History was not my best subject in school. Even today, I do not consider myself an avid history fan. Still, some of the more moving and memorable places I've been in my travels are historic places.
• Monticello – Walking the very halls where Thomas Jefferson once walked sends a chill up my spine.
• Rosa Parks Museum – This museum is so well done that you almost feel like you're on the bus with this courageous women in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955.
• USS Arizona Memorial – It overlooks not only the remains of a sunken battleship in Pearl Harbor, but also the final resting place of over 1,000 crewmen.
• National Civil Rights Museum – Built on the site of the Lorraine Motel, first you glance into the motel room exactly as it was left in 1968 and then step out to the second floor balcony where Martin Luther King was gunned down.
I was three years old when Dr. King was assassinated. Obviously, the events that make the other places historically significant happened before I was born. Yet, visiting them stirred up some deep emotions making them unforgettable places that I highly recommend to everyone.
Is my generally lukewarm attitude toward history combined with the admittedly great experiences I've had at historic places a bit of a paradox? What does it say about the market for heritage tourism?
It tells me that this already large segment of the travel industry can be staggeringly huge if the marketing is done right. At this blog we preach about how tourism marketing in general needs to sell experiences and emotions not just facts, stats, rates and amenities. It's even more important to make history come alive when promoting heritage tourism. Potential visitors have to understand more than just the headlines. They need to get to know the human personalities involved, the heroic feats accomplished, the monumental adversity that was overcome and exactly what it was like on that fateful day, month or period in history. What was the weather like? What sights, sounds and smells filled the air? What did the people know or not know about their fate? Perhaps most importantly, why does it still matter to society? Historic sites and museums, by and large, do a great job of interpreting history for visitors. Isn’t time the marketing did the same? When you advertise with that level of emotion and power you increase your target audience exponentially from more than just self-described "history buffs" to people who are inquisitive and like unique experiences. People like me.