How Albany’s Heritage Sites Promote and Expand Cultural Experiences
According to a 2013 tourism research report, the average cultural heritage tourist according is likely to spend more and stay longer when compared to the leisure traveler. The City of Albany worked with the Albany Heritage Tourism Advisory Council and Discover Albany (Albany’s Tourism Promotion Agency) to create a strategic plan specifically for heritage tourism. The Cultural Heritage and Tourism Partnership incorporated the mayor, and elected city officials, heritage sites, and Discover Albany to carry out the goals and strategies outlined by the strategic plan.
via the Cultural Heritage and Tourism 2018 Report
Telling Albany’s Stories
In 2016, Maeve McEneny was hired as the Heritage Tourism Program Coordinator and she began with seeking input from heritage partners. “I needed to meet with the museums and figure out what we’re doing,” McEneny said. Maeve put out a call to museums and cultural sites in the Albany area to meet and talk. These quarterly meetings were marketed as “Let’s CHAT” (Cultural Heritage and Tourism) and focused on collaboration and input from the heritage tourism community to identify priorities, create visitor experiences and market these experiences to cultural heritage travelers. “I ended up doing a lot of listening and what I discovered was that there are similar types of programming happening across each site...and potential for these sites to partner together.” These partnerships were exactly what the strategic plan called for to help promote and expand Albany’s existing cultural heritage experiences. “Similar programming happens with major anniversaries like Suffrage, the Erie Canal Bicentennial, and Hamilton. Hamilton was probably one of our most popular. We knew Hamilton* fans were traveling to Schuyler Mansion but they had a capacity issue. Other sites worked together in a partnership like the Albany Institute for History & Art, Proctor’s, Ten Broeck… to get in on the Hamilton excitement and extend it,” McEneny said. “By partnering together, these heritage sites could take advantage of the tourists coming in by supporting one another.” In total, the Albany Institute, Schuyler Mansion Historic Site, and First Church took part in the “Hamilton in Albany” program. Discover Albany promoted “Hamilton in Albany” on its website, social media channels, created a brochure, and pitched it to national media. Schuyler Mansion attendance from June to September in 2016 increased by 116% and the Albany Institute attendance increased by 53%. *Hamilton: An American Musical is a musical about the life of AlexanderHamilton with music, lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.
Some of these partnerships are planned but others evolved organically. “Tastes and Traditions” came from a discussion between Maeve McEneny and Albany Institute Curator and MANY Board Member Diane Shewchuk at a MANY conference. “From that conversation I learned that there was a group of different heritage sites doing kitchens and I thought that it would be interesting to pitch to the group,” said McEneny. Over 80 sites and businesses participated and created 117 events and programs. Discover Albany used input from the CHAT partners and created events, tours, classes and exhibits hosted on their website as well as devoting a page to Tastes and Traditions in the Discover Albany Visitor Guide.
Initiatives like these are why Mave McEneny says that this group works well with Discover Albany. “It’s one thing that we’re coming up with all of these plans and themes and sharing resources, but by telling me and the Discover Albany team about it, including our social media coordinator and marketing directors at these meetings (CHAT) who are looking and listening for content for the website, social media, and blog posts that we can listen for stories and connection that Discover Albany can market.” Posting events, tagging the themes on the Discover Albany website help their social media coordinator to find relevant content and write blog posts connecting similar events and programming together that can extend a visitor’s experience. “We will use it for travel writers who are coming in for a familiarization tour to help them visit multiple sites around a similar theme and that’s really the goal for when heritage tourists come in, to visit multiple sites and hopefully stay overnight. The heritage tourist is likely to spend more money and engage in cultural sites than the average, so Discover Albany wants to make the area inviting.”
Extending the Invitation Beyond Museums and Cultural Sites
The CHAT group also includes partners from outside museums and heritage sites. “We’ve invited playwrights, a dance company, artists, and others who could help us tell Albany’s stories,” said McEneny. For example, Historic Cherry Hill wanted to do Suffrage anniversary programming but did not have a direct connection to the movement (in fact the matriarch of Cherry Hill was anti-suffrage). Through the CHAT group, Historic Cherry Hill connected with Kysta Dennis, a lecturer in Creative Arts at Siena College, who wrote an original one-act play “The Burden of the Ballot.” Historic Cherry Hill and Dennis collaborated to bring this play to the site and be part of the Suffrage anniversary programming.
Heritage Tourism features via albany.org
Artists from the Albany Center Gallery were also included in these meetings to know about important anniversaries. Discover Albany featured Herman Melville in 2017 for the 125th anniversary of his death as part of their “Literacy Legacy” program where various heritage sites and cultural institutions highlighted Melville’s life in Albany. The Albany Mural Project (Capital Walls) administered by the Albany Center Gallery had artists include a whale in some of the art murals throughout the city to accompany “Literacy Legacy.”
Collaborating Not Competing
Before the Albany Cultural Heritage Tourism Strategic Plan, Albany museums, cultural and heritage sites chose collaboration over competition back in 2010 to create Partners for Albany Stories (PASt). The group was a collaboration of historical, cultural, and preservation associations that worked together to create a comprehensive telling of Albany history. Participating organizations included the Albany City Historian, Albany County Historical Association (Ten Broeck Mansion), Albany Institute of History & Art, Crailo State Historic Site, Historic Albany Foundation, Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region, New York State Capitol Tour Program, Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation of NYS, Shaker Heritage Society, Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, and Historic Cherry Hill. Its creation occurred at the same time as the Regional Economic Development Council and so by partnering together, their shared goal was to seek multiple capital funding project grants for Albany’s historic sites and developed into collaborative programming.
Having this partnership background for Albany’s heritage sites, helped the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Partnership in 2016. “At first I thought that there might be some resistance but the cool thing about Albany was that people were hungry to work with each other...they wanted to share and they were excited about the people that they met [at these meetings],” said McEneny.
The CHAT group has made significant progress since its creation in 2016 to create immersive visitor experiences with collaborative input from the Albany heritage tourism community. With a strong partnership foundation, Maeve McEneny says that the group is looking to what the next step is. “In 2020, sharing resources and continuing education are two areas of focus. We recently worked with Advance Media who lead a Facebook training workshop for the group.”
Discovery Albany is also helping to track attendance figures year over year to help recognize trends, track the impact of marketing campaigns, and help to identify priorities which are shared with the CHAT partners.
According to the CHAT Report, a total of $58,277 has been spent on advertising for heritage tourism including digital and printed materials to promote new tourism products created by Discover ALbany and the CHAT partners and to capitalize on the heritage tourist.
Want to bring this type of initiative to your own Tourism Promotion Agency?
“Start with your heritage partners first,” said McEneny. “Put a call out to directors and museum educators to come together and talk and then approach your TPA where you can show them the successes of coming together as a unified voice.”
Further Reading / Resources
Cultural Heritage and Tourism Results Report
Albany Heritage Tourism