Written by Christopher Burton, originally published February 18, 2014
My wife and I travel a lot. Not the Caribbean cruise and backpacking through Europe variety – we love to visit local and regional history sites, museums and other cultural centers. During one recent visit to an outdoor museum, we stopped in the gift shop for our typical souvenirs: shot glasses, Christmas ornaments, postcards, magnets and key chains. We collect nearly everything, but those are the staples. The store had tin toys, wooden swords, stick candy and other novelty “historic” toys, but to our surprise (with hundreds of captive visitors for a special event) there was not a single item available for purchase with the site’s name or logo.
In my experience, there is no better promotion any site or attraction can do than to put a quality souvenir with the institution’s name and logo in the hands of a satisfied visitor. A souvenir reminds visitors of the great time they had and serves as a conversation starter to discuss the experience with others. Personal recommendations and word-of-mouth can be the most effective form of marketing.
The perfect souvenir reconnects the visitor to his or her experience at a site and generates revenue that supports the organization going forward. Rubber band guns and paper dolls are fun ways to engage children in living history, but years (or even weeks) later, they lose any significance to the physical place. For our museum, it is important to get our name on as many items as possible, especially because there is much confusion over the museum’s name. A recent report by an Ohio tourism authority, for example, referred to the “Neil Armstrong Museum,” rather than Armstrong Air & Space Museum.
Buying for our store was one of the most exciting opportunities for me when I began at the Armstrong Air & Space Museum. After taking care of the basics, I’ve since tackled custom gummies, pressed pennies and even bobble heads. While those takeaways can be expensive and may be more than what is necessary for many institutions, every site with regular hours can and should have some variety of souvenirs.
What souvenirs are your visitors asking for?
Share your comments below.
Christopher Burton is a region 7 representative of the Ohio Local History Alliance and Executive Director of the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio.