Cultural Heritage Tourism Marketing: 10 Tips for a Higher Profile

Joslyn McIntyre

November 15, 2022

The most well-known cultural heritage sites are famous for their grandeur: Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat. In fact, they’re so famous they need little introduction, never mind cultural heritage tourism marketing. Many of them (1,154, in fact) are UNESCO sites, designated as legally protected landmarks by the United Nations because they are “of outstanding universal value to humanity.”

But most cultural heritage sites can’t rest on recognition alone. Beyond the UNESCO badge lie plenty of incredible historical sites with rich, fascinating legacies of their own. Peru boasts 100,000 sites of archaeological significance, and only 13 are officially “World Heritage Sites.” Rome has plenty of incredible ruins to see beyond the Colosseum. 

So while your venue might be a cultural heritage site with a captivating history, without the right marketing, few people will get to enjoy it. With countless other archaeological and culturally significant sites vying for the public's attention, you need to stake your claim in their itineraries. And now is particularly good timing to reach people hungry for meaningful travel experiences. After a year or more of being grounded, people are on a quest to create poignant memories.

Most cultural heritage sites rely on marketing to reach the right audiences at the right times. Here are ten unique ways to help you illuminate the sites and experiences that are significant to our collective and individual cultural identities.

1. Tap into rich storytelling

As archaeologist Thomas Dowson says, real historical tourism is “getting a more realistic picture of what history was, not trekking across the world to see just one example of it… Sites beyond the obvious can give you a more complex view of history.”

Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany was recently honored with a Tiqets Most Remarkable Venue Award not only for its mesmerizingly beautiful setting on top of a Bavarian Hill, but for its charming history. The castle was originally commissioned by King Ludwig II, known as the “Fairy Tale King” because he loved to create extravagant, fantastical architectural places like this one. While Neuschwanstein was inspired by classic fairy tales, the castle itself was the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland. 

Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany

But all was not perfect in this Bavarian fairy tale. There was a darker motivation for King Ludwig II to build his castle. When Bavaria lost a war against the expanding Prussian empire, Ludwig lost his position as a sovereign ruler and was forced to create his own small kingdom atop a hill. His story eventually turned dark, as you can read about on the museum’s website

For travelers interested in exploring the nuances of history, smaller, out-of-the-way heritage sites like Neuschwanstein are incredibly appealing. If your attraction falls under this banner, your cultural heritage tourism marketing strategy should play up the eccentric, quirky, secret, or mysterious aspects of your history. 

2. Reach a wider audience with a podcast

Intrepid museums and cultural heritage sites experiment with new forms of marketing to tell their original and unique stories. Podcasting is one of the most compelling modern ways for heritage sites to showcase their subject-matter experts and expertise.

Podcasting is a long-form marketing format that allows you to delve into the details of your site’s cultural heritage and history in imaginative ways — and hopefully, enthrall a rapt audience around the world, inspiring them to make the trip to your physical site one day.

Here are a few outstanding small museum podcasts that have developed a pretty big following.

5 Plain Questions – Started by Joe Williams, Director of the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, North Dakota, this podcast poses five career-oriented questions to Native American and Indigenous artists, creators, musicians, writers, movers and shakers, and culture bearers during each episode. Helping tell the stories of Native Americans is a way to get the subject matter of the small, remote museum out to a much wider audience — and to invite that audience back to the museum. 

How to Be American – The Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York tells stories of the rich immigrant, migrant, and refugee experience throughout U.S. history.

If producing your own podcast feels utterly daunting, consider making a pitch to an existing podcast to be featured in an episode. There are many podcasters out there who regularly feature small, weird, cool, out-of-the-way, interesting museums and heritage sites. For instance, Museum Archipelago, hosted by Ian Elsner,  dives into a different place in each of his nearly 100 episodes to date. Yours could be next.

3. Create experiential marketing moments

When visitors choose your cultural heritage site, what type of experience are they signing up for? Dioramas and guided tours are fine, but for fans to feel compelled to share their experiences with others, your heritage site needs to create lasting impressions.

Experiential marketing offers true immersion into an experience. Some heritage sites accomplish this naturally – think of the mock witchcraft trials at the Salem Witch Museum, where visitors are led through a realistic reenactment of the events of 1692. Or an archaeological site where visitors are invited to witness the action of the “dig,” adding a sense of excitement and suspense to their visit. 

“​​There are sites that are being excavated as part of current archaeological research projects. You can only visit these when archaeologists are working there. Archaeologists will often take time out from their excavations to show you around.”

