Introduction: What is cultural tourism?
Cultural Tourism is the subset of tourism that is defined as travel directed toward experiencing the traditional and contemporary culture, arts, and special character of a place. This includes the performing, visual and literary arts, language, museums, heritage, crafts, architecture, design, film and broadcasting.

Why should I be interested in cultural tourism?
The primary benefit of cultural tourism is economic impact. There are plenty of statistics that talk about the fact that travelers who participate in cultural activities spend more money and stay longer than leisure travelers. Another consideration is that Texas tourism peaks in the spring, again in midsummer, and once again in the fall, which can provide seasonal relief for communities that are highly dependent upon snowbirds or other wintertime income. A good cultural tourism plan also shapes and defines a community’s image, both to itself and to the outside world.

Does my community have anything suitable for cultural tourism?
Yes! Cultural tourists want an experience, a particular authentic experience, customized to their interests. Whether you know it or not, you have the product (albeit perhaps raw) that tourists want. Your community has a great wealth of interesting people and places. Your job is to develop a realization and appreciation of whatever those things are, whether it is unusual architecture, an engaging piece of history, a curious tradition, a flamboyant culture or individual, or an innovative industry. Find exciting and unique ways to tell the story of your local culture, arts and humanities. Local artists, entertainers, and volunteers can help bring this story to life. It will attract visitors who will strengthen your local economy.

Is there funding for cultural tourism initiatives?
Yes! There are a number of funding opportunities targeting cultural tourism projects and rural development and historic preservationsee Funding Resource List (PDF). However, you need to recognize that the majority of the funding will need to come from local sources, especially in the beginning. Bear in mind that funders will look at the local investment as a way of judging the likelihood of completion and success of your project. Just like any business, you will need to invest in the start-up and operations of the business before you will see any profit.

Can I do this alone?
No, but you can lead the way. A tourism effort is something that cannot be done by a single individual or organization. Collaboration is an essential part of any cultural tourism project. Find partners with the right skills to help share the work and increase your success. You will want to bring in partners as they are needed throughout the process. Be selective and strategic about who you’re inviting and when.

Although the individual partners may change over the course of the tourism program, these are the people that are essential to launching this effort. These people provide the overall leadership for this project.

Steering Committee:
Arts organizations, Museums, etc.
President/Director of Chambers of Commerce
County Judge
Mayor and City Council
City Manager
City Planning Department Director
Representative of Convention and Visitors Bureau
Hotel Motel Association
Restaurant Association
Historic Commissions
Transportation or Highway Department
Patrons/Movers and Shakers in the Community
Prominent and Local Artists

How do I get started?
You will want to convene these people for an initial meeting to discuss a cultural tourism initiative for your community. Your intent for the first gathering is to educate and motivate your partners. see Sample Letter to Tourism Committee (PDF); Sample Agenda (PDF); and Sample Cultural & Heritage Survey (PDF)

How do I identify my community’s hidden treasures?
It is important to begin with an honest appraisal of a community’s assets and identify the unifying themes. This is the starting point from which cultural and heritage tourism destinations are built. How do you do it?

You develop a survey asking about the history, characters, buildings, industries, traditions, natural assets, events and anything else that makes your community unique. Find creative ways to distribute the survey and capture the results. Ask the Steering Committee to help with getting the surveys filled out by as many people as possible.

Consider some of these options:

  • Publish the survey in your local newspaper(s)
  • Convene public meetings about the project
  • Attend and speak at other community meetings (rotary clubs, gatherings of community leaders, genealogy/history clubs)
  • Interview long time residents and local historians
  • Publish the survey online on a website
  • Do interviews as a guest on local TV and radio programs

How do I decide which community treasures to develop?
The next step is to assign a task force to review all the survey results. Look for links between themes, historical periods, and resources to find the more interesting stories to tell. Realize that at this stage of development, you may not be able to assess what your best options are. That often comes from more research and coalescing.

