Norwich – The city has all the ingredients to become a thriving center of heritage tourism and should take advantage of it by creating a unifying identity and promoting it with a coordinated marketing efort so it becomes part of the city’s economic development efort, a heritage development expert told the City Council Monday.
“You’ve got the core resources,” consultant Elaine Carmichael said. “You’ve got stories galore. You’ve got stories that appeal to markets that are inherently valuable, whether it’s the sights you have, the history. You’ve got such incredible natural beauty around here. Te built environment is lovely as well, and you have visitors in the vicinity, a lot of visitors.
” Te Norwich Historical Society asked Carmichael to address the City Council on the potential for Norwich to take advantage of its many and varied historical and cultural resources. Historical Society President William Champagne quickly listed some of them – Uncas Leap, Slater Museum, Lefngwell House Museum, the four self-guided walking tours, the Norwichtown Historic District, Norwich Free Academy, Norwich Harbor, the new Ellis Ruley artist park, Ponemah Mills – “and the list goes on and on.
” Carmichael said Norwich has problems, however, with notable “gaps” in the necessary ingredients. To the south is the strong shoreline tourism and economic hub. To the north, is “Te Quiet Corner,” the national heritage corridor marketed as the Last Green Valley. Norwich is part of both promotional venues, but is lost in the middle, she said.
Norwich has hospitality services for visitors on both the high end and low end of the spectrum, missing some mid-level services. She said the same is true for restaurants.
Carmichael said heritage tourism is both growing and economically lucrative. Heritage tourists travel to specifcally to a site “to experience the place, link the past to the present and the people.” Heritage tourists travel light, spend money, value authenticity and don’t mind if everything is not polished and new, Carmichael said.
Carmichael recommended the city start by designating a committee or already established entity to work on a branding theme for the city. She said the long-standing motto, Rose of New England, “falls short.” She said it’s difcult to expand on the term.
Asked by Alderwoman Stephanie Burnham for examples of other cities that took advantage of its historic resources, Carmichael described eforts by Annapolis, Md., to consolidate management of several small house museums to save money and coordinate event calendars. She said the efort took 10 to 15 years, but ultimately was so successful that residents started to complain about tourists wandering through the area.
Carmichael said residents must be part of the process, because residents must feel that the city’s brand identity is true and something they can be proud of. She said designating a “homeroom” organization — in some cities it’s the library or historical society, chamber of commerce or a nonproft organization – to be the hub of the coordinating activity would be best to keep momentum going. She described the entity that should take charge of the efort as one “that knows what all the moving parts are.”