John Veverka & Associates

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Interpretive Consultants

Provoke, Relate, Reveal and more!

For the Cutting edge in Heritage Interpretation

Interpretive Planning, Training, Evaluation and more!

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From interpretive planning for castles in Wales for the National Trust and bird sanctuaries in Michigan for the Kellogg Biological Station, to interpretive training in Alabama for the US Army Corps of Engineers, and museum exhibit evaluation in Wisconsin - (bottom row) and critiquing ancient temples interpretation on Malta for Malta Heritage, prehistoric archaeological site interpretation in Utah for Nine Mile Canyon/BLM, and docent/interpretive staff training for the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, we do that - and more!

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Marketing Basics for Interpretive

and Heritage Sites and Attractions –

It’s all about the visitors.



John A. Veverka


Without a doubt marketing is one of the most critical aspects of any heritage or interpretive attraction operations.   Marketing brings in visitors – and gets them to come back for return visits. Successful marketing efforts = staying in business for most heritage attractions, particularly those not totally supported by local governments or other governmental agencies. But one of the most surprising things to me is, given how critical a "professional" understanding of basic marketing principals are for any heritage attraction, is the lack of understanding of what marketing actually is and "how to do it" that exists through out the heritage tourism industry. One example of this that I see often involves marketing brochures. During frequent marketing courses I make the statement to the participants that they have probably spent thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in the design, production and distribution of marketing brochures (the kind you see at every tourist information center), and yet they have no proof that they work! How do you know that these pieces have made any money for you – that they actually brought in enough new visitors to "pay for the printing and distribution costs of the piece themselves"? This usually generates an audible "GULP" from the audience, as most heritage attractions don’t have a clue if their marketing materials and efforts actually work – no tracking or evaluation process. This is particularly common with medium and smaller sized heritage attractions.


What is "marketing" anyway?

We spend our lives seeing so much of it, television, radio, web sites, etc. We are surrounded by it. Marketing is like the word "ecology" – a nice word, but most people have never seen an "ecology". So let’s use a working definition of "marketing".


Marketing is the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that will satisfy individual and organizational objectives. – (From "Introduction to Marketing by M. Cooper and C. Madden).


In simple terms, heritage tourism related marketing is "successfully" communicating with and convincing potential visitors that you have something that they need or will benefit from, and that you can provide a service or fill that need better than anyone else.


And Where Is the Visitor in all of this – EVERYWHERE!

Another aspect of marketing problems is that many heritage organizations and attractions have little or no visitor-based information to work from. They don’t know who their markets are! Marketing is ALL about completely understanding your audience (current, or intended). So in reality, many marketing pieces, from brochures to advertisements in magazines, fail due to a general lack of understanding about their intended visitors and the psychology of the visitors. Brochures often simply illustrate or promote the wrong things. For example, a hotel or motel brochure may show nice photos of the bedrooms or dining area, but what a visitor may really want to know is if that hotel or motel is "near" any attractions or other services. Developing a marketing plan followed by marketing materials such as brochures or print advertisements, requires that we know the answers to some (all?) of the following questions about our visitors:


Existing Markets to our sites or attractions

bulletWhere are our visitors coming from?
bulletWhat are their age groups and other socio-economic backgrounds?
bulletHow long does the average visit last?
bulletIs there a visitor perception that the admission fee was good value for the experience paid for, or do they think they paid too much for to little?
bulletWhat did they spend money on – and how much?
bulletWhat were the attraction visit components (shopping, food service, interpretive experiences, social interactions, recreation opportunities, etc.) of most importance to the visitors?
bulletWhat were/are their seasonal visitation patterns and influences?
bulletWhy did they decide to visit the site or attraction in the first place?
bulletWhat experiences or recreational learning opportunities were they looking for?
bulletDid the site/attraction meet or exceed their "expectations" of what they would see-do-and experience here or did it "fall short" of the visitors expectations (from marketing brochures and related advertising)?
bulletWhat were their best or most powerful "memories" of their visit?
bulletWhat reasons did we give them to return again to this attraction?
bulletWhat is the attractions "physical and psychological carrying capacity" and did we exceed it? Were we too successful in attracting visitors and couldn’t give visitors a quality experience because of too many visitors?
bulletCould our support services handle our visitor load?
bulletWas our on-site experience (the visit) as good in reality as our marketing pieces "made it look"?
bulletDid our "customer care" plan/training pay off – did the visitor "feel" welcome?


So these are some of the questions that need to be asked and answered in developing a marketing plan, and marketing materials for "current visitors" or market groups.


Market creation – generating new market groups.

