Your Historic Building and Heritage Tourism | Wisconsin Historical Society

General Information

Your Historic Building and Heritage Tourism

Your Historic Building and Heritage Tourism | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeTouring bus

La Crosse, Wisconsin. City of La Crosse invited the public to visit and tour their historic downtown on October 12, 2013. Source: Photographer Mark Fay.

An important part of the tourism industry in Wisconsin and around the country is heritage tourism. Heritage tourism refers to tourist visits to historic sites and buildings. Heritage tourists seek to learn the history of new destinations. They tend to visit longer and spend more money than tourists who visit for other reasons. Therefore, a city that embraces its historic and architectural resources is investing in its economy.

Your efforts toward historic preservation or restoration of an older commercial building in your historic downtown will contribute to your community’s unique character and economic development. Many people are drawn to historic buildings and believe that a night on the town in a historic commercial district is a special activity.

Benefits of Heritage Tourism

As the owner of a historic commercial building, you can benefit from heritage tourism, which in turn benefits your local economy. Your building is part of a downtown scene that attracts both local and out-of-town consumers. Historic commercial buildings tend to attract new tenants that revitalize a downtown. Historic architecture contributes to the success of restaurants, shops and entertainment venues. Visitors and residents alike are attracted to a well-maintained and unique historic district that enhances quality of life. A community that accentuates its individuality will attract visitors who seek an experience they cannot find elsewhere.

If you complete a rehabilitation project on your historic commercial building, your building will also provide employment opportunities, both during your rehabilitation project and in the business that you run in your building.

Significance of Tourism to Wisconsin’s Economy

EnlargeDowntown Stoughton

Stoughton, Wisconsin. Visitors to the downtown historic district in Stoughton can shop and eat in a variety of rehabilitated buildings. Source: Photographer Mark Fay

Tourism has emerged as one of the leading sources of jobs and taxes in Wisconsin. In addition to jobs, the tourism industry in Wisconsin generates revenue through federal, state and local taxes.

Visitation to the state’s historic downtown areas is an important part of the Wisconsin tourism industry. The Wisconsin Department of Tourism created a trip planning webpage for heritage tourists and a webpage for those who are interested in Wisconsin’s historical architecture.

The bottom line is that tourism is a major factor in the state’s economy, and it is in the best interests of Wisconsin communities to promote the preservation and restoration of their historic commercial districts to attract heritage tourists.

Developing Your Town’s Heritage Tourism

Linking tourism with heritage and culture can do more for your local economy than promoting them separately. That’s the central idea in cultural heritage tourism: save your heritage and your culture, share it with visitors and reap the economic benefits of tourism. Preservationists seek to preserve and protect historic, cultural and natural resources. Tourism, preservation, heritage and culture are much more likely to overlap. Some state tourism offices now help to develop heritage resources, and a number of preservation organizations market their sites to tourists.

Hopefully your community already has a cultural heritage program or other efforts to promote the architecture and businesses in your downtown area. If not, developing a strong cultural heritage program from scratch will require an investment and a commitment — an investment of financial resources and a commitment of human resources, including strong leadership.

Not every community can produce a successful cultural heritage tourism program. Communities that have lost too much of their heritage and not nurtured their cultural potential might not have the historic, cultural and natural resources it takes to develop an attractive program.