Whether they are studious and ‘deep’ cultural tourists or incidental and ‘shallow’, those who are willing to explore local culture on holiday are a prized asset to hoteliers and the tourism industry.
Heritage and culture is everywhere. Even going to Starbucks or riding the metro is a cultural experience. So what is heritage and culture tourism?
It’s when the trigger for the trip is to visit a place to understand aspects of its history, people, buildings, food, music and customs – its culture. They may be beach bums on a fly and flop holiday, but they may also do a structured heritage and culture experience such as visit a museum or cultural show during the trip. Yet culture wasn’t the trigger for the holiday, so let’s focus here more on the dedicated heritage and culture tourist.
Who are heritage and culture tourists?
Typically they are well educated, well off and well travelled. Cultural tourism motivates them to book a trip. They research it before they go. At the other end of the continuum is the incidental cultural tourist who does not travel for culture, but may participate in, for example, a museum trip, gallery exhibition or musical performance while on holiday.
How lucrative is heritage and culture tourism compared to other sectors?
According to UNWTO, heritage and culture tourists generate about US$327 billion each year in the Asia Pacific alone. This equates to 50 million jobs. Indirect impacts of heritage and culture tourism amount to around a trillion dollars a year in the region. Indirectly, it sustains up to 70 million jobs, says the UNWTO.
Do culture and heritage tourism tourists spend more?
Yes, well-educated, passionate and self-guided ones spend more. Research tells us they spend about 10% more than general leisure tourists. Experienced and educated heritage and culture tourists spend about 36% more than general leisure tourists.
What would you say to a local community that is not sure if its location or experience would be attractive to heritage and culture tourists?
Don’t underestimate how unique you are ir how attractive your destination may be. In an internet-driven globalised world, someone, somewhere, perhaps hundreds or thousands of people, could be interested. Even very local or niche experiences can find an audience on the long tail of tourism marketing on the internet.
So how can destinations attract heritage and culture tourists?
Work with your community to check suitability. Create an inventory of experiences. Ask yourself, is it feasible? The things you have to get right are: agreed objectives, financial planning, proximity to markets, quality and authenticity of products and experiences, interpretation and story telling. In short, plan it thoroughly, know your market, be distinctive, go for quality, tell stories, package and theme them, and then measure your progress.
Some memorable heritage and culture experiences I’ve had personally as a tourist include Vietnam in 1994 – just as it began to open up to Western tourists. We experienced the heritage and contemporary culture at a point of momentous change. Being among the first Western tourists, I was a cultural attraction myself. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia is a reminder that a deep experience is possible on even the briefest of trips. In Australia, it’s hard to go past Uluru-Kata Tjuta in the Northern Territory. Port Arthur in Tasmania was a brutal penal colony that also happens to be in a place of incredible natural beauty. Also Walking the Light walk at Vivid Sydney. Vivid is now one of the world’s most successful cultural events.
A good summation of heritage and culture tourism comes from Flaubert: “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
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