Understanding the Economic Impact of Garden Tourism

MN Arboretum PM

In 2014 we were introduced to Richard Benfield, author of Garden Tourism. We spent a fascinating hour on the phone with him discussing the important local economic impact of public gardens. Did you know that more people in the U.S. visit gardens each year than visit Disneyland and Disney World combined?

Benfield teaches geography and tourism at Central Connecticut State University and is likely the world’s foremost authority on the economic impact of garden tourism.  In typical British self-deprecation he says he comes by that distinction by being the only person studying garden tourism around the globe. His book, Garden Tourism, is a must read for botanic and public garden professionals, for municipal tourism and economic development personnel and for all who love exploring gardens wherever we travel.  With startling facts and figures he explores the enormous economic impact of botanical gardens, flower shows and garden festivals.

Garden TourismGarden tourism encompasses not only visits to botanical gardens but also arboreta, historic estates, zoological gardens, city parks, flower shows, garden centers and increasingly tours of private home gardens as well.  Garden tourists to these types of attractions and events significantly give local economies a boost in many ways.

As an example the Garden Club of Virginia’s Annual Historic Garden week tour generates millions of dollars in annual spending with local restaurants, hotels and charter bus companies.  Add to that the money homeowners spend with local landscapers and garden centers readying their gardens for the tour and it is easy to see the impact such tours can have for the towns and cities hosting these events.

Benfield’s book provides a history of garden tourism from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to the Super Tree Dome in Singapore’s Bay Gardens and looks into the future discussing how we will design, build and financially support gardens for generations to come.  Benfield suspects that as many as two thirds of visitors to historic sites never go inside the house, visitors center or museum.  They spend their time in the gardens.  Additionally those who tour the grounds are rarely counted in the overall visitor numbers recorded by these sites.

We have spoken with local historic gardens and they have confirmed Richard’s suspicions that many of their visitors tour the garden and never purchase a ticket to go inside the property or visitor center. And many people return to frequent the gardens on a regular basis and experience the changes from season to season as well.  This is where we feel Plants Map can provide a solution.

We joined the APGA to play a supporting role in garden tourism. We want to raise awareness of public gardens, parks and other greenspaces by mapping them within a social network that also provides an easy method for anyone to map and manage their own collections as well.  Part of our mission is to help public gardens and attractions gain a wider audience than may have known about them and visited them before. We are developing technology to gauge those unaccounted guests and track engagement during their visits and beyond.

We hope you will join us in supporting the important economic role we feel gardens and related events contribute to our communities.  Explore and discover places to visit on Plants Map and add your own garden or gardens visited as well.

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