The Cultural Heritage Tourist

By John Poimiroo Principal, Poimiroo & Partners | October 28, 2008

High-value guests - the ones that are willing to pay more, stay longer and buy added services - are as easy to find as the nearest theater, museum or historic site. That's because the cultural heritage tourist stays longer and spends more than any other type of hotel guest.

According to The Historic/Cultural Traveler, a weathered, but oft-quoted 2003 study by the Travel Industry Association of America and Smithsonian Magazine, more than half of U.S. adults (over 118 million people) include at least one art, history, humanities or heritage activity or event when they travel.

You find them swaying to exotic music at cultural events, festivals and fairs. They're drawn to ethnic neighborhoods for authentic foods and imports. Clusters of them are seen looking skyward as they walk through historic districts on guided architectural tours. Others are involved in volunteer projects to both immerse themselves in a destination while helping to preserve it. They walk battlefields, often as knowledgeable about what took place as are local guides. The travel stories they retell are of the cultural treasures they saw and the remarkable local people they met.

A hotel need not be near a World Heritage Site, a nationally recognized museum, a national park or renowned theater district to attract the cultural/heritage tourist. Cultural/heritage travelers are as fascinated by local history and distinctive arts, as they are by famous places. The cultural/heritage traveler is essentially an explorer of the human impact on places and societies, seeking to understand and experience beyond observation.

For the post-war generation of the sixties and seventies, the travel experience was embodied by the 1969 motion picture, If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. In that film, a group of American tourists race through Europe experiencing it superficially in just 18 days. The film reflected the see it all, do it all attitude of post-war Americans on European holiday. Today's cultural/heritage tourist is the antithesis of David Wolper's cinematic characters. Cultural/heritage travelers linger to explore a destination more fully, staying 53% longer than the average guest.

The TIA/Smithsonian study revealed that cultural/heritage tourists are 13% more inclined to stay in a hotel motel or B&B than with family or friends, or to camp or stay in an RV. They are 19% more likely to fly, and, when they land, they stay 5.2 nights compared to the 3.4 night national average. One quarter of them take three or more trips a year (growing at a pace of 2% per year). These travelers spend 36% more than other travelers and they spend broadly across communities, often benefiting the arts, museums, historic sites and lesser-visited destinations. They're older (49 vs. 47 years old), more have graduate degrees (19% vs. 12%) and more are retired (20% vs. 16%) than the average traveler. Nearly forty percent say trips that include cultural, arts, historic or heritage activities "are more enjoyable."

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