A student exploration of whether heritage tourism can be sustainable without negatively impacting on conservation efforts, especially in relation to the natural environment, by Samantha Z. L. Alleyne

Heritage tourism is often seen as synonymous with cultural tourism, historical tourism, arts tourism, nature tourism or attractions-related tourism (Nurse 4). It is the branch of tourism oriented towards the cultural heritage (both the tangible and the intangible) of the location or destination in which the tourism occurs. Heritage tourism, encompasses natural heritage, such as caves, nature reserves, gardens and marine parks, as well as built heritage, like museums, monuments and historical buildings. It also observes cultural events, festivals, performing arts and other forms of popular culture.

Heritage tourism brings to the Caribbean more than the concept of “Sun, Sea and Sand”, and with that, aids in the development of these countries. However, with every positive comes a negative and we will evaluate some of the benefits or advantages and disadvantages of heritage tourism, especially as it relates to the conservation and management of that heritage. “Some argue that the globalization of heritage through tourism has led to a greater respect for (both material and living) culture than previously existed” (Salazar and Zhu 240), and it is now seen as an important innovation and a new source for competitive advantage in the global tourism industry. When we look at the major heritage attraction of Trinidad and Tobago, it is not a tangible site, but the intangible experience of Carnival and their many other festivals.

The most noticeable feature that this type of heritage tourism brings, is an economic one, and it is understood that funding is an important factor in maintaining or managing and conserving any type of heritage. Carnival may be the incentive to come to the island, but tourists and visitors will be exposed to other aspects of Trinidad and Tobago’s culture as well. Promoting the heritage of island, but also strengthening the capacity to safeguard this heritage, “has proven to add value by serving as one of the main driving forces to preserve and strengthen indigenous cultural identity while at the same time making a positive contribution to social and economic development” (Orozco 2017).

This is just one example of how heritage tourism can contribute to the conservation and management of heritage. Other benefits would include: the strengthening and improving of heritage structures, as seen with the Seville Great House and Heritage Park in St. Ann’s Jamaica as well as the Good Hope Great House in Trelawny as a result of the increased visitor numbers. Building of infrastructures, roads and signs to promote access and visibility of heritage sites; generating employment, whether through jobs or new businesses, both within and outside the heritage industry; increased community pride and awareness in heritage, reintroducing individuals to their cultural roots, growing interest into their own history and culture, creating shared traditions that can be passed on to younger generations, are additional benefits. However, probably most importantly would be the strengthening and preservation of these heritage resources by means of its protection and sustainability for continued use.

Though we can count a number of benefits to the application of heritage tourism in the Caribbean, there are some disadvantages that should be noted. As much as it may provide opportunities for conservation and preservation, there is an equal chance of it causing more harm than good as seen most predominantly with cases of natural heritage. According to UNESCO “cultural tourism can encourage the revival of traditions and the restoration of sites and monuments. But unbridled tourism can have the opposite effect. Here there is a real dilemma. Is there not a risk that the boom in cultural tourism, by the sheer weight of numbers involved, may harbour the seeds of its own destruction by eroding the very cultures and sites that are its stock in trade?”

One example is the damage caused to coral reefs, as seen in Bonaire and other Caribbean territories. The increase of snorkelling and diving activities and cruise ship pollution is compounded by the chemicals from sunscreen leaching into the water and disrupting the reproduction and growth cycles of the coral, ultimately leading to bleaching (Zachos 2018). This shows the physical impact of tourism on our natural heritage. Natural Heritage parks where tourists travel off the dedicated paths and trample the foliage for what may seem a good photo opportunity, depleting over time the same natural environment they have come to see, is another example.

Another consideration is the concept of authenticity, integrity and interpretation in the management of the heritage being consumed. We must first remember that heritage tourism is foremost a form of tourism and hence there is always the risk that tourism will be promoted over preservation especially where it is seen primarily as an economic resource. The commercialisation of heritage thus focuses on the interest of tourists and the tourism providers, neglecting narratives that relay the true meaning of the site or object displayed. “Another reason for the lack of sufficient safeguards to protect the values of heritage properties is to be found in an underdeveloped understanding, and therefore lack of appreciation of the heritage value of precious cultural or natural resources by both local communities and tourists. This is particularly an issue in developing countries where tourism is often considered the primary source of economic growth and the reduction of poverty (Salazar and Zhu 243).

Without proper management, heritage tourism can lead to a lack of understanding and appreciation of the culture and heritage of the place within the wider community as a result of inadequate or inappropriate presentation; it can diminish the protection and conservation of cultural heritage overtime without the adequate integration of cultural heritage protection and management laws at the national and regional level; and certain tourism activities can unconsciously or inadvertently encourage theft of cultural resources and properties (Brooks 2001). There are a number of concepts that can pose for or against heritage tourism, but inevitably it is the way forward and with careful consideration of all the issues and implementation of adequate management plans it can be a prominent economic resource but more importantly it can bring awareness to the heritage within the local communities instilling a sense of pride and cultural identity that they may not have previously understood or known.



Works Cited

Brooks, Graham. “Heritage at Risk from Tourism.” ICOMOS, 2001, Accessed November 2018

Nurse, Keith. Development of a Strategic Business Management Model for the Sustainable Development of Heritage Tourism Products in the Caribbean. The Caribbean Tourism Organisation, 2008.

Orozco, Julio. “Carnival: When Culture Attracts Tourism.” Association of Caribbean States, 2017, November 2018.

Salazar, Noel B. and Yujie Zhu. “Heritage and Tourism.” Global Heritage: A Reader. Edited by Lynn Meskell. John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2015.

“Sustainable Tourism: Part Threat-Part Hope.” World Heritage, vol.58, 2010.

Zachos, Elaina. “Here are some alternatives to reef-damaging sunscreen.” National Geographic, 2018,