Cultural and Heritage Tourism: Whose Agenda?

By Staiff, Russell | Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, August 2003 | Go to article overview

Cultural and Heritage Tourism: Whose Agenda?


Staiff, Russell, Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management


There continues to be a substantial gap between tourist-centred thinking about cultural and heritage tourism and the thinking that is characteristic of those who are from within the cultural and heritage industries. This paper asks the question "whose agenda?" when considering cultural and heritage tourism. If two recent "events" are any guide, the tourism industry, in all its guises, is not the most important stakeholder in the cultural and heritage tourism arena, despite the significance of "culture" and "heritage" as resources for tourism (at least, not in the narrow sense of cultural and heritage tourism as it pertains to museums and heritage sites). The two "events" consist of the recent Congresses of the International Council of Museums (in Melbourne, 1998 and Barcelona, 2001) and the spate of charters that have emanated out of heritage bodies like ICOMOS, ICOM and the AHC. The paper analyses these as a way of articulating the need for a much better understanding, by the tourism industry, of the significant and complex issues facing museums and heritage site managers. It is apparent, from considering only these two "windows" onto the cultural and heritage world, that the cultural and heritage tourism agenda is one to which the tourism industry does not have a primary claim.

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During the past year, I was asked to review two research papers for Annals of Tourism Research, that addressed issues pertaining to cultural and heritage tourism. In both papers the tourism researchers were calling for a more distinct definition of cultural and heritage tourism in the belief that tourism planners, managers and marketers would be able to better serve the phenomenon if the category itself was better understood. While I can appreciate the sentiment, it seems to me to be a particularly tourist-centric approach that virtually ignores the role of the stakeholders closest to the cultural and heritage sites--the sites that, in turn, provide the tourism industry with the resource or the attraction. In other words, the demand for a better understanding of cultural and heritage tourism as a distinct market often ignores what is happening within the cultural and heritage industries themselves and often ignores the agendas of cultural and heritage managers (cf. Ashworth & Tunbridge, 2000).

This paper does not address the thorny issue of the definition of cultural and heritage tourism (1) (see Craik, 2001; Hodgens, 2000; Robinson, 1999) nor is it an analysis of contemporary trends in the phenomenon (see Craik, 2001; Richards, 2001; Trotter, 2001); nor is it an analysis of this sector (if it is a sector) from the point of view of the tourism industry (see Foo & Rossetto, 1998; Hughes, 2000). Rather, it is an analysis of two very specific events that have significant implications for the tourism industry at those quite precise points where tourism intersects with museums and heritage organisations. The first of these events comprises the 1998 Conference and Congress of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) (held in Melbourne) and the 2001 Conference and Congress of ICOM held in Barcelona. The second of these events comprises the recent publication of four charters that address tourism from the perspective of three organisations and a national conference: the Tshwane Declaration of South Africa (Galla, 1997), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Charter of International Cultural Tourism (1999), the ICOM draft proposal for a Charter of Principles for Museums and Cultural Tourism (2000), and the Australian Heritage Commission's Successful Tourism at Heritage Places (2001).

As any current tourism guidebook indicates, and as the research undertaken by the Bureau of Tourism Research confirms (Foo & Rossetto, 1998), museum attendance is a major tourist activity. But while museums are increasingly responsive to tourism and in some cases have tourism as one of their major foci (like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain) (Dolan, 1999; Plaza, 2000)--their primary constituency is, in the main, the immediate geographic community of which they are a part and which they serve.

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