The next aspect of developing heritage tourism/attraction marketing plans and materials is the issue of market creation. This is the answer to the question I often ask clients - "we know who your visitors are – but who do you want your visitors to be?" Market creation is generating new visitors or market groups to come to your site. For example: more school groups; more local visitors or community residents; special interest groups such as photographers, bird watchers, historical architecture buffs, railroad buffs; more retired visitors, etc. Here are some of the questions to be answered in developing marketing strategies and materials for these potential visitors (market groups):

bulletWhat specific new target markets would be interested in the stories, materials, experiences, artifacts, etc. that our site offers?
bulletWhat would we promote as the BENEFITS for these new market groups to coming to our attraction? What’s in it for them by coming to our attraction?
bulletWould these be seasonal market groups? If so, which seasons?
bulletHow do we contact these new market groups (advertisements in specialty magazines or publications, mail outs to clubs and organizations, E-Mails to specialty organizations membership lists, etc?)?
bulletDo we have the support services in place to handle a surge in visitation (parking, staff, food service, volunteers, etc.) if they show up?
bulletHow do we design and structure our advertising materials to get the attention of, and RELATE to these new market groups? Do our marketing materials have photos with "people" in them? Are there photos of our intended market groups in our marketing pieces? What are the people in our marketing piece photos doing?
bulletHow will we track and evaluate the success of our market creation plan?
bulletWill we need to do some site re-design or additions for these new market groups (such as adding "baby changing stations" in restrooms if we are trying to attract families with very young children)?
bulletAre these new market groups "renewable" (want to come to the attraction more than once) or are they one-time visitors only (as the market groups might be for attractions located along interstate highways)?
bulletHow have other attractions done that cater to or try to attract these same market groups?

You can see that there is overlap in considering these questions, as you may be marketing to both groups (current visitors as well as trying to attract new or different market groups) at the same time. The question arises as to "how you can do any real marketing efforts at all without knowing the answers to most of these questions"? This is why some existing marketing pieces can "look" great but not work. They are giving answers to questions that your main market groups "aren’t asking", and not answering the questions that they are asking. And no one knows this is going on.


What should be in a Marketing Plan for Heritage Attractions?

Here is a general outline I use when developing or teaching courses in Heritage Tourism Marketing. Feel free to add or modify this outline to suit your specific needs:


Marketing Plan Basic Outline for

Heritage Tourism Sites and Attractions


A.  Objectives (what do you want this plan to accomplish?).

  1. Learning Objectives
  2. Emotional Objectives
  3. Behavioral Objectives

B.  Product(s) Analysis (what are you selling?).

  1. Experiences (experience and memory mapping and analysis).
    1. Passive Experiences
    2. Active Experiences
    3. Psychological immersion
    4. Physical immersion
    5. The experience mix.

     2. Physical products (books, trail guides, guided tours, videos, etc.).

C.  Current Market Groups (Macro and Micro) analysis. (Who are your current visitors, where are they coming from, etc.).

  1. Current visitor demographics (any existing research available?).
  2. Seasonal visitation patterns.
  3. Visitor expectations and motivations for visiting your site.
  4. Customer care needs (handicap accessibility, food service, etc.).
  5. Market mix sustainability (school groups, out of country tourists, etc.).
  6. Visitation patterns (increase or loss) over the past 5 years.

D.  Critique of current marketing/advertising strategies (do the work – how do you know?).

  1. Current advertising plans and ad placements (what magazines, etc. and why).
  2. Current brochure and brochure distribution.
  3. Other advertising materials.

E.  Market Income Stream.

  1. Cost per contact.
  2. Cost Effectiveness
  3. % of total budget from admissions and gift shop sales, etc.

F.  Competition Analysis

  1. Other near-by like attractions or sites with similar services and experiences.
  2. Other attractions in your area (their visitation numbers, seasonal visitation patterns, target market groups, etc.).
  3. Potential for developing partnerships (joint admission tickets, etc.?) with near-by attractions?

G.  Market Creation

  1. Which new market groups do you want to try to attract?
  2. What benefits can you offer them by visiting your site or attraction?
  3. What promotion or advertising strategies will you need to communicate with them and tell them about your site and services?
  4. Where and how to make the most powerful first contacts.

H.  Marketing Campaign

  1. Budget allocations based on need.
  2. Advertising material design and pre-testing.
  3. Ad placements and tracking strategy.
  4. Web Site Development

I.  Advertising Strategy (consolidated from other sections above).

  1. What, when where, media selections, costs, etc.
  2. Ad mix designs and pre-testing.

J.  Implementation of the Marketing Plan.

  1. Time Lines for implementation.
  2. Budget determinations per ad line item.
  3. Staffing needs.
  4. Contracting needs.

