Cultural tourism is a big international industry that is made up of many small, often tiny, micro-businesses. I find that rather appealing. I like the fact that my work in heritage interpretation is a cog in the mighty wheel of cultural tourism and, at the same time, involves working with dedicated small businesses, and helping people have a good holiday (even if only a day out).
Heritage tourism is an important part of cultural tourism. The recently published report from Oxford Economics on ‘The economic impact of the UK heritage heritage sector‘ puts the contribution from human and natural heritage at £9.6 billion. Hooray. That contribution is growing rapidly. Hooray. While I am at it, let’s have a third cheer for Oxford Economics for producing this report and for the Heritage Lottery Fund for commissioning the work. Hooray.
Memorable visits to heritage sites (human and natural) are part of that big-hitting industry of heritage tourism. Those high quality visits depend on skillful interpretation. Heritage interpretation and heritage tourism are bedfellows and mutually dependant.
As my friend and expert in sustainable tourism, José María de Juan, of KOAN consulting and the co-founder and co-director of the Spanish Centre for Responsible Tourism wrote in his recent article in the Interpret Europe newsletter, ‘In my working field, where every day I link heritage interpretation, destination planning and responsible tourism, I have experienced how heritage interpretation creates more responsible and sensitive tourists who respect the environment.‘
I work in a lot of places who want more responsible and sensitive tourists who respect the environment.
Well planned and integrated interpretation delivers that. It can influence behaviour and encourage responsibility. It is a hugely important tool for that, because it is, by definition, part of and embedded in the leisure experience. Moreover, interpretation happens at the place (and often the time) where the behaviour, the sensitivity and the responsiblity most matters.
Interpretation can increase understanding and build the connections that underpin sensitivity. Once we have decided what respecting the environment looks like (a bit of a soapbox of mine – but another story) it can help with that too. Along the way interpretation will help people notice things , discover and discuss their significance, meet people and hear their story. It can help make their holiday one that will stay with them.
Good interpretive skills lie at the heart of sustainable tourism – in the small scale, potent and hugely memorable, sometimes life-changing interactions that happen at attractions between local people who want to share their heritage and foreigners who would like to explore it. Look at this post about a moose safari in Sweden, or this one about a farm attraction in Slovenia for examples of what I mean.
Heritage tourism offers interpreters the chance to make a clear business case, with figures included, for the work we do.
This morning someone asked me for examples of interpretation at historical and archaeological sites that support heritage tourism. It set me thinking.
What would you have pointed to? I am sure there are places all over the world where people are having better- than-they-had-hoped-for visits that they will always remember because of inspired , skilled on the spot communicators. Which have made a difference to you? I would love your stories and suggestions.
In my next blog will set out some of my answers; my list of places where I think interpretation serves tourists particularly well.