— Archaeologist Thomas Dowson

When you invite visitors in on the action (safely, of course), you create opportunities for them to create and share more compelling memories of your cultural heritage site.

The Real Mary King’s Close, a centuries-old underground alleyway in the historic Old Town area of Edinburgh, Scotland, has a long-standing reputation for being haunted. This cultural heritage site now capitalizes on this reputation by telling an exciting interactive story with actors that lead visitors around the venue. 

As a tease to this evocative experience, the Real Mary King’s Close Instagram page habitually introduces the characters that “inhabit” the close, including Laing Meg, who was a  “foul clenger” or plague cleaner during the last plague outbreak in 17th-century Edinburgh.

By combining a compelling (and pretty creepy) immersive experience with savvy social media marketing, the Real Mary King’s Close draws in curious visitors. The proof is in the pudding: the venue has nearly 30K followers across social media channels, over 21K on Facebook alone.

4. Market your region, not just your attraction

Many cultural heritage sites stand as a symbol for a greater regional culture. In Salt Lake City, founded by Mormon pioneers in the mid-1800s, This Is the Place Heritage Park is the aptly named historical monument to Mormon leader Brigham Young’s pronouncement that the pioneers had finally found a place to settle.

While there is plenty to do at This Is the Place, including an extensive tour of Heritage Village and horseback trail rides in the surrounding Emigration Canyon, the monument also serves as a hub of information about the entire greater Salt Lake Valley. This includes not just its Mormon history and culture but respect to the five indigenous tribes that once populated the area: the Ute, Navajo, Paiute, Goshute, and Shoshone.

When you choose to celebrate the unique legacy and culture of your greater community, you attract visitors who don’t just want to spend an afternoon at a historic site, but are looking for an in-depth understanding of a region’s cultural history.

Your business doesn’t have to stop at your four walls. If you have creative ideas to spread the mission and story of your business as it relates to a greater regional history or culture, by all means, act on them.

5. Become known for an annual event

Did you know you can run a marathon along the Great Wall of China? Depending on your personality, this might sound like a nightmare or the experience of a lifetime. Some people enjoy visiting historical sites for the everyday opportunity to learn more about history or culture. Others prefer an infusion of adrenaline.

The Great Wall of China isn't only a spot for walking, but for running too.

Hosting an exciting annual event like a marathon, a masked ball, a parade, or a culture-specific holiday celebration can be an invigorating way to attract visitors who might otherwise be ambivalent about your heritage site. 

Festivals are one of the most culturally on-brand ways to make a big impact with an annual event. Just visit UNESCO’s World Heritage Site Festivals page to see the breadth and diversity of festivals held at heritage sites around the world: the Gjirokastër National Folklore Festival at Gjirokastër Castle in Albania, widely regarded as the most important event in Albanian culture; the Elephanta Festival at the Elephanta Caves in Mumbai, commemorating the heritage of dance, art, and sculpture in India; the Omizutori festival at the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara in Japan. The list goes on.

6. Make headlines

Most people are addicted to news, and there’s a lot of bad news out there. Your cultural heritage site can be an antidote to all the sorrow and strife by making headlines about new discoveries, refurbishments, and research.

King Tut is not exactly breaking news. But recently, the ancient pharaoh appeared in the press when the exhibit “Beyond King Tut: The Immersive Experience” launched its North American tour. This National Geographic-hosted immersive experience has received rave reviews as it has landed in major cities to sold-out audiences. With high-res digital projections along the walls and floors of the hosting venues, visitors are transported back in time to experience the culture of ancient Egypt and a deep dive into his, um, burial chamber.

To get headlines published often requires good old-fashioned PR, but other marketing tactics include social media marketing, website copy, and email newsletters.

7. Embrace sustainability

Sustainability is closely in line with the mission of most heritage sites, which is the preservation of culture and history. Becoming known as a heritage site that respects and proactively engages in environmental sustainability is quickly becoming a mandatory effort, and it’s not just about marketing. 

The World Wildlife Fund is devoted to preserving biodiversity and protecting endangered species. The organization has found that biodiversity is closely linked to human cultural diversity, and protecting both is a way to protect each. They call it “a continuous loop of hope.” Researchers at WWW looked at 48 UNESCO sites in Africa for the October 2021 issue of the science journal Conservation Biology and found that all but one of these sites overlapped with people who spoke a variety of indigenous languages.