K.  Tracking and evaluation of the ad campaign. On-going evaluation to see how the advertising is going month by month.

          1. Tracking reviews (schedule, etc.)

    2. Evaluation tools, and on-going evaluation (monthly?).

Again, this is a general "content" outline for a complete marketing plan. Feel free to add or change this as best fits your particular needs.


New theories and concepts to be thinking about when developing your marketing plans and strategies.

A lot of new and exciting theories and practices have emerged recently that greatly affects how we do heritage tourism planning and marketing. Some of these new ideas and concepts include:

bulletMarkets of One
bulletMass Customization

These concepts involve learning how to mass produce yet individually customize goods or services, with major implications for heritage tourism planning and marketing, particularly for large heritage areas and heritage corridors, but also for helping to plan programs and services at museums, parks, historic sites and related attractions.

bulletExperiential Marketing

What visitors are looking for are "experiences" – this is a key concept in developing and marketing for any heritage attraction. What experiences does your attraction offer – how powerful are the experiences. How memorable? Marketing pieces need illustrate the kinds of or range of experiences your site offers. Check out the "reference" listing of this article for good books on experience marketing.

bulletMemory Mapping

When I do interpretive master planning for heritage sites and attractions I now look for (and plan for) where the best and most powerful memories of the visit will come from (or need to be created). Where will visitors want to have a photo taken of them standing next to? What will they take pictures of? What do you want them talking about in the car on their way home from visiting your site? What memories (souvenirs) enhancements will you have available (post cards, T-shirts, videos, photo opportunities)? Why do you think Disney goes out of their way to make sure you and your children can have photos taken with the various Disney characters when you visit Disney World?


These are just a few of the new heritage tourism/interpretation marketing ideas that we are now using in developing marketing plans and marketing materials.


Don’t even think of not pre-testing your marketing materials!

Finally, when you have competed your thought process and answered all of the questions about your audience, and designed your various marketing pieces, there is only one person(s) who you should ask to see "what they think" of them – the people the marketing pieces were planed for. They will tell you, through pre-testing of the materials, if they like or understand them. This evaluation process is very important – why would you want to spend thousands of dollars on something if you have no proof that it works? Remember:


bulletDon’t ask the people who designed the marketing pieces if the brochures or ads are "good" or will be successful (guess what the answer will be).
bulletDon’t ask your staff members if the marketing pieces are "good" or will be successful – they have no way of knowing.
bulletDon’t ask the Board of Directors what they think (that will take forever and they won’t know if the pieces will work either).

The only people to ask if the marketing pieces are good, or have any chance of generating a visit are the potential visitors the marketing pieces are intended to generate. Ask them! Then and only then will you know for sure.



It was the goal of this short paper to give individuals involved with the marketing of heritage tourism sites and attractions some "things to think about" when developing a marketing plan, and particularly in developing marketing materials. The main point is to remember that everything involving marketing is about the visitor. If your marketing materials don’t "connect" with them, the visitors won’t show up at your attraction. Marketing is something that requires a level of professional understanding of it, and a deep understanding of such topic areas as:

bulletThe psychology of the audience.
bulletVisitor motivation and expectations.
bulletRecreational learning theory.
bulletConsumer behavior.
bulletInterpretive communications.
bulletPsychology of Interpretive Design
bulletMarketing research techniques.

With the ultimate success of most heritage attractions centered on how that attraction is marketed – it is well worth the investment in time and staff to do it right the first time.



Cooper, Marjorie J. and Charles Madden.1993. Introduction to Marketing. Harper Perennial, NY.

Gilmore, James H. and B. Joseph Pine II. 1988. Markets of One. Harvard Business Review, Boston, MA.

Gottdiener, Mark. 1997, The Theming of America. Westview Press, Boulder, CO.

O’sullivan, Ellen, and Kathy Spangler, 1998. Experience Marketing – strategies for the new millennium. Venture Publishing, State College, PA.

Pine, Joseph B. II.1993. Mass Customization. Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA.

Pine, Joseph B. II and James H. Gilmore. 1999. The Experience Economy. Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA.

Schmitt, Bernd H. 1999. Experiential Marketing – how to get customers to Sense-Feel-Think-Act-Relate to your company and brands. The Free Press, NY.

Veverka, John A. 1994. Interpretive Master Planning. Acorn Naturalists, CA.


Note: This article was developed as a handout for the training courses: Destination Interpretation and Marketing: Secrets of Success taught at New York University and Marketing Heritage Tourism & Interpretive Sites, Agencies and Attractions, taught at Snowdonia National Park Training Center, Wales.

John Veverka, PO Box 189, Laingsburg, MI 48848 (517) 651-5441.