Consider the following when reviewing your options:

  • level of authenticity
  • uniqueness
  • level of quality
  • unusual/ intriguing
  • educational
  • entertaining
  • fun/adventuresome and exciting
  • thematic ties (by subject or time frame)
  • logistical ties (attractions that are physically close together)
  • name recognition (famous individual, place, structure, etc)
  • ties to an annual event (festival, crop, migration, seasonal attraction, etc)
  • visitor safety and convenience
  • where the balance is between sharing the resource with visitors and preservation
  • ability to maintain the resource at high level over time
  • how well it fits the community’s values
  • how easily you can find funding for it

Has the task force come to a consensus on their top 3 to 5 picks from the list? (If possible, bring in someone from outside your community to work with the task force on the top picks; they can ensure you don’t overlook the things taken for granted in your community.) The task force should write-up each of the top picks individually. The write-ups should also include a list of the partner organizations involved, the potential audiences, selling points, and the potential difficulties or weaknesses. see When Writing the Story. Distribute these findings back to your Steering Committee as informational items.

At this point, you need some professional expertise to help you assess what will be most attractive to people from outside your community. You need people from outside your community to look at the plans because they can see them through the eyes of a visitor. You also need someone with expertise in tourism marketing to help you identify the most marketable plan. Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) is a resource for this assessment. We can connect you with tourism marketing expertise, outside consultants specializing in tourism development, as well as assist you in a variety of other ways in making your plan a reality. Be sure to invite your Steering Committee members to attend any of these meetings with the experts. Ideally, you may be able to convene all the experts in town at the same time. Consider mounting a small exhibition illustrating and describing the 3 to 5 top picks. You could use this as an opportunity to invite the community in to listen to and participate in the discussion.

How do we start implementing the plan?
Once the best option has been identified from the top picks, you will need to convene your Steering Committee. The purpose of that meeting will be to ensure their buy-in. Once you have a consensus, ask the committee to help with the development of the many pieces required to put the plan in action. In some instances, the Steering Committee will only be able to help assign or recommend committee members.

The fundamental pieces of the plan are:

  • a budget (with sources of known/pledged income)
  • a list of potential funding ideas/sources
  • an action plan with priorities, timelines, projected costs, responsible parties
  • a plan for measuring the success of your program (this will often require getting before statistics for comparison: hotel occupancy, number of tickets sold to visitors, traffic counts, etc) see Sample Quick Survey (PDF) & In-Depth Survey (PDF)
  • a list of potential players/partners
  • a list of potential targets/types of tourists/markets to reach
  • a marketing plan with a plan for tracking those investments
  • a logo and branded look for the tourism destinations, including print pieces
  • a storyline/script (consider a very small committee with a writer at the head; you’ll want a couple of versions in different lengths to be used for different purposes)
  • a volunteer coordinator
  • a plan to encourage community involvement

If we build it, people will come. Right?
Wrong! By definition, cultural tourism is marketing your community to the outside world. If you aren’t spreading the word outside of your immediate community, chances are you won’t attract new visitors. Cultural tourism is dependent upon organized marketing, which is driven by a carefully considered budget. There are myriad resources on marketing in the Marketing section of this tool-kit that you can utilize to create an effective marketing plan. You will have to purchase advertising space to market to audiences outside of your community. You will not have the relationships with those advertisers you may have locally.

A successful marketing plan can be built with some or all of the following:

  • Advertising
  • Public relations
  • Media relations (TV, radio, newspaper, etc)
  • Marketing support materials (brochures, maps, posters, etc)
  • Online communication (website, email, maps, CDs, kiosks, etc)
  • Promotions/giveaways
  • Packaging (weekend stays)
  • Travel industry sales (tours, trade shows)
  • Fam or Familiarization Tours (tours to acquaint participants with a specific destination)
  • Coop or Cooperative Marketing (collaborative purchasing of marketing space)
  • Direct response marketing (advertising requesting contact information for follow-up)
  • Evaluation mechanisms to measure return on investment (bang for the buck)

Because today’s customers are not all alike, savvy cultural tourism organizations must recognize the special needs of diverse consumers and focus on market segments that will generate the greatest return on investment. Marketing efforts should be aimed at a variety of types of consumers: business travelers, leisure travelers, special interest travelers, people associated with the travel industry. Identifying and reaching special interest travelers may require extensive research to find out what publications they tend to subscribe to. For all advertising options, you will want to collect the following information:

  • Publication name with contact information
  • Reader demographics (who buy their publication, including interests, travel tendencies, and income)
  • Circulation (how many copies of their publication are sold and where)
  • Ad sizes/costs (find out if they have a discounted rate for non-profits and/or for multiple issue ads)
  • Deadlines for submitting your ad (and what formats they accept and how )
  • Hit dates for issue (when the publication will be in stores and mailboxes)
  • Most popular/least popular issue each year
  • Notes (anything you learn that might be factor in deciding whether or not to advertise with them)
  • Calculate your break-even point (how many visitors do you need to attract to pay for the ad? If an ad costs $500 and my tickets are $10 each, I need to sell 50 new tickets to break even.)

