- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2005

Culture and heritage have a multibillion-dollar impact on tourism in America that community officials are eager to promote.

“It’s about sharing our home,” said Adair Margo, chairman of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. “We all have something to share no matter where we’re from.”

Exploring ways to share that heritage, and the tourism-related revenue that it can produce, brought officials from across the country to a three-day conference last week in Washington. Mrs. Margo’s committee and the Department of Commerce sponsored the event.

Culture and heritage tourism — defined as “travel directed toward experiencing the arts, heritage and special character of a place” — is a $41 billion industry and a leading sector in tourism, said John Nau III, chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in Northwest.

“You don’t have to build something new,” said Mr. Nau, who stressed the importance of preserving historic sites because heritage travelers stay longer and spend more money than other types of travelers.

The loss of revenue from such tourism has had a major impact in the areas hit by Hurricane Katrina, which devastated many Gulf Coast historic sites and slammed New Orleans’ tourist-driven economy.

“The hurricanes’ striking the Gulf Coast reminds us how fragile [our] heritage is,” said Lynne Biggar, senior vice president and general manager of the American Express Consumer Travel Network.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita displaced 1.2 million residents, caused more than 1,300 deaths and billions of dollars in damages, and affected 41 percent of the state’s businesses, Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitchell Landrieu said at the U.S. Cultural & Heritage Tourism Summit at the Loews L’Enfant Plaza Hotel.

“This is a real human tragedy that has the power to transform a people,” Mr. Landrieu said. “This time of sorrow must be transformed into a time of hope.”

He said that through its rebuilding process, New Orleans is capable of becoming a center of urban creativity and a cultural incubator and finding ways to create jobs and businesses.

“The idea is to add value to the South and to sell it to the rest of the world,” Mr. Landrieu said.

Every community, Mrs. Margo said, is rich in culture and heritage that can be marketed to travelers.

“Our own communities are more layered than we realize,” she said. “We need to get better at communicating all of the U.S. to all of the world.”

If heritage tourism in New Orleans means jazz and gumbo, in Detroit, it means cars. Ford Motor Co. and the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Mich., created a partnership to develop the Ford Rouge Factory Tour and showcase the heritage of the automobile industry.

The tour allows the public to observe the assembly process at a manufacturing plant that Henry Ford created in 1917.

William Clay Ford Jr., chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Co., announced in 1999 his revitalization plan to restore the Ford Rouge Center into a sustainable, environmentally friendly manufacturing plant. Included in the plan was accessibility to public tours, which were ended in 1980.

Since opening in May 2004, the Ford Rouge Factory Tour attracted 268,000 visitors and accounted for $15.3 million in spending in southeast Michigan, said Tim O’Brien, vice president of corporate relations for Ford.

The tour became the most effective way to communicate about the company, along with a way to market its cars, Mr. O’Brien said.

“It opened people’s eyes to the importance of manufacturing in our heritage,” said Patricia Mooradian, chief executive officer of the Henry Ford.

In Washington, Cultural Tourism D.C. aims to promote the heritage of the city’s neighborhoods.

“We’re trying to infuse the idea it’s a cultural center,” said Angela Fox, executive director and CEO of Cultural Tourism D.C., a coalition of more than 145 arts, cultural and neighborhood organizations based in Northwest. “We’re all about strengthening the image and economy of Washington neighborhood by neighborhood.”

Cultural Tourism D.C. promotes citywide events and the idea that many of the 131 neighborhoods in the District are worth exploring, Ms. Fox said.

“We’re also promoting D.C. as a theater and restaurant town,” she said, adding that 30 restaurants opened in the past 30 months, and the District is second to New York in the number of plays produced nationwide.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Northwest, which had an image of being elitist and difficult to access, started providing daily free concerts and offering a shuttle from the Metro to the center, said Karen McFadden, group sales manager for performing arts at the Kennedy Center.

“It’s very important to be welcoming,” she said. “It’s also important to have the ‘wow’ factor. You have to create something that is exciting to people.”

The National Museum of the American Indian attracted 100,000 people, including 30,000 American Indians, to the National Mall on its opening day in September 2004.

“We believe in native voice. All of the programs invoked the first-person voice,” said Margaret “Maggie” Bertin, the museum’s deputy director of external affairs. “And we believe museums need to encourage civic engagement. You just don’t put an object on a pedestal and let it go.”


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