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1. Heritage Tourism

Civil War-related attractions fall into a growing area of the tourism industry known as heritage tourism. Heritage tourism can be defined as ``experiential tourism that provides for encounters with nature or feeling part of the history of a place.'' The concept of heritage tourism is not new. Organizations and academics have been practicing and promoting heritage tourism for years, but it has seen a resurgence. Increasing numbers of visitors are avoiding contrived tourist attractions and searching out places that evoke more ``authentic'' natural, cultural, and historic experiences.

The Shenandoah Valley has much to offer the heritage tourist, from Skyline Drive and the Shenandoah National Park, to vineyard tastings and tours, to caverns, old towns, and historic buildings, to more casual driving tours of the rural landscape. In the last decade, the number of bed and breakfast accommodations in the Valley has risen dramatically, catering to the desires mostly of urbanites who are eager to relax for the weekend in a scenic and historic setting.

Although it is impossible to pin down an exact number, thousands of visitors come to the Valley each year to visit Civil War sites. New Market Battlefield Park, for example, receives 45,000 to 65,000 visitors a year, while Belle Grove on Cedar Creek battlefield (the only other battlefield providing public access and interpretation) is visited by about 50,000 per year, a large portion attracted by their interest in the Civil War.

Several thousand come to the Valley just for Stonewall Jackson. They come for the essence of Stonewall, which is found on his battlefields. Seeking out Stonewall's battlefields is a difficult task because of limited public access, inadequate signage, lack of site-specific description and interpretation, and lack of direction, but many persist and are rewarded by the vistas of Cross Keys and Port Republic or the pristine qualities of McDowell.

Civil War history in the Valley is a largely untapped reservoir of riches in terms of heritage tourism. Its potential has not been adequately explored nor promoted. The present threat is that these sites will continue to go unrecognized and be gradually eaten away by loss of farmland and encroaching residential, commercial, and industrial development. There is no greater disappointment for a heritage tourist than to seek out a spot diligently and find its historic appearance significantly changed. He or she will move on, go elsewhere, seek out something more authentic.

2. Heritage Tourism Revenue Potential

Nationwide, tourism is among the three largest industries in 39 out of 50 states. (Sources of the statistical data are included in a separate report available from the National Park Service (Attn:413) upon request; ask for ``Tourism in the Shenandoah Valley'' prepared by John Packer, 1991.) It is the second largest employer in the country, providing jobs for about six million. Tourism is the largest business service export, the second largest employer following health services, and the third largest industry after food services and auto sales. Viewed nationally, tourism is a vital economic force.

In Virginia, tourism plays a major role in the economic vitality of the State. Tourism revenues have increased each year since 1975, with tourism dollars more than doubling from 1982 ($3.3 billion) to 1988 ($7.1 billion). The numbers speak for themselves.

In 1989, tourism generated more than $8 billion for the State economy including $204 million in State taxes and $124 million in local taxes. Tourism created 162,000 jobs statewide. Every dollar invested in tourism advertising returned $3.53 to State tax coffers. Tourist spending represented 18% of Virginia's retail business sales.

Most of these visitors come for the ``must see'' attractions. The following is a list of the top 20 destinations for Virginia travelers according to the Survey of Current Business, 1990 U.S. Department of Commerce (Valley destinations in boldface):

As this list reveals, the Shenandoah Valley is already a major ``must see'' destination in the State, its attractions being primarily scenic and natural--the Blue Ridge, the Shenandoah Valley in general, Skyline Drive, and Luray Caverns.

Travel in Virginia (1988) reported significant economic benefits to the eight-county Shenandoah Valley study area. It is estimated that between 1.8 and 2.2 million people from all over the world visit the region each year. In 1988, tourism in the Valley generated $266.8 million in revenue, created nearly 5,900 jobs with a payroll of more than $60 million, generated State tax revenues of $9,579,000 and local tax revenues of $3,325,000.

The recently successful television advertising campaign conducted by Luray Caverns has attracted many new visitors to the area with its slogan: ``Until you've seen Luray Caverns, you've just scratched Virginia's surface.'' Identifying, interpreting, and promoting nearby Civil War battlefields and related sites, such as New Market, New Market Gap, Cross Keys, Port Republic, Piedmont, Staunton, Harrisonburg and others, would certainly tempt many of these visitors to extend their stay in light of the fact that 83 percent are coming to Virginia to see historic attractions.

Beginning just prior to this Shenandoah Valley Study, a separate analysis was conducted for the National Park Service to evaluate the local revenue potential of one or more Civil War national park units in the valley. This report, ``Distributional Economic Impacts of Civil War Battlefield Preservation Options,'' was prepared by Jay Sullivan and Daniel G. Johnson of the Department of Forstry, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. The report was given limited public distribution in August 1991.

