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Your City, Your Business: Heritage tourism: Making the past the future

The Railroad Museum. Glensheen. Gorgeous bed-and-breakfast inns. History and historic sites have long been a part of Duluth's appeal to tourists, and a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is putting historic preservation into th...

The Railroad Museum. Glensheen. Gorgeous bed-and-breakfast inns. History and historic sites have long been a part of Duluth's appeal to tourists, and a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is putting historic preservation into the city's economic development strategy.

Last spring, Duluth was named a demonstration site in the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Preservation Development Initiatives (PDI) Program. One of the focuses of Duluth's Preservation Development Initiative is the promotion of heritage tourism -- travel with the purpose of experiencing the stories, artifacts and people of the past.

Nationally, there has been an upswing in heritage tourism. Eighty-one percent of adults who traveled last year included a history stop on their itinerary. Heritage travelers tend to vacation longer -- nearly five days compared to three and a half -- and spend more, about $623 per trip, compared to $457.

That's good news for Duluth. With our many natural, cultural and historical resources, we lure more than 3.5 million visitors each year, and the number is growing.

In order to grow this particular segment of Duluth's tourism economy, the PDI report recommends that Duluth look at enhancing existing attractions, refining under-construction attractions and developing new attractions.

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The first recommended strategy is augmenting Duluth's existing historical attractions in order to further increase their appeal to visitors. For example, at the St. Louis County Heritage & Arts Center, the main entrance could be moved to the Great Hall, better re-creating the feeling of arrival travelers of yesterday may have felt. The Immigrant Waiting Room could be expanded, with the addition of a theater performance or two.

Two historical sites which are already under development are the Sacred Heart Music Center and the Norshor Theatre. Both of these have terrific potential as entertainment venues -- for films, concerts, plays and other special events -- and will help promote Duluth's growing appeal as a diverse cultural destination.

An architectural tour, featuring some of Duluth's most beautiful and unusual buildings, and a link between Canal Park and Old Downtown -- perhaps through a series of kiosks which tell the story of both places -- were two more of the PDI group's suggestions for new attractions.

In order to maximize Duluth's attractiveness to heritage travelers, there must continue to be a high level of cooperation between the DCVB, City Hall, the tourism industry (hotels, restaurants, attractions) and residents. These four stakeholders together are the key to securing future promotional funding, educating tourist industry players on how the industry works and embracing a long-term commitment to building tourism.

Resident support of tourism is essential to local growth and to the success of the many tourism entities in Duluth. By volunteering, donating or just paying regular visits to some of the above-named destinations, Duluthians ensure a thriving industry -- and that means a thriving local economy.

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