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Exploring the World Through its Culture

May 12, 2014

Recently, I participated in the Cultural Heritage Tourism Exchange in Washington, DC, which is a bi-annual event that brings together representatives from government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and the travel and tourism industry to discuss strategies designed to advance cultural heritage tourism policies, programs and promotions.

Sponsored by the Department of Commerce International Trade Administration and Partners in Tourism, the two-day gathering focused on how to utilize the National Travel & Tourism Strategy to aid growth and sustainability of cultural heritage tourism in the United States and beyond.

It was also an opportunity to track the progress that the United States has made in attracting cultural tourists from other countries as well as promoting tourism within the country. Interestingly, the top five countries whose citizens visit the United States are Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Japan and Brazil in that order. These countries also represent the most spending by visitor – although in a slightly different order.

The National Travel & Tourism Strategy, which was published in 2012 by a Task Force on Travel & Competitiveness, identified travel and tourism as critical to the American economy, and as having potential for job creation across all regions of the country. It also outlines five recommendations that representatives think need to be taken in order to achieve a goal of 100 million international visitors annually. They are:

  • Promoting the United States. We need to create a positive and welcoming message for international visitors. We should find new opportunities to access data and use technology to enhance and tailor information for visitors to identify destinations and plan trips to and within the United States.
  • Enabling and enhancing travel and tourism to and within the United States. We need to reduce institutional barriers to the free flow of trade in travel services, expand trusted travelers programs and improve the processes for arrival and aviation security.
  • Providing world-class customer service and visitor experience. We need to support workforce development initiatives to maximize business opportunities with a diverse audience of visitors, and pilot innovative ways to use technology to provide information and to interpret content for non-English speaking visitors.
  • Coordinating across government. Federal agencies together with public and private partners need to maximize the potential of travel and tourism to create jobs.
  • Conducting research and measuring results. The government, the travel and tourism industry and academic researchers need to conduct high quality research on travel and tourism issues and trends to inform decision-making.

The nation's cultural and historic assets can play a vital role in encouraging visitors and spending, and this is true in many countries throughout the world. A 1995 report entitled Exploring America Through its Culture by the President's Committee on Arts & Humanities (and supported by American Express) highlighted four aspects of cultural tourism in the United States:

  • The United States possesses unique historical and cultural resources that lend themselves to cultural tourism and that are of particular interest to international visitors.
  • Cultural tourism has a significant economic impact in many communities throughout the United States
  • Cultural tourists tend to stay longer and spend more at their destinations, and
  • Collaboration among the cultural sector, the travel and tourism industry, and governments at all levels is necessary if this sector of the economy is to reach its full potential in the years ahead.

This report concluded with a number of recommendations, including:

  • Protection, preservation, enhancement and development of local and regional cultural tourism assets
  • Improved accessibility to community, regional and thematic attractions
  • More research on cultural tourism
  • Expansion of urban, rural, suburban, resort community, statewide and regional planning to include participation from the cultural tourism industry
  • Support of tax policies that are conducive to cultural tourism growth, and
  • Increased recognition for cultural tourism as an economic development tool.

American Express has long been interested in promoting cultural tourism, and that interest forms the basis for our nearly 40 years of support for historic preservation around the world. In fact, our former CEO, Harvey Golub, co-chaired the President's Committee Working Group on Cultural Tourism, the body that published this report. Since that time, we have invested over $50 million in historic preservation projects – primarily through our partnerships with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the World Monuments Fund.

What do you think? Would the steps outlined above increase tourism to cultural and historic sites in the United States and, by extension, in other countries? What should be the role of government and the private sector to stimulate spending in the travel and tourism industry? If you have a comment, please share it here. Alternatively, follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and comment there. Thanks for reading and sharing this blog with others.

P.S. Did you know that the travel and tourism industry generated $1.2 trillion and supported 7.6 million jobs in the United States, and spending on travel and tourism grew 3.5 percent in 2011?


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