith told a local cable TV outlet, YNN.

“We’re looking strongly at creating a lot of digital content that could be used for schools, mobile applications and Facebook, plus radio and television efforts, not just in the local area but [in] statewide and national [markets] as well,” said Smith.

Hudson River Valley Greenway Acting Executive Director Mark Castiglione told YNN the state is hoping that its rich history can help pump extra cash into each region. “What the governor also knows is that heritage tourists spend more and stay longer,” he said. “On average, heritage tourists spend $300 more per trip than any other tourist demographic.”

The final marketing plan will be submitted to the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council for endorsement. Members of the Path Through History Committee are hoping the region will start to see some of the economic and educational benefits of the initiative by this fall.

If you don’t think the return from these initiatives is worth the effort, consider this:

According to the U.S. Travel Association, travel and tourism is a $1.2-trillion industry which directly generates more than $124 billion annually in combined local, state and federal tax revenue. Travel and tourism also supports more than 14 million U.S. jobs, generating about $190 billion in wages.

California is the tourism powerhouse of America, generating more than $80 billion annually in revenue and home to  more than 850,000 tourism-related jobs. Florida is a close second, with about $70 billion per year in tourism dollars flowing into the Sunshine State. New York, Nevada, Texas are New Jersey also are top-ten tourism states.

Travel and tourism nets about $35 billion annually for New Jersey’s economy, which underlines what is at stake as the Garden State rebuilds from the massive damage to the Jersey Shore from Hurricane Sandy.