That report's general conclusion was that there is a significant local revenue potential in such a scenario. Unfortunately, that analysis did not have access to the detailed historical evaluations later developed for this present report, nor to the results of extensive consultation with local governments subsequently conducted, and so the limited data available were extrapolated to a hypothetical park scenario. Likewise, that report did not seek to consider other significant factors such as acquisition, development, and management costs. As a result, that report's specific findings are not used here other than to reinforce our general conclusion that there is a positive revenue potential to be gained from heritage tourism in the Valley.

3. The Valley's Tourism Infrastructure

Does the Valley have the infrastructure to handle more visitors? There are currently no less than 15 facilities in the region catering to visitor needs, ranging from local chambers of commerce to visitor and welcome centers.

In the eight-counties, 181 establishments provide travellers with overnight accommodations, broken down in terms of Hotels/Motels (113 with 6,557 rooms), Bed/Breakfasts (53 with 435 rooms), and Campgrounds (15 with 753 spaces). Annual average occupancy rates range from 60 to 65 percent, according to the ``Commonwealth of Virginia Trend of Business Lodging Industry Reports (1990).'' In brief, the lodging infrastructure is in place to support larger numbers of visitors, particularly off-season. Likewise, data indicate that the area has an adequate restaurant sector.

4. Attitudes of County Planners Toward Developing Tourism

To estimate the attitudes of local planners and residents toward developing Civil War-related tourism in the region, the study team presented a questionnaire and conducted interviews with ten local planning officials, representing seven counties and three cities. Most of these planners stated that, along with a continued emphasis on agriculture, their localities were attempting to attract a blend of new businesses, primarily ``clean industries,'' such as computer assembly firms and corporate headquarters. Most stated that attracting tourism is compatible with the localities' overall economic goals. Two county planners (Highland and Clarke counties) and a planner from the City of Winchester, stated that tourism was the major industry that they were working to develop.

All officials thought that the Valley could better capitalize on its Civil War battlefields but were divided on how this could best be accomplished. Issues of adequate signage and interpretive materials, public access versus private ownership, and conflicts with existing zoning, and other development plans were most often mentioned. All felt that a cooperative effort to promote tourism throughout the region would be more successful than the uncoordinated efforts of individual jurisdictions. Finally, all respondents expressed a moderate to high interest in pursuing efforts to develop a regional promotional effort, but were divided on whether this effort could be coordinated by an existing group or agency, or whether some new coordinating body should be developed.

5. The Potential for State Assistance in Promoting Tourism

The State's Division of Tourism in Richmond is enthusiastic about the possibility of capitalizing on Shenandoah Valley Civil War battlefields. Civil War interest in Virginia has grown to the extent that it now merits serious attention in the division's marketing plans as well as research surveys. In 1990 the Division created a brochure, underwritten by the Mobil Corporation, to promote Civil War sites in Virginia during the PBS presentation of the Ken Burns documentary ``The Civil War.'' This effort broke all previous records for a single promotion. The Division's London, England, office alone was inundated with 30,000 inquiries. Simultaneously, the division filled 40,000 domestic inquiries in three months. To handle this unprecedented response, an ``800'' telephone number was installed devoted strictly to the Civil War to handle the new influx of requests for information. The number provides inquirers with current information about State Civil War sites and Civil War-related events, such as reenactments.

The Division recently established a community planning office to aid localities in developing the initial phases of tourism. They expressed willingness to cooperate with counties and localities to develop a regional approach to promoting battlefields and Civil War sites in the Valley. In terms of advertising and promotion, the Division can offer non-financial assistance in the form of including the Valley in audio/video presentations, help in contacting travel writers, and inclusion in calendars and information services. Financial grants might be available in some areas for specific promotional projects.

6. Conclusion

It remains to be determined precisely how significantly heritage tourism could contribute to the economy of the Valley or how more effective promotion of these sites could be structured to avoid undue intrusion on private property owners. The statistics offered in this report, however, are broadly suggestive of positive benefit of heritage tourism to the Valley region, although they would need to be followed by more targeted market research when and if designing a specific battlefield protection and interpretation program in the Valley. The fact remains that most county planners in the region have expressed the desire to encourage heritage tourism and are currently examining ways to increase the numbers of visitors to their counties. With the continuing national interest in Civil War history and associated sites, the Civil War in the Valley would likely prove to be one of its major attractions.


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Creation Date: 3/13/95

Last Update 7/17/95 by VLC