Preservation Means Dollars and Sense

By Don Rittner



While the city of Troy gets ready to approve more demolition of its historic resources (Freihoferšs, Riverside Club), and Rensselaer towns like East Greenbush flattened its history for parking spaces, the rest of the country is raking in the money from promoting its history.


Historic preservation in Florida is a $3.7 billion-a-year industry and provides 10,000 jobs. The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation recently held a seminar to promote its historic preservation successes. The statešs Leon County ranks sixth in the state in the number of properties (55) listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Local officials say the County's historic preservation sites, local museums and cultural activities draw 1 million visitors annually and account for a $3.8 million annual economic impact.


This year, an estimated 6.2 million tourists visited St. Augustine and St. Johns County, which rivals the Capital District in terms of historical longevity (Albany founded in 1614, St Augustine, 1565). Those visitors account for an estimated economic impact annually of $1.5 billion on heritage tourism activities. Day-trip tourists are estimated to be about 3 million annually. Day-trip visitors are people who spend a few hours strolling St. George Street and the historic district or eating in a local restaurant, who are typically from about 50 miles away. "That shows how important historic preservation is," Glenn Hastings, the county's director of tourism was quoted in a newspaper article recently.


Tourism is Pennsylvania's second largest industry and accounts for 4.5 % of all leisure travel in the United States, according to the state Department of Economic and Community Development. Business and leisure travelers spent $34.1 billion in Pennsylvania during 2000, a 7.1% increase over 1999. They spent nearly $400 million in 2000 in Franklin County, which ranked 21st among Pennsylvania's 67 counties. Nearly half the leisure travel in Pennsylvania can be attributed to heritage tourism, according to a 1999 study by D.K. Shifflet and Associates. The next highest rate in the mid-Atlantic region is Washington, D.C., where heritage tourism is 23% of leisure travel.


More tourists are discovering the Hartford, Ct. area, staying longer and spending more money, according to a new study from the Greater Hartford Tourism District and shows that tourists in the past year have spent $29.3 million in the region's 21 towns and cities, a 42 percent increase over the previous year.


Regional tourism officials attributed the newfound interest to several factors, including more car trips following the 2001 terrorist attacks.


Travelers who take in historic and cultural sites stay longer and spend more than ordinary tourists, according to a 2001 report by the Travel Industry Association of America. They also are more likely to bring their families and to travel in larger groups.


Travel experts say Americans are interested increasingly in cultural, historical and ecological destinations. Heritage tourism is one of the fastest-growing segments of the tourism industry.


One-third of historic and cultural travelers (29.6 million) say they added extra time to their trip because of a cultural, arts, heritage or historic activity, according to the Travel Industry Association of America.


About 17% of historic and cultural travelers participate in four or more activities while traveling, compared to just 5% for all travelers. State and national parks, outdoor activities, beaches and theme parks are also popular with them. They are slightly older than other U.S. travelers (48 vs. 46 years). One-third (34%) are 55 or older. They are more likely to have a post-graduate education (23% vs. 20%).


June, July and August are the most popular months for historic and cultural travel.  Overnight lodging is used 62% of the time by historic and cultural travelers, compared to 56% for all travelers.


Shopping is part of the trip for 44% of them, compared to 33% of all travelers.


About 18% of historic and cultural travelers say they spend more than $1,000 when they travel, compared to 12% of all travelers. On average they spend $631 per trip, compared to $457 for all U.S. travelers.


So what are we doing here in Rensselaer County?  Oh, just knocking down about everything that would bring tourists here, and raising taxes!  And if you were one of the thousands that braved the cold this past weekend as Troy celebrated its annual Victorian Stroll, you have to shrug your shoulders and roll your eyes.  You see, the Rensselaer County Chamber of Commerce, the very sponsors of the event, has asked the city for permission to tear down its Victorian Carriage house -- for parking spaces.