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A sampling of folklife and cultural tourism projects in the U.S.

Case Study: Washington Heritage Tours*

Washington State Arts Commission and Northwest Heritage Resources
State of Washington

If James Abrams in Pennsylvania (see above) can be credited with the prototype for the folklife driving tour tape/booklet, then Willie Smyth and Jens Lund in Washington deserve credit for implementing this idea on a larger scale and popularizing it around the country. Smyth and Lund were indeed influenced by Jim Abrams' Pennsylvania audio guide. The genesis for their particular project, however, was a car trip they took through the state. The breadth and depth of Lund’s knowledge about their surroundings struck Smyth. Subsequently, he decided an audiotape/booklet guide would be the best way to replicate this experience for the public.

All of the tours were recorded at Jack Straw Productions' studio in Seattle and were also partially supported by Jack Straw Productions, which is a nonprofit studio and foundation which specializes in community-centered audio projects.

The booklet and tapes were produced by Northwest Heritage Resources (NHR), an organization which is currently being incubated by the Washington State Arts Commission (WSAC) and through which a number of folklorists work. NHR is now in the process of completing the series of seven guides, and when those are completed will produce a final project—a CD-ROM with information from all the tours combined.

The Arts Commission is currently handling the internet and mail orders of the guide, as it has the infrastructure at this point to handle the bookkeeping and the space to store the 4000-5000 guides currently in stock along with mailing supplies such as padded envelopes.

Any proceeds from the guide sales go to NHR, and the hope is that NHR will eventually be self-supporting and be able to handle all tasks related to the guides. NHR currently has a part-time executive director, Carla Wulfsberg, who has worked on many cultural tourism projects.

The initial proposal for the guides was based on heritage corridor routes, which had already been designated by the state. The major state partner for this project was the Washington Department of Transportation (WDOT). The funding for the first three guides, $25,0000 from the Department of Transportation and $25,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts, allowed for 1,000 copies to be made of each guide. The fourth guide received additional WSAC and US Forest Service funding. For the fifth, sixth, and seventh tours, WSAC funding replaced WDOT funding.

The Department of Transportation helped with editing the booklets and was especially helpful with mapping details. The DOT used its databases, for instance, to double-check the latest name of a bridge or the placement of a particular park. Smyth would suggest to others undertaking this work that they bring the Department of Transportation's mapping expertise to bear as early as possible in the project.

The guides, which are priced between $12-$19, are available through the Arts Commission's website Smyth estimates that approximately 30% of the orders they fill are from out-of-state customers. The guide is also available at the State Capitol House Museum, local bookstores, and select locations along the featured routes. The guides have been publicized through a number of Washington newspaper articles—one in Olympia and one in Port Angeles—which generated about twenty calls. The Olympia newspaper writer was willing to coordinate with NHR to ensure that when article was published the stores cited in the article had the guides in stock.

The state tourism office loves the guides. Smyth has presented the guides on 8-10 panels for various professional audiences, sometimes with staff from the tourism office. The Washington State Department of Tourism has no granting moneys through which to develop products, but only spends money toward promoting Washington through publications, public service announcements and commercials. While the tourism office has been unable to help financially with the production of the guides, at the same time the Department of Tourism has reacted very positively to the guides because they provide a new product/tourist activity that the department can sell. The state tourism office now promotes the project in its getaway guides and is planning to create links for it on their website as well.

Recently the first tour route has become the focus for an inter-agency state pilot project which would develop a product including both cultural and natural resources in that area. The project was launched with a bus tour led by Jens Lund, which included staff from state agencies related to arts, tourism, economic development, and natural resources. The outcome of this initiative is still in the planning stages.

When asked about the economic impact of these guides, Smyth first notes that tourism professionals he works with see the importance of producing a range of activities, from those geared towards immediate dollars and "heads in beds" payoffs to those which, like the driving tour guides, are more "education-oriented tourist information—the kinds of things which will bring people back or make them stay longer." The guides clearly fit more on the "tourist information" end of this spectrum. However, there is evidence from a brief written survey included in the initial guide that 30% of those who bought the guide and sent back the completed survey were actually motivated by the guide to drive one of the suggested routes.

Smyth notes that by tourism industry estimates, a cultural heritage tourist spends approximately $175 per person per day, a rate that is significantly higher than tourists pursuing sports, nature, or other popular interests. He also notes that tourism studies have shown that tourists who stay in an area for over 2 1/2 to 3 hours will have a tendency to spend the night in that area. To the extent, then, to which the guide prolongs tourists' stays in the state, it can be argued it is having a significant economic impact. In addition to this project's worth in creating richer tourism experiences, Smyth has also seen the guides as "a good way of doing survey field research with sources of funding not otherwise available."

Jens Lund and Willie Smyth created the guides based on extensive fieldwork undertaken by Lund. They realized early on the importance of running the information through local experts before printing it, such as when making reference to the specific sites visited by Lewis and Clark, a subject on which there is a great deal of controversy among local historians. Native American communities featured in the guide were closely involved in reviewing text and in making decisions about what was appropriate to be printed and what was not. In addition, contact information was not included for the artists featured in the guides to insure that the artists' privacy will not be invaded through their exposure in this work. Smyth has not heard of any such incidents to date.

Lund and Smyth are finding themselves fielding calls from many folklorists and cultural tourism professionals around the country who would like to replicate this project in their own locales, including individuals from the Hawaii Arts and Historical Commission, the Kentucky and Utah folklife programs, and the Delmarva Folklife Initiative.


Folklife Sampling Home
Report and Methods

Case Studies

A1. Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area
A3. South Bronx Latin Music Tour

B1. Washington Heritage Tours
B2. Sanpete County, Utah Audio Tour and Booklet

C1. Tennessee Overhill Heritage Project
C2. Kentucky Route 23 Heritage Corridor Project
C3. Blue Ridge Heritage Initiative
C4. "Come See What's Cooking in Hancock County"

D1. Cowboy Poetry Gathering
D2. Louisiana Folklife Festival

E1. The Portland Oregon Visitors Association
E2. "Tours and Detours"

F1. The Craft Heritage Trails of Western North Carolina Guidebook
F2. Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance Gathering/Wabanaki Cultural Guide

G1. South Carolina Heritage Corridor Tourism Projects
G2. Delmarva Folklife Initiative