Heritage Tourism? What is it? We know that tourism is travel-whether we go to France or England or Australia-we can be considered tourists. Sometimes people say things like “Well, we did not go anywhere but we played tourist in our own town”. What is meant by heritage? Some ask others:” What is your heritage?” Some will say Russian, English…maybe even Italian or Irish. But heritage is history and it is about place. It is what people who have lived in a given area for a particular period of time are most proud of.
Many years ago in the late 1990’s, I did a month’s long internship in Coral Gables, Florida. It wasn’t for the City of Coral Gables but at the Fairchild Tropical Garden (see above photo). The FTG is an enormous source of pride for the residents of the City of Coral Gables and if it is not, it should be. Why? It is considered to be the largest tropical garden in the United States and was designed by Williams Lyman Phillips who was a protégé of the Olmstead School. Frederick Law Olmstead was the Father of Landscape Architecture. A discussion of this particular garden is beyond the scope and intent of this blog. However, I do want to state with all of its beautiful views from a variety of angles and gorgeous landscaped walkways, it represents one of the most significant sites of heritage tourism for the City of Coral Gables . It has been in existence since the 1930’s. This garden, not only represents one of Phillips famous (I think it is his most famous) work but also the horticultural specimens that Dr. David Fairchild, the renowned plant explorer of the United States Department of Agriculture, brought from all over the world to this site.
Heritage Tourism does not just encompass institutions such as museums and botanical gardens. It encompasses much more. Historical battlefields, rivers, trails, urban districts and neighborhoods, rural agricultural communities,; sites where old industrial mills were located and so much more. It is about place and what makes a place special from a historical point of view. The landmarks of a given place reveal some interesting stories of the activities that transpired. These landmarks may indicate how the locals earned their livelihood and may still be working at the same occupations that their ancestors did. Heritage tourism also speaks to the goods and products that were derived from these industries.
Want to know more about Heritage Tourism? Walk or drive if you can around your town. Look at your parks and individual neighborhoods. Are certain areas known for a certain type of architectural style? Are their town squares where folks have been congregating for ages to discuss the newsworthy events of the day? Did a famous celebrity live in a certain house that is still standing because a community preservation association took pains to keep it from the wrecking ball?
Everybody wins when they invest in Heritage Tourism. Tourists visiting a given area have a much more enriched holiday or vacation experience when they visit one or more historic places. Tour operators have the opportunity of creating exciting venues and excursions based on the notable features of their respective areas. Residents delight when out-of-town visitors come and spend money on goods made and/or sold by local businesses. Residents need not exclude themselves from heritage tourism experiences, as well. Play “tourist” in your own backyard. If there are neighborhoods, museums, battlefields and other sites that you have not ever seen-go visit them. You may gain a perspective on your community that you never had before.