A Model for Partnership

The National Park Service (NPS) has a long history of working in collaboration with the travel and tourism sector to manage responsible tourism that supports conservation and facilitates enjoyment of public lands. This story is one of a series profiling success stories and case studies of NPS-tourism sector collaboration.

By Donald Leadbetter and Jennifer Leslie
Aerial photo of Fort Sumter

Managing a national park is a complex and interdisciplinary task that facilitates partnerships across a variety of disciplines. When it comes to managing people, many parks collaborate with their local tourism office to provide high-quality visitor experiences. At Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park, a long-term partnership with the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (Explore Charleston) has helped park staff bridge the gap between people and place for over two decades.

Fort Sumter management assistant and public affairs officer Dawn Davis oversees the relationship, coordinating with Explore Charleston to share the park’s story with visitors to the area. Commemorating the location of the first shots of the Civil War, the two organizations promote the site as a vital place in the turbulent landscape of American history.

Engaging with the bureau provides Davis with information on visitation trends to the area (useful for park planning), networking opportunities with other organizations that interact with Fort Sumter visitors and learning opportunities for social media strategies. Marketing and advertising by the visitor bureau embeds the park within the fabric of the regional tourism landscape, expanding public awareness and amplifying the park’s public engagement.

Davis considers the relationship between Explore Charleston and the park essential, mentioning that, “in order to uphold the mission of the National Park Service, we need help from others that also care about the resources and the people that visit the park”. Providing enjoyment for visitors is a key element of the park service mission and it follows that attracting visitors and sharing the park’s singular history are essential to fulfilling its goal.

While it may seem like the two organizations have contradictory missions–the park prioritizing conservation while Explore Charleston prioritizes tourism and visitation–the proactive, two-way relationship helps both organizations stay on the same page. Although some national parks desire less visitation, Fort Sumter welcomes it. There is plenty of room for more visitors thanks to controlled ferry access and the seasonality of tourists.

Cooperation between Fort Sumter and Explore Charleston manifests in many ways, although there is no official partnership agreement. The visitor bureau acts as a moderator between the park and the private sector. When an Explore Charleston member, an independent tour company, began leading interpretive trips through the park without proper permission, Explore Charleston provided mediation. They even assisted with park operations during the 2019 government shutdown by providing a “skeleton staff” to lead guided tours.

Davis and other employees attend a number of travel council meetings each year where they discuss visitation trends and park priorities. Attendance at these meetings helps the park better understand visitation forecasts and resulting implications for park management. For example, expansion of a popular low-cost airline into Charleston increased the market of potential visitors, a consideration for park planning. They also helped the park prepare for increased visitation during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

As a tourism focal point in the region, the convention and visitors bureau incorporates visitation data collected by the park into their strategic planning. Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie supports the bureau in efforts to sell Charleston as an iconic American destination and cultivate relationships with the international travel sector. Explore Charleston worked with the travel sector in London to develop direct flights from Heathrow International Airport to the city. When travel journalists visited to write stories on the newly accessible destination, Davis escorted reporters on a tour to ensure the park was featured prominently and accurately.

Shared interests and continuous, open dialogue support dependable relationships, proving that collaboration between the tourism sector and the National Park Service is possible. The relationship between Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historic Park and the Charleston Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is a robust model for other parks to follow.

Part of a series of articles titled Tourism Stories.

Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park

Last updated: April 26, 2019