An Exploration of Tennessee's Historic Hotels as Cultural Heritage Tourism Assets

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Cannon, Virginia Foster
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Middle Tennessee State University
Partnerships are the foundation on which public history is built. As federal funding waivers, public historians must seek out partners whose interests are aligned, have access to capital and possess robust platforms to reach the public. This dissertation illustrates the intersecting interests of public historians, cultural heritage tourism professionals and historic hotel professionals namely their focus on compelling stories, preservation and authenticity using Tennessee as an example.
As “landscape artifacts” and “community symbols,” historic hotels have the potential to not only be a draw for a tourist destination but also act as anchors in community development. Historic hotels, as a platform to disseminate interpretation, hold great promise for public historians. Best practices in hotel marketing are discussed as marketing and interpretation go hand-in-hand. Building on current scholarship, a review of Hotel Monthly, a hotel trade journal, in the 1910s and 1920s helps to challenge the hospitality industry’s narrative that first-class hotels were rarified spaces frequented solely by the rich and powerful. Furthermore, hotels were centers of technical and managerial innovation.
Field research highlighted the thirty-one individually National Register-listed hotels and inns in Tennessee as well as cataloged their current uses, representation in Tennessee Department of Tourist Development literature and how the themes of music, transportation networks and ghost tourism link many of the hotels. The Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee and the Colored Hotel in Union City, Tennessee are used as case studies to illustrate how public historians can help to deepen the narrative at historic
hotels thereby strengthening historical interpretation and sense of place. This dissertation makes the case that shifting the lens from heritage tourism to cultural heritage tourism will broaden historic hotels’ platform and thereby public historians’ reach as well as help the state achieve its goal of moving from Top 10 to Top 5 tourist destination in the United States.
Cultural heritage tourism, Historic hotels, Historic preservation, Hospitality marketing, Hotel, Tennessee