Industrial prominence translates into economic impact, and the figures on the national economic impact of tourism are impressive. In 1995 alone, the travel and tourism industry contributed $430 billion to the U.S. economy, and more than six billion direct jobs were created.
Heritage tourism is an important contributor to the industry. Studies show that historic places are major destinations for a growing number of travelers, both domestic and foreign. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the average historic site visitor stays a day and one-half longer than other tourists and spends $62 more.
Heritage tourism is part of a larger trend known as cultural tourism. One of the hottest trends in the travel industry, cultural tourism is travel that encompasses America's culture, history and environment. It is based on the idea that America is a rich tapestry of distinct regions, ethnic backgrounds, cultural traditions and landscapes. This diverse history and unique social fabric can be experienced through such activities as visiting historic buildings, attending heritage festivals, listening to local music, touring archaeological sites, sampling ethnic cuisine, watching local crafts demonstrations, viewing arts performances or driving down a scenic highway.
The tourists who are searching for this type of unique, authentic experience are dubbed cultural tourists. Typically cultural tourists have a higher income level and a higher level of education. They tend to take longer trips, stay in hotels and be interested in shopping. They travel for personal enjoyment, to educate their children and to experience American life. Experts predict that the market for cultural tourism will swell as the baby-boom generation matures.
The cultural tourism phenomenon has received national attention, culminating in the first White House Conference on Travel and Tourism in October 1995. The various representatives at that conference forged a partnership and a list of strategies that have since guided cultural tourism efforts. In response to those strategies, a coalition entitled Partners in Tourism held a series of regional forums, including one in Indianapolis Feb. 28 - March 1. Representing Missouri in Indianapolis were a cross-section of potential partners: the Missouri Humanities Council, the Missouri Historical Society, the Greater St. Louis Black Tourism Network, the Missouri Division of Tourism, the Missouri African American Cultural Initiative, the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission and the Department of Natural Resources' Historic Preservation Program.
In Missouri, work is already underway to lay the foundation for cultural tourism marketing and development. The Missouri General Assembly has allocated funds for preparation of a Cultural Tourism Plan that will guide state-wide efforts. The Division of Tourism will oversee plan development in partnership with the Missouri Arts Council, the Missouri Humanities Council, and the Department of Natural Resources through both the state park system and the Historic Preservation Program (HPP). As the study progresses, the HPP will be looking to its many partners in the preservation community for help in gathering the information on cultural resources needed for a successful cultural tourism.