By Katie Curley
NEWBURYPORT — Some might say the city sells itself to tourists. One needs only to look around downtown on a summer weekend and see the walking traffic and bustling restaurants.
But those staked with marketing the area want to count their blessings, so beginning next week, the Chamber of Commerce will be conducting The Greater Newburyport Area Cultural Heritage Assessment Project.
Working in conjunction with Historic New England and the Newburyport Preservation Trust, the project aims to pinpoint the assets the city has and how to better market them to potential visitors by learning more about those visitors and where they are most likely to visit.
Karen Battles, vice president of the Preservation Trust, noted tourists who come to an area to experience the culture, known as "cultural tourists," generally stay longer and spend more money than those who come to the city for one specific event or festival.
"This is a way to focus our efforts so everyone in town is on the same page," Battles said. "A lot of times we are all laboring on our own whether it be house museums or maritime museums or the chamber nonprofits. This assessment will hopefully get us all in one room talking about what we have in common and branding ourself to send our message out to a larger audience."
Eco-tourism, maritime studies and the thriving art community are all aspects of the city that make it appealing to tourists looking for a bit of culture to go along with their vacation.
On Wednesday, the chamber will hold a meeting to explain the project and garner volunteers and enthusiasm.
"We want to put our arms around what is around for cultural heritage tourism that attracts people and assess what we can do to promote Newburyport in a good light," Chamber President Ann Ormond said.
The Newburyport Preservation Trust, an organization that works to preserve and restore historic structures around the city, approached the chamber six months ago to start the project after they noticed similar assessments being done in other communities around the country, Battles said.
The assessment goes along with the mission of the Preservation Trust as it aims to make the city more valuable and attractive to tourists. Preserving the distinctive architecture and historic downtown that sets Newburyport apart is a piece of that process.
"We are in a rare and wonderful position because our entire area is well preserved," Battles said. "We need to continue to preserve it and make sure people are aware of the value."
The assessment project is estimated to take a year to complete, after which marketing campaigns and pursual of grant money will begin, Battles said.
"There are multiple steps to the assessment," Ormond said. "We will be gathering data as to who comes here and from where, interviewing visitors and holding a public meeting."
Ormond says the project and assessment is something the city is ripe for and by putting their finger on the type of visitor coming to the area, better marketing programs will be able to be created down the line.
As part of the project, volunteers will also be assessing the current visitor experience, such as signs, hospitality and business hours at local stores.
"This isn't just how to make money," Ormond said. "This in the end, will produce a marketing program so we can spend what little marketing money we do have to promote tourism."
Already the chamber is aware visitors come to Newburyport from as far away as the United Kingdom and Belgium, and from Canada quite frequently.
"We will be looking at how tourists spend money, how the local stores and inns spend dollars to market themselves and find out what people want to do when they come here," Ormond said.
When the study is complete, Ormond foresees connecting certain businesses with the right market of tourists to help generate more travel to the area.
"This is very exciting to me and could really put us on the map," Ormond said. "Even if it's just one thing like eco-tourism or maritime history, we have it here already."
IF YOU GO
What: Cultural Heritage Assessment Project Meeting
Where: Newburyport Public Library Program Room
When: Wednesday at 10 a.m.
All are welcome to participate. Your input will help the Chamber brand the Newburyport area