Friday, November 20, 2009

A Group Effort for Railroad Tourism

Frankly, it’s been a long time coming. The announcement by six rail-related museums and historical societies in in the region yesterday that the Virginia General Assembly has designated this as Virginia’s Rail Heritage Region has been in the works for some time.

The designation includes C&O Heritage Center, O. Winston Link Museum, National Railway Historical Society/Blue Ridge Chapter, National Railway Historical Society/Roanoke Chapter, Norfolk & Western Historical Society and the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

The effort has not always been fully coordinated and has not always been pointed in this specific direction, but the dream has been there since probably before what is now the Virginia Museum of Transportation was founded in the 1960s. The designation formalizes the group’s ongoing cooperative relationships with the goal of attracting more tourists—and more tourist spending—to the region.

The goal is joint promotion of the region’s significant rail heritage tourism assets: multiple museums, active rail lines, historic sites, and the activities of the historical societies. According to research by the Virginia Tourism Corporation, visitors to museums in Virginia spend 4.5 nights in Virginia, compared to an average of 3.2 nights by non-museum visitors. Museum visitors also spend more in Virginia: traveling parties that visit museums spend an average of $968, more than double the $449 spent by traveling parties that do not include a museum visit.

On the national level, according to research conducted by the U.S. Cultural & Heritage Tourism Marketing Council in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Commerce, fully 40 percent of all leisure travelers in the U.S. actively engage in cultural and heritage travel, and 24 percent of U.S. leisure travelers (36 million adults) plan to take a cultural/heritage trip within the next 12 months.

As evidence of the national and international draw of the partner organizations: The O. Winston Link Museum reports New York, D.C. and London as its second, third, and fourth top cities of travel party origin. Sixty-five percent of visitors to the Virginia Museum of Transportation originate from more than 100 miles away, with half from out of state or out of the country.

While the Norfolk & Western Railway operated in only six states, the Norfolk & Western Historical Society has members in 40 states and 16 foreign countries. The recent excursions hosted by the Roanoke Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society included passengers from Canada and many states across the U.S.

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