John Veverka & Associates
Provoke, Relate, Reveal and more!
For the Cutting edge in Heritage Interpretation
Interpretive Planning, Training, Evaluation and more!
5010 Delray Dr. Lansing, Michigan 48910
(517) 899-4548 (we've gone mobile) firstname.lastname@example.org
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!
Heritage Interpretation: Interpretive Planning, Training and Consultation Services
Serving Parks, Museums, Historic Sites, Zoos & Botanical Gardens, Heritage Tourism Sites and Facilities, Commercial Tourism Attractions, and related interpretive sites and facilities -
Why Heritage Sites Need Interpretation
For Their Long Term Survival.
John A. Veverka
John Veverka & Associates
Paper developed for the National Trust for Scotland
Interpretation Seminar, October 2000
(Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland)
So why do heritage sites need interpretation to survive?
In some cases where a heritage site is big enough or well known enough, it might not require as much interpretive effort to attract visitors people will want to see it or experience it because of other benefits the site provides. Interpretation is a "value added" benefit to the total site visit.
But for most moderate to small heritage sites, providing outstanding interpretive programs and services, and having a good interpretive plan will be required for their long-term tourism success.
Before we look at the reasons heritage sites need interpretation, we should have some definitions to work from.
Heritage Tourism Visitors traveling to see, experience and learn about (edutainment) natural or cultural landscapes, sites, features, objects, people, events and stories. It needs to be noted here that the educational component of this type of tourism is the key aspect of it. Visitors want to learn, see, and do! They travel to heritage sites for a mix of edutainment experiences.
Interpretation A communication process designed to reveal meanings and relationships of our cultural and natural heritage to visitors, through first hand experiences with objects, artifacts, landscapes, and sites.
Without interpretive services having trained and skilled interpretive staff present the unique story of each heritage site to visitors, or develop and offer outstanding self-guiding interpretive opportunities for visitors you dont have a historic or heritage site you have an OLD site. It is in the interpretation of the sites story to visitors where the "heritage" of the site is brought to light. Interpretation makes the site come to life for the visitors, giving the site relevance and importance. It reveals to visitors, in powerful and memorable ways, the differences between "old" and historic.
Interpretation is the most powerful communication process any historic or heritage site has available to communicate its message(s) to visitors!
This may sound like a strong statement, but its true. This is because of where interpretive communications strategies have come from: marketing, advertising, psychology of the audience, recreational learning theory, consumer behavior and other related professions and disciplines. Every time you see an advertisement on television or see one in a magazine, you are seeing the principles of interpretive communication at work. Here are just a few of the elements interpretation and professional interpreters bring to heritage sites:
Knowledge and expertise in:
So which of the things on the above list can a heritage site do without having and be truly successful in reaching its full heritage tourism potential? NONE. From this list, there are required elements that interpretation brings to the total heritage site success equation, no matter how heritage sites define success. Here are three ways that interpretation fits into success equations.
For every heritage site, the first rule of business is to "stay in business". This means that the heritage site has to be financially successful. So the success equation might look something like:
For Financial Success
Overhead and Operations Costs + Visitor admission fees and relates sales
Outside funding = a positive number.
Success can be a "break even" goal, or a goal to make a profit to enable the site to do repairs, add staffing, do restoration work, etc. Interpretation's role is in helping to bring in the visitors.
A second type of "success" equation for political or community support might look like:
Political and community support = quality interpretation presentation + quality of site experiences + real or perceived benefits of the site/agency to visitors and the community + evidence of value and benefits.
For this "success" to occur the site must be using quality interpretive communications to maximize the visitors and community perception and value of the site and support the site mission. It is difficult to accomplish this type of success to its fullest potential without active and powerful site based interpretation (programs and services) and exploiting interpretations powerful "public relations" potential.
A third type of "success" is measured by the level in which the historic site mission and objectives are accomplished:
Cost of Interp. Programs & Services + Number of visitors that receive the message
The % rate at which the objectives are accomplished =
benefits greater than the cost of the contact (yes or no).
In other words, if you spent $100 on an interpretive board, and 100 visitors saw and read the message, then the cost per contact would be $1.00. The questions is "what happened as a result of that contact"? If you spent $1.00 per contact and, as a result, had a management objective accomplished at a 70% level lets say a reduction in littering or less complaints about a management activity - then a reasonable cost per contact for a high cost effectiveness ratio (getting a real return for your interpretive investment) = success.
In this example as well, professional interpretive planning and design is key to the successful cost effectiveness of the interpretive media or services presentation. The media must effectively motivate, stimulate, inspire, and touch visitors for them to "react" to the message.
So no matter which type of success you are interested in, one or probably all, you cannot ever reach your true success potential in heritage tourism for your site without using quality, professional interpretation (programs, services, media and staff) to effectively communicate to your various target market groups.
Why is interpretive communications so powerful?
The main principles of communication used in developing any ad campaign are a foundation of interpretive communications. Professional interpreters use their understanding of interpretive techniques to develop the interpretive program, service or media to:
What benefits does interpretation bring to historic site management SUCCESS!
How do you know when heritage sites need interpretation warning signs.
Here are a few indicators that heritage sites are in need of interpretive programs or services (new or improved):
Interpretation is an attitude.
Interpretation is not just a thing, like a board or exhibit. It is a way of thinking about the quality of the communication and services you will provide to visitors. It is the desire to make sure that the presentation of the heritage site message or story is cost effective, powerful, and gets results (outcome based objectives). It is a love of talking to and with visitors, and getting them as excited about the site as you are. It is a commitment to providing uncompromising quality for the visitors experience, and always leaving them asking for more! Without this attitude about interpretive quality and customer care excellence, the site and visit becomes stale, boring and lacks soul. The result - visitors can sense this and register their feelings by not coming back again. Heritage sites need interpretation to help attract visitors with out interpretation, heritage sites are empty shells of lost opportunities.
Interpretation is an indispensable part of a heritage sites ultimate success (financial, political and educational). Interpretation of the site story and message is the main reason visitors go to heritage sites, and a key element in any heritage tourism site development. Heritage sites can never truly reach their success potential without having interpretive plans, programs, services, media, and staff to relate the site stories and importance to visitors. Interpretive programs and services can help increase site visitation, increase repeat visitation, increase and improve community support, and a variety of other benefits to the heritage site(s) using this powerful communication strategy.
Gilmore, James. H. and B. Joseph Pine III. Markets of One. Harvard Business Review, 1988.
OSullivan, Ellen and Kathy Spangler. Experience Marketing: Strategies for the New Millennium. Venture Publishing, 2000.
Pine II, Joseph B. Mass Customization. Harvard Business School Press 1993.
Pine II, Joseph B. The Experience Economy. . Harvard Business School Press, 1999.
Schmitt, Bernd. H. Experiential Marketing. The Free Press, 1999.
Tilden, Freeman. Interpreting Our Heritage. The University of North Carolina Press, 1957.
Veverka, John A. Interpretive Master Planning. Acorn Naturalists, 1994.
For copies of other related interpretive and heritage tourism articles, visit our web site LIBRARY at www.heritageinterp.com.
John A. Veverka