Be sure to build in a tracking device (coupon, code, or phone number) for each ad and each publication to help you assess whether or not the money you invested on advertising was well spent. Be sure to calculate your break-even point using your discounted ticket price.

How do we get the community involved?
Members of the Steering Committee should reconnect with the people/places that were part of the original survey distribution. Let them know how important they were to the process, what the outcomes are, and what it means to the community. You will need to leave a collateral piece to solicit involvement from audience members as volunteers, as partners, as funders, etc.

Begin recruiting and coordinating volunteers from the community for specific tasks such as step-on guides, docent led tours, speakers bureaus, etc. Part of the action plan should be identifying the many roles that can be fulfilled by volunteers. The best advocate for your cultural tourism project can be your volunteers.

Create your own Fam tour. My what?
Familiarization Tour (“Fam Tour”): A complimentary or reduced-rate travel program for people associated with the travel industry designed to acquaint participants with specific destinations and to stimulate the sale of travel. The target participants are traditionally tour operators, travel agents, travel planners, meeting and convention planners and trade show managers, or other travel buyers. Familiarization tours are sometimes offered to journalists as research trips for the purpose of cultivating media coverage of specific travel products or destinations.

Fam tours can be anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days depending on where the participants are coming from, the number of things you are showcasing, and whether evening, late-night, or early morning events are part of it. Putting together a Fam tour can be as simple as chartering a bus or van, finding a well-spoken local who can serve as an entertaining and knowledgeable tour guide and mapping out a fun and well-paced itinerary showcasing your community’s cultural offerings.

Recruit people from the community to play the role of participant while you are developing your fam tour. It will give help the locals a clear understanding of the experience offered to tourists. It also allows you to get further input from the community while providing a dress-rehearsal environment for your step-on guides and volunteers.

How do we keep the community involved and informed?
Build a relationship with your local media and radio. This can provide you with a vehicle to communicate regularly with the community on the progress and success of your cultural tourism efforts. Report statistics such as hotel occupancy, number of tickets sold to visitors, traffic counts, etc. Some of these statistics will be easier to capture than others; look to your Steering Committee for help with this before you launch the project; know other statistics are on the web, available through TCA, and for sale from economic analysts.

Another way to keep the interest in the community is to write op-ed pieces for your local and regional papers. Representatives from the Steering Committee could write columns to the local newspaper about the cultural tourism plan. It is a way to keep the community in the loop.

Tips on writing Op-Eds:
Feel free to call the paper and present your idea briefly to the editorial page editor, who should give you a good sense of whether it is something the paper is interested in. The editor may even suggest a direction for you to pursue. When writing an op-ed, it is important to underscore your broader message with examples and statistics of local significance.

General guidelines for writing an Op-Ed:

  • Be clear and concise. Your op-ed should only be about 500-800 words. Include a suggested headline and byline, as well as a very short (one sentence) biographical statement about the author.
  • Remember the reader. Don’t get carried away with jargon. Keep your statements short and punchy. Assume your reader does not know as much as you do about the subject.
  • Be creative. Take a fresh approach. Find a way to engage your reader from start to finish.
  • Know your timeline. Newspapers take up to two weeks sometimes to publish an op-ed. Try to be patient, but keep in touch to find out the status of the piece once you have submitted it.
  • Include your name and contact information (address, phone number, and email). Most newspapers will not publish letters without confirmed attribution.
  • Proof your work carefully! Allow time to have other people proof the piece for typos and clarity before it is sent. see Sample Tourism Op-Ed (PDF)

How do we get the interest from beyond the community?
Join the Texas Travel Industry Association and attend their events and network with other people working on cultural tourism see TTIA Info Sheet (PDF). Meet with representatives of regional and statewide tourism efforts see Information Resource List Try to partner with those efforts. Let them know about your plans so they can help with cross-promotion. Look for links and ways to benefit from similar projects.  Invite them to come do your fam tour and be ready to travel to go do theirs.

Above all, be hospitable! Roll out the red carpet whenever these people come to your community. Make them want to come back.

Adapted from
Uniquely Texas, A Lone Star Look at Cultural & Heritage Tourism
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies Advocacy Toolkit
President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities Exploring America Through Its Culture