Heritage tourism affords New Jersey a great opportunity to advance economic revitalization post COVID-19, but only if sites are ready to host visitors with compelling and valued experiences.
“Creating a ‘Linger Longer’ Experience,” Crossroads’ July 29 virtual Professional Development workshop, offered practical tools and tips for engaging historic site visitors, with a goal of encouraging travelers to stay in our communities longer and share positive reviews of their experiences on Trip Advisor and other online sites. Explaining and building upon recommendations outlined in the Revolutionary War Site & Visitor Readiness Assessment issued earlier this year, the Zoom session focused on steps our Heritage Partners can take to prepare sites to welcome more visitors and encourage them to explore our communities.
Jeff Vasser, executive director of the NJ Division of Travel & Tourism, noted that Secretary of State Tahesha Way wants all of the state’s tourism sectors to be as iconic as the shore, creating a rationale for visitors to stay longer and, by extension, spend more. Heritage travelers traditionally spend more on their trips, making them an attractive demographic.
Heritage tourism expert Cheryl Hargrove noted that heritage travel is about creating an environment, not just a place to visit. As travelers venture out following the COVID-19 crisis, a destination will need to offer more than what a visitor can already do from home, she advised, providing workshop participants with ways to assess their site’s visitor readiness, along with ways to improve customer service.
East Jersey Old Town Village in Piscataway experienced a dramatic increase in visitation after shifting its interpretive focus, according to Mark Nonestied, division head of Middlesex County Division of Historic Sites and History Services. Where the focus had previously been on tours and lectures, the site now regularly hosts crafts and tradespeople, giving visitors the chance to see 18th and 19th century work done and learn from the practitioners themselves. Special events are planned with an eye toward making the site a place to stay for the day, with food trucks and more. The result: a growth from an average 6,000 visitors per year to 25,000 in 2019.
When discussing future plans, Nonestied noted that while the emphasis will always be on in-person connection to the site, the COVID-19 crisis exposed a need for online experiences that future visitors could access remotely.
Watch the video replay on Youtube, and download resources to help prepare your site for a Linger Longer experience.
This program has been proudly supported by a grant from Roma Bank Community Foundation.