Tourism has always been closely linked to the heritage and culture of a destination.
This link became even stronger in the 1970s, when UNESCO developed the “Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage”, which recognized the deterioration of heritage at the world level and intended to actively conserve it and promote the knowledge and recognition of this legacy for future generations.
Today there are more than 1,000 World Heritage sites, of which 802 are cultural, 197 natural and 32 mixed. They are located in more than 160 countries, the main heritage destinations being Italy, China and Spain.
Evolution of cultural tourism
Both the supply and demand for cultural tourism have evolved in recent decades. The World Tourism Organisation estimates that cultural tourism represents around 37% of the total tourism sector and that it will grow by around 15% a year.
Among the reasons that explain the increase in demand for cultural tourism, we can highlight some:
- Higher levels of education worldwide, leading to a general increase in interest in culture.
- Aging population (mainly in Europe and North America), which generates greater demand for cultural products and experiences.
- New tourist flows from emerging markets (such as China, Russia or India) who want to see the main cultural resources of the destinations they visit.
- Development of cultural industries and a growth in the supply of cultural activities and resources.
- Urban regeneration projects that have converted old buildings (previously without tourist use) into cultural centres and spaces.
- Internet boom that has facilitated the consumption of cultural tourism.
- Greater promotion by large cultural institutions, which previously saw their role limited only to the conservation of heritage and now see in the dissemination and exploitation of tourism, one of their main obligations.
On the other hand, in the last decade the supply of cultural facilities has doubled in Europe and the United States.
Impact and benefits of cultural tourism
Cultural tourism contributes to the economic development of a destination, but also to social integration and rapprochement between different peoples.
The other great advantage that cultural tourism has is its lack of seasonality since it develops throughout the year. This encourages the employment associated with cultural tourism to be more stable than in other segments.
But the tourist development of these patrimonial and historical resources, must be done in a planned, responsible and controlled way, so as not to jeopardize the future of the available resources. In short, it is essential to develop a sustainable management of cultural tourism.
Evolution of the concept of cultural offerings
The concept of what is meant by cultural tourism has varied over the years. If before it was exclusively related to artistic historical heritage, today the concept of cultural resource is much broader and encompasses both material and immaterial elements, including, for example, traditional dances, crafts, local gastronomy or textile or agricultural techniques.
Given this variety of tourist offer, different market niches have also been defined, such as heritage tourism, urban tourism, rural tourism, community tourism, religious tourism or ethnotourism.
Profile of cultural tourists
In general, cultural tourists stand out for the following characteristics:
- They are educated and educated people (many of them with higher education).
- They cover all age segments.
- They tend to have a high tourist expenditure.
- They are interested in tourist products such as gastronomy and shopping.
- They are concerned about the environment.
- They appreciate the cultural differences between countries.
- Travel frequently.
- They are demanding customers looking for quality and comfort.
- And they show an interest in getting to know the local people and their way of life.
Trends in cultural tourism
I will now briefly review some of the trends that are being seen in the segment of cultural tourism.
Edutenimiento – Today, for many people, culture is understood as a mixture of cultural, educational and entertainment elements.
New motivations – A new motivation to travel is to attend large cultural events (such as large exhibitions, musical concerts and other cultural performances).
Experiences – Many tourists (especially young people, the so-called Millennials) want the cultural experience to be much more interactive, being able to participate actively. They do not want to be mere spectators when they travel, but protagonists of their own cultural experience.
Immersion – For this, many tourists are interested in learning local dances, gastronomy, crafts or autochthonous sports, which provide them with a vital experience, directly related to the place they visit.
Interactivity – Museums become more interactive, programming activities and workshops for adults that allow them to “learn” and “experience” culture, in a different and more playful way.
City Breaks – In the last decade “city break” trips have grown a lot, short escapades of 2-3 days to know a city and with culture as one of its main activities.
New themes – Many new cultural offerings are today more related to contemporary culture (design, architecture, gastronomy or cultural diversity) than to artistic historical heritage.
Technology – The use of new technologies can radically change the experience of cultural products. Elements such as touch screens, the sending of messages based on geo-positioning (through beacons), virtual reality, holograms or the use of robots, can transform the way we consume culture.