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Attracting a crowd

Marketing expert cites strategies
for historic sites to improve visitation

By Debra Maylum
Staff Writer

(December 2004) – In search of new strategies for growth among the area’s heritage sites, members of the newly formed Madison Area Heritage Sites Roundtable on Nov. 8 met with Brenda Myers, vice president of marketing and public relations for the Indiana Historical Society.

HMI Sullivan House

Photo provided

HMI's Sullivan House

Myers cited several challenges facing operators of heritage sites. For Madison, a major challenge is overcoming the misconception held by many travelers that it is difficult to get to Madison, so they go some place where the surroundings are more familiar.
She cited Madison’s 62 percent return visitation rate as a plus. What they need to do is get the word out to the people who are already visiting and living in the area.
In the group’s analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, they reached some conclusions. The group recognized the need to become attractive to the younger market and the need to attract people who already visit the area but who may not visit the historic sites.
The majority of visitors and contributors to the area’s historical sites are of the baby boomer generation. The people in the area who are in their 20s and 30s make up an untapped market. For a historical site operator, appealing to this crowd is a challenge in itself, especially when competing with the Internet.
Myers said it is important to make people see that they can get the information and learn about something anywhere, but that they can only experience it at the actual site.
Myers also discussed the idea of better collaboration with area schools as a possibility for increasing interest among young people. Every level of education could interact with historic sites, whether it is field trips for elementary aged children or volunteer opportunities for high school and college aged students. There are a number of ways to involve people beyond the idea of visiting solely to learn history.
In order to attract people already visiting the area to the sites, Myers said, the first thing to do is raise awareness. Decorative and unique signage would be one possibility. Another might be to collaborate with bed and breakfasts, which by trade see a number of repeat visitors. The B&Bs often provide visitors with ideas for things to do around town. They present a wonderful opportunity to get the word out about the historic sites, she said.
A combination ticket for admission to the different sites is an idea that has been discussed for a while now, and Myers could not stress enough how much benefit something of the sort would provide. She made clear, however, her feeling that existence of the ticket alone would not help, but that members of the community, such as shop owners, hotels, B&Bs and the general public must be made aware and help promote the tickets. People, after all, must know about the tickets in order to purchase them, and that requires good marketing efforts. People are often unaware that things change at museums and historic sites, making them worthwhile to re-visit.
Link Ludington, curator at the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site, pointed out the common misconception that once you visit a site, there is no reason to go see it again. There are often new exhibits, changing scenery and different discoveries that make a place unique each time a visitor comes. He said that he often sees returning guests surprised to see that something has changed since their last visit.
Increasing visitation to the historic sites will continue to be a challenge for this area, but discussions such as the one led by Myers are key to generating ideas and continuing in the right direction. Myers believes that this area is on the right track. “Sometimes the most difficult part is just getting everyone to the table for collaboration,” she said.
The Madison Area Heritage Sites Roundtable plans to continue meeting monthly to foster communication among the operators. These include Historic Madison Inc., Lanier Mansion, Eleutherian College and the Jefferson County Historical Society.

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