What does this have to do with cultural heritage site marketing? Heritage sites that put a strong emphasis on conservation and environmental sustainability see returns in triplicate:

  • Taking better care of the site and its environs is simply good business practice, preserving the site itself for longer
  • The best environmental and conservation efforts will attract media mentions
  • The marketing “halo effect” from doing good attracts visitors with like-minded ethics

Environmental responsibility is a bigger and bigger deal for travelers these days, who seek out sites that respect the climate, the earth, and all the creatures on it.

8. Team up with a ticketing partner or OTA

An online travel partner, or OTA, like Tiqets can offer powerful marketing means that amplify your own efforts.

For instance, the Enryaku-ji temple near Kyoto teamed up with Tiqets to tell the story of the 1,200-year-old Buddhist temple and the monks who train there. The temple’s overseers sought to create a balance between the sacred nature of the temple and the desire to share its history with visitors, who are invited to travel to the temple for spiritual contemplation and to pay respects to their ancestors. 

The stunning Enryaku-ji temple near Kyoto that teamed up with Tiqets to tell a unique story.

Aligning with Tiqets allows the temple’s administrators to invite more global visitors while controlling the parameters around visitors. In general, when you work with an OTA that has a lot of experience marketing attractions, you can take advantage of their marketing expertise, their built-in reach, and their broader industry insights.

9. Become known as “the place …. was filmed”

Heritage sites have a particular advantage in the marketing arena: They make great film locations. Without too much effort, you can probably think of five or ten sites that have been prominently featured in massive feature films and TV shows. 

- In the ten days after the 2007 release of the movie Night at the Museum, for instance, attendance at the American Museum of Natural History jumped by 50,000 visitors – even though the movie set was technically rebuilt on a soundstage.

- The James Bond franchise has made many a heritage site more famous – the Amsterdam canals, Xochimilco in Mexico, the Taj Mahal, to name a few. 

- Game of Thrones made the medieval walled city of Old Town Dubrovnik in Croatia a sudden destination site for global tourists wanting to see “King’s Landing” in person. 

Would your heritage site make the perfect setting for a film or TV show? Location scouts are responsible for finding the places filming will take place. Advertising your heritage site in an industry publication like Variety is one way to get their attention.

The American Natural History Museum is one of the museums that benefited from being featured in a film.

10. And finally, consider demarketing

The great conundrum of heritage tourism is that many historical sites are fragile. Fragile exhibits cannot handle massive hordes of people. As Thomas Dowson says, “Having millions of people trample over some of our most treasured historical sites was never sustainable. When we visit ancient sites like the Acropolis or the Colosseum, we must remember that it’s a privilege to be able to do so.”

Heritage sites encounter a unique phenomenon in the tourism industry: While they aim to raise their profile and attract more attention and visitors, too many visitors can often be at odds with efforts to preserve the integrity of the site. For this reason, they sometimes practice “demarketing,” which means narrowing in on the most valuable audience and specifically excluding others. In this way, they attract the most interested, respectful audience and leave the rest.

One effective way to institute demarketing is to raise entrance fees, a technique that has been shown to work well in certain cases. Charging a higher fee raises the stakes on entry, but interestingly, studies have shown that visitors who pay (or pay more) to visit museums are also more likely to spend money at shops and cafes inside the site.

Given this last tip, the first thing you probably want to consider when evaluating the way you’ll market your heritage site is exactly how many more people you’d like to attract. Once you have that decision made, you can consider how each of the other nine marketing tactics aligns with your mission and marketing resources.

Regardless of your specific approach, your heritage tourism marketing will help tell the stories of your cultural or historic site to more people in better ways, and ultimately, that’s the goal of any heritage site.

For more marketing ideas specific to re-launching post-pandemic and capitalizing on people’s desire to explore the world, read 5 Creative Marketing Strategies For Reopening Museums And Attractions.

Read the latest blogs for museums, tours and attractions

Spring Marketing Ideas for Museums and Attractions 2024

Spring Marketing Ideas for Museums and Attractions 2024

Spring is the time of awakening, and for museums and attractions, that means awakening spring marketing ideas to attract both visitors and locals.

How Museum and Attraction Operators Can Deliver Accessible Tourism Experiences

How Museum and Attraction Operators Can Deliver Accessible Tourism Experiences

When you hear the phrase accessible tourism, what comes to mind?  This concept sounds simple, but it’s about a lot more than just serving people with obvious physical limitations. According to ENAT, accessible tourism is “tourism and travel that is accessible to all people, with disabilities or not, including those with mobility, hearing, sight, cognitive, …

Leverage Your Digital Presence in 2024 with a Tiqets Marketing Package

How to capture people looking for things to do near you, in partnership with a powerful and far-reaching OTA