Special Discussion Session Organised by ICOMOS International Committee for Cultural Tourism

Destination Heritage: Does heritage shape tourism or does tourism shape cultural heritage?

ICOMOS International Scientific Committee for Cultural Tourism invites debate on heritage destinations.  The Committee would like to explore with delegates a series of questions which cultural heritage professionals worldwide are asking relating to the preservation and protection of cultural heritage at major tourism destinations.

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Heritage destinations are the bedrock of cultural tourism: they are contested spaces – physical, intellectual, economic, social and cultural, especially UNESCO World Heritage sites. Cultural tourism, we believe, demonstrates – or has the capacity to demonstrate – the vibrant interplay between tangible and intangible heritage and highlights choices open to communities – local and national – in safeguarding and exploiting their past.

Do communities really have a choice in the conservation of their cultural heritage when foreign investment and high demand often carry more weight than local planning strategies? What cultural values as opposed to financial and commercial values shape decisions? Are conservation and interpretation activities informed by stereotypical perceptions of ‘good practice conservation’ and a ‘good tourism experience’, a need for monocultural simplicity – or just a need on one side for a simple narrative and the other an immediate ‘wow’ factor’?

The first principle of ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Charter (1999) states:  Since domestic and international tourism is among the foremost vehicles for cultural exchange, conservation should provide responsible and well managed opportunities for members of the host community and visitors to experience and understand that community’s heritage and culture at first hand. Unwittingly, the exponential growth in visitor numbers and parallel rise in managerial culture has overridden the chance meeting between tourists and local people.

A mediated experience – often digital – replaces the first hand encounter and also limits opportunities for tourists to understand the importance and dynamics of conservation  which is at the core of retaining individuality, difference and diversity – the raison d’être for ICOMOS;  and to engage in the protection of other peoples places and ways of life as well as their own.

Are the heritage and tourism industries catering sufficiently well for a maturing market? What encounters with cultural heritage – the people and places they visit – do tourists seek as they explore their own regions or become frequent travellers?  Are we missing the opportunity to develop a loyal following of conservation supporters and in the long run a mass conservation movement taking cultural tourism and cultural heritage centre stage in sustainable development agendas?

We hope you will join the conversation.

For information on ICOMOS – The International Committee on Monuments and Sites – www.icomos.org

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