A student exploration of the benefits and disadvantages of heritage tourism on conservation efforts,especially as it relates to built heritage, by Anisah Wood.
Travel has been a constant feature of the human experience. Today, international tourism is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing industries. This sector employs 1 in 10 people around the world and In 2019 alone this sector catered to 1.5 billion international travelers (Experts call For Inclusive and Regenerative Tourism to Build Back a tronger Post-COVID-19). According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, “one of the pillars of the tourism industry has been people’s inherent desire to see and learn about the cultural identity of different parts of the world” (United Nations World Tourism Oganization 12). This has led to the development of heritage tourism or cultural tourism which is defined as:
A type of tourism activity in which the visitor’s essential motivation is to learn, discover, experience, and consume the tangible and intangible cultural attractions/products in a tourism destination. These attractions/products relate to a set of distinctive material, intellectual, spiritual and emotional features of a society that encompasses arts and architecture, historical and cultural heritage, culinary heritage, literature, music, creative industries and the living cultures with their lifestyles, value systems, beliefs and traditions (United Nations World Tourism Organization).
This definition lays bare the inextricable link between tourism and culture, and the unique position of tangible and intangible heritage, and contemporary culture as a valuable tourism asset. The synergies between heritage and tourism is further exemplified by the tourism based traffic to many World Heritage sites from its inception (United Nations World Tourism Oganization).
Yet, the Caribbean has relied on the sun, sea and sand model, leaving the region’s rich cultural heritage largely untapped (Roberts, Best and Cameron 349, 358). At the same time, in recognition of the potential of heritage tourism, some sites across the region have been identified and leveraged as tourism products. One example of this is Betty's Hope, a former plantation in Antigua. This site was converted to an open-air museum through a collaborative public and private sector restoration project. In Barbados, St Nicholas Abbey, a former plantation, is now a recognized tourism brand that incorporates several aspects of the sites’ history. Incases such as these and future usage of heritage as a tourism product, how will heritage tourism impact management and conservation activities?
Benefits of Heritage Tourism for Management and Conservation Activities in the Caribbean
A report by the World Heritage organization observes that the rise of cultural tourism have been the rational of for cultural investment (United Nations World Tourism Organization). Infrastructural improvements such as wheelchair access, site beautification, installation of facilities, the provision of seating areas, the installation of interpretation signs and the improvement of access roads are tangible manifestations of investments at Caribbean cultural sites. Intangible heritage has also benefited through initiatives such as revitalization programs to improve their viability. Using a cyclical system, the funds made through tourist spend can be reinvested into cultural attractions for further development. Cultural investment could also take the form of funding for research, further archaeological inquires, and collaborations with other research organizations.
Cultural tourism has also given heritage institutions the opportunity to demonstrate their relevance and importance. The synergies between tourism and culture has contributed to socio-economic development of Caribbean states in areas such as job creation, the improvement of livelihoods and poverty alleviation. The opportunities for cultural exchange heritage through tourism has encouraged national pride in the host country and respect for culture on the part of visitors. As a result, communities are motivated to effectively manage cultural assets, and engage in conservation and restoration efforts. Furthermore, the derived values of heritage tourism have dissuaded Government officials from allowing developers to negatively impact culturally significant spaces.
Disadvantages of Heritage Tourism for Management and Conservation Activities in the Caribbean
There are many concerns regarding the negative impact of tourism on heritage management and conservation activities. The sanitization, simplification and sensationalizing of heritage for the sake of tourism are among such concerns. An example of this is the rejection of ‘burning Mr.Harding’ during Crop Over festivities in Barbados. The activity involved the burning of an effigy as a symbolic way to dispel hard times ahead (Carrington, Fraser and Gilmore 108). Though Crop Over was revitalized thanks to tourism interests, that cultural tradition was removed from modern iterations of the festival out of the fear of offending visitors. This paradigm of re-presenting culture as a palatable tourist product, diminishes and risks the disappearance of the attraction’s authentic cultural value. Timothy (2009) describes this as ‘societal amnesia and erasure of the past’ resulting in a noticeable degree of dissonance in heritage narratives.
Mass tourism is another concern for site managers. If not managed properly, the negative effects can include the dissatisfaction in the overall visitor experience, reduction in visitors, loss in profit, unwarranted pressure on infrastructure, hampered conservation effort, damage to natural ecosystems, and the devaluation of site’s significance (United Nations World Tourism Oganization 12, 13, 43). Furthermore, the lesser known culturally significant sites are often overlooked not only by tourists but also in the distribution of resources and benefits derived from heritage tourism.
There are instances where tourism trumps the long-term preservation, conservation, and interpretation of a heritage site. Most recently a controversial development was permitted to proceed at the southern tip of the Pitons Management Area. The Pitons was declared a World Heritage Site in 2004, and as part of its management plan a Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) was commissioned. This new development ignores the guidelines of the LAC in scale, nature, and location (Caribbean News Global Media). In Barbados, plans for the development of a Hyatt Hotel in the World Heritage site of Bridgetown and its Garrison were recently approved. Much of the public discourse on this development focused on the manner buildings were seized by the government to make way for the developers. However, little was said on the effect the modern high-rise structure will have on the authenticity of the town or the possibility of mass tourism and its far-reaching negative effects.
The way forward
Heritage is a consistent feature of the tourism industry and there are benefits to be derived for both parties of this partnership. To maximize of these benefits while minimizing the negative impacts, there needs to be integration and close collaboration between tourism and Heritage. In addition, an adaptable management strategy that prioritizes the protection of the site, address the need for stakeholder involvement, speaks to capacity building, and covers visitor management approaches will prove to be invaluable once implemented (Roberts, Best and Cameron 372-375).
Caribbean News Global Media. 24 September 2020. Article. November 19 2020.
Carrington, C.M. Sean, et al. A to Z of Barbados Heritage. Barbados: Miller Publishing Company Limited, 2020. Book.
Experts call For Inclusive and Regenerative Tourism to Build Back a tronger Post-COVID-19. 2 October 2020. Document. 11 November 2020.
Rifai, Taleb. "Tourism at World Heritage Sites." Wold Heritage Journal (2010): 87-88. Article.
Roberts, Sherma, Mechelle Best and Acolla Cameron. Contemporary Caribbean Tourism Concepts and Cases. Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2015. Book .
Timothy, Dallen J. and Gyan P. Nyaupane. "The Politics of Heritage." Timothy, Dallen J. and Gyan P. Nyaupane. Cultural Heritage and Tourism in the Developing World. Oxon: Routledge, 2009. 42-55. Book.
United Nations World Tourism Oganization. Tourism at World Heritage Sites - Challenges and Opportunities. International Tourism Seminar. Spain: Wolrd Tourism Organization , 2015. Document .
United Nations World Tourism Organization. Tourism and Culture Synergies. Survey. Spain: World TOurism Organization, 2018. Document.