If you're looking for a new venture, maybe it's time to brush up on your history. Historical sites are an often-overlooked niche in the hospitality sector—and are potentially rich with profits. Walking tours, cruises, and natural geological formations are increasingly popular with budget-conscious tourists. AnythingResearch.com reports the industry grew by 16 percent over last year. LeeAnn Donnelly, a spokesperson for the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, says historical tourism is a sound market: "I can say that, in general, smaller regional attractions have tended to do better as people have opted for less expensive, closer to home vacations, or 'staycations.'" Here are some exciting and profitable historical sites around the nation.
Sidney Smith founded Haunted History Tours in New Orleans in 2005. Sixteen years later, the tour company employs 20 tour guides, and has been featured on A&E, History Channel, and the Travel Channel. In addition to spawning a book entitled New Orleans Ghosts, Voodoo, and Vampires, the company hosts several walking tours that take tourists through sites with historical accounts of hauntings, vampires, and voodoo lore. Smith credits his advertising acumen for keeping ticket sales robust in the face of hordes of competition. "I market and promote the heck out of my company, so we stay pretty busy," he says.
Need to escape? Alcatraz Cruises was founded in San Francisco in 2006 and is the only cruise that provides access to the historic prison, thanks to a 10-year exclusivity deal with the National Park Service. Alcatraz Cruises counts 1.5 million guests per year—that's the max permitted by the National Park Service. "We always sell out," proclaims PR manager Tegan Firth. For entrepreneurs in search of a lucrative partnership such as this, she suggests having your company bid on a deal with a site that is overseen by the National Park Service. "It's great for small businesses to get into these kinds of contracts because you're guaranteed visitation," she says.
Need a reason to visit Chattanooga, Tennessee? Ruby Falls is America's largest waterfall and underground cave that is accessible to the public. As your group passes underneath stalactites located 1,120 feet beneath the earth's surface, you'll be able to see for yourself why this 71-year-old attraction hosts more than 350,000 visitors annually. Most of the visitors to Ruby Falls are relatively local to the area, says spokesperson Meagan Jolley. The company has bounced back after a 15 percent drop in business around 2008, now with an annual revenue of more than $5 million. And the site is thinking of the future, integrating sustainable efforts including the installation of LED lighting and solar paneling throughout the waterfall. Ruby Falls was the first U.S. attraction awarded a dual certification by Green Globe International, Inc.
Asheville, North Carolina, is home to a segment of the Great Smoky Mountains and a lush family-run estate known as Biltmore House & Gardens that also happens to be one of the largest employers in Buncombe County. George Washington Vanderbilt, progeny of the elite Vanderbilt clan, built this 250-room manor as his private residence in 1898. In 1930, his enterprising daughter Cornelia Cecil opened up the sprawling 125,000-acre estate for limited tours. Today, Biltmore employs almost 2,000 people and hosts more than one million visitors annually. The Biltmore also features gardens, a winery, shopping, and dining. Biltmore welcomes visitors from all ages and regions, but when it comes to marketing, "we target women 35 to 65, generally speaking," says Donnelly.
Airship Ventures has made it possible for you to step back in time, revisiting the golden age of aviation in the 21st century with the 12-seater Zeppelin NT model airship. The San Francisco company took flight in 2008 in the midst of a down economy. However, the company persevered, and has since flown more than 10,000 customers. Spokesperson Rachel Loya says customers are "everyone from people who save up money because they want this once-in-a-lifetime bucket lift experience, to people who can [afford to] charter the entire airship." The airship does tours over many historic California attractions, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, and also offers "geek tours" that fly over Silicon Valley, Cupertino, Apple's One Infinite Loop, and the Googleplex. "We're kind of a modern version of the Golden Age of Aviation, when the journey was just an adventure by itself," says Loya.
Sid Vicious. Ethan Hawke. Charles Bukowski. Bob Dylan. Operating as a hotel since 1905, Manhattan's Chelsea Hotel has been a resting place for drifters and a long-term home for a countless list of popular artists and performers. Many people have made Chelsea Hotel their primary domicile; the hallways feature a hodgepodge of tourists rubbing elbows with lifelong residents. Chelsea Hotel has run into some financial trouble in recent years due to management issues and rising real estate prices. Although visitation remains steady due to its position as a national landmark, the hotel was officially put on the market in October 2010. The prospective buyers of the Chelsea will have a lot on their plates in terms of restructuring, but they'll have little want in the way of advertising.