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Regional tourism: Beyond the beach

The boost to the regional economy that tourism provides is well known. For some time our business contacts in the tourism industry have been reporting very positive results in terms of visitor numbers and spending. Our focus has been in the most visible parts of the region—our coastal areas, amusement parks, cruise lines, mountain resorts, and convention cities. There's another, often overlooked, tourism sector—one that I contribute to quite frequently—known as "cultural" or "heritage" tourism.

Broadly speaking, heritage tourism "is traveling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present. It includes historic, cultural and natural attractions," according to Partners in Tourism: Culture and Commerce. My particular interest, and one where the Southeast has quite a bit to offer, is tied to the Civil War.

There are dozens of battlefields and other cultural sites throughout the region tied to this awful, but essential, part of the American story. My family has visited most of them (we have a map at home that shows the sites we've seen) and have a few others planned for this year. My most recent journey, accompanied by my 13-year-old son, was to Corinth, Miss., and Shiloh, Tenn.. I always find these visits to be both moving and educational. The way I described it to a friend was that I always come away with an "emotional understanding" not only of a particular battle or event but also of our country. Sharing this with our family and ensuring our kids grow up with an appreciation for this country and its history is something from which my wife and I derive tremendous satisfaction.

Of course, the economist in me is never too far from the surface even when I'm walking through these wonderful parks. I also find myself thinking of how these historic sites impact the local economies. The National Park Service has statistics on the number of visitors to each park and impact studies that estimate the economic influence of these sites. According to 2010 estimates, the total economic impact of all the national parks in the six states of the Sixth Federal Reserve District was $1.26 billion. For sites directly linked to the Civil War, the impact was $150 million. These do not include state-run Civil War parks, of which there are several. Regardless, the economic impact of heritage tourism is clearly significant.

We did our part in supporting the local economies of Corinth, Miss., and Savannah, Tenn. (near Shiloh). In addition to lodging and the necessary travel purchases, we ate some of the best barbeque and catfish I have ever had!

If you are interested in doing some of your own tourism tied to the Civil War, this is a great time to do it as the nation is commemorating the 150th anniversary of this struggle through 2015. Check out Civil War Traveler for a list of sites and sesquicentennial events.

Photo of Mike ChrisztBy Mike Chriszt, a vice president in the Atlanta Fed's research department

June 29, 2012 in Southeast , Tourism | Permalink


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