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Heritage and Cultural Sector in the Travel and Tourism Industry

Tourism is one of the most rapidly growing industries that generate billions of dollars and create thousands of job places across the globe. As the world is increasingly globalizing, more people have resources and the desire to travel to other parts of the world. Specifically, tourists want to familiarize themselves with the unique culture and heritage of other countries. Thus, heritage and cultural tourism constitute one of the most popular sectors in the travel and tourism industry. Nevertheless, heritage tourism currently faces numerous management challenges and conflicts. If stakeholders do not address these issues immediately and adequately, these challenges can potentially cause irreversible damage to the cultural heritage and local community. Resolving financial, social, and environmental challenges and disseminating new interpretations of cultural objects, heritage, and cultural tourism can be preserved more effectively and contribute to the tourism industry.

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Development and Growth of the Heritage and Cultural Tourism

Over the last decades, the cultural tourism industry has been developing at a tremendous pace. Tourist agencies have increasingly been using culture to promote destinations due to the distinctiveness of cultural tourism. In other words, as people’s ability to travel is higher than ever, tourists’ demands are also increasing as they prefer less crowded and unique destinations (Barton, 2005 as cited in Fang, 2020). The cultural sector can provide this demand since every country has distinct features to attract tourists. Around 40 percent of the international trips are motivated by the desire to visit heritage places (Timothy, 2017). In Europe, cultural tourism has facilitated the creation of cultural facilities, job places and increased the number of tourists to Europe (Fang, 2020). In Asia, a continent where tourism is the fastest growing industry, most people travel to see the unique historical places. For instance, in South Korea and Thailand, tourists visit the sites where local traditions and historical objects from the late prehistoric times are still retained and practiced (Fang, 2020). Thus, due to its distinctive nature, the heritage and cultural sector in the travel and tourism industry is significantly increasing.

Purpose of Heritage and Cultural Attraction in Meeting Customer Needs

Apart from its distinctive nature, heritage and cultural tourism meet other customer needs. First, more people are becoming aware of the heritage and its importance. Second, with greater affluence, increased leisure time, customers demand better and unique experiences, which heritage tourism can provide. Thirdly, with rapid modernization, more people have a psychological need to explore family or national history (Park et al., 2019). Thus, unlike other types of tourism, heritage and cultural attractions meet the increasing needs of customers.

Challenges and Conflicts in the Management of Cultural Tourism

Lack of Financial Resources

While rapidly growing, cultural and heritage tourism also faces new and pressing challenges from financial, organizational, and environmental aspects. The most prevalent one concerns the lack of funding to preserve cultural resources. Heritage preservation requires a substantial amount of financial resources for several reasons. First, repair workers and guards should be hired who will monitor the safety of cultural heritage. Crucially, managers should train these workers to understand the value of a cultural object and address it with due responsibility (Timothy, 2017). Second, these historical objects require frequent renovation, hence, requiring a considerable amount of financial resources. Third, restoring the site is insufficient unless potential tourists are unaware of its existence and importance (Ebejer, 2018). Thus, it is necessary to inform people about the cultural heritage and its interpretation through media tools and other mechanisms, which requires an enormous budget. While most cultural object preservation organizations tried to charge admission fees, this has triggered a wave of public anger about the inaccessibility of the common historical object (Timothy, 2017). Therefore, a lack of funding is the primary concern and source of conflict that cultural and heritage tourism currently faces.

Environmental concerns

Another critical challenge for the cultural and heritage sector in the tourism industry is the environmental pressure. First, due to the lack of financial resources, most heritage sites are volatile to ecological damages such as weathering and erosive processes, leading to the physical deterioration of these objects. Second, in attracting tourists, most local communities and heritage sites are destroyed, hence, presenting a substantial threat to sustainable heritage preservation. Thus, in the connection between the cultural sector and tourism, the administration of the culture-tourism nexus should appropriately consider these environmental concerns.

The Threat of Modernization

With the rapid modernization efforts across the world, many cultural heritage sites are at the risk of being demolished. Unlike skyscrapers and entertainment centers, the ancient culture and heritage structures do not symbolize the high level of modernization. Moreover, the practical economic opportunities of the offices and buildings often outweigh the benefits of old heritage sites. Thus, the government and external stakeholders should oversee and prevent the demolition of cultural heritage objects.

Privatization Concerns

As an increasing number of private actors and organizations are entering the tourism industry, it is vital to prevent these stakeholders from exploiting cultural heritage objects for profit maximization. Private actors can allow an excessive number of tourists an access to the cultural heritage object, which can cause significant damage to the sites and artifacts. These damages range from small ones such as littering to irreparable ones, including vandalism or theft. Therefore, heritage managers should create and facilitate mechanisms to hold private stakeholders accountable for the preservation of cultural resources.

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Conflicts Among Different Stakeholders

Another critical problem in managing heritage and cultural resources is the conflict between different stakeholders, including the international organizations, the state apparatus, and the public. For instance, policy conflicts often occur in world heritage-listed sites between local governments and supranational bodies such as UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (Piccolo et al., 2012 as cited in Dela Santa & Tiatco, 2019). Meanwhile, in Cordoba, Spain, the demands of the local community to engage in decision-making and management of the heritage site have clashed with the incentives of the Catholic Church (Cortes-Vazquez et al., 2017). These conflicts are significant regarding the management issue since continuous disputes and conflicts hinder the sustainable development and preservation of the heritage and cultural sector. Thus, impartial and independent organizations should distribute the rights and responsibilities of each of these stakeholders to the cultural heritage.

Roles and Responsibilities of Organizations

The collaboration of different government and private sector organizations is necessary to address the abovementioned challenges and conflicts. These organizations usually have the most resources to attract international and public attention to the problems the cultural tourism sector experiences and find solutions. For instance, European funding to the tourism sector helped renovate and upgrade the heritage and cultural resources in Valetta, Malta (Ebejer, 2018). The Council of Europe significantly influenced the conservation of cultural heritage sites and historical landmarks (Fang, 2020). As such, supranational organizations can play a significant role in preserving cultural heritage sites.

Impact of Different Types of Ownership

Government and Private Sector Ownership

The type of ownership is essential in managing the heritage and cultural sites as it directly affects the site’s resource allocation and narrative-shaping structure. As mentioned earlier, private ownership might damage the heritage due to profit maximization incentives. Some scholars such as Yung et al. (2016) dispute this idea by presenting the evidence from Hong Kong whereby pro-market economic sentiments did not dominate conservation planning decisions. Governments are also known to exploit cultural and heritage sites for their political purposes by artificially constructing cultural performances as a festival and commercial enterprise despite community disapproval (Chan, 2016). Thus, government or private sector ownership of cultural heritage resources can be potentially harmful as these actors have an incentive to exploit the site for their purposes.

Moreover, ownership of the heritage and cultural sites can affect the narrative and interpretation of the cultural objects. This is because the interpretation plans are usually negotiated between the owners of the site and the interpretation team (Ballantyne et al., 2016). State apparatus, driven by political and economic agenda, can dominate the discourse and interpretation of the heritage in the tourism industry. For instance, the Philippine government promoted the interpretation of the heritage site that is strongly influenced by neo-colonialism and a Eurocentric logic, which glorified the colonial period (Dela Santa & Tiatco, 2019). Therefore, the type of ownership can significantly influence discourses and interpretations of the heritage sites in the tourism industry.

Participatory Governance

Participatory governance is another form of ownership and management of cultural and heritage sites. This governance model involves the active participation of civil society in the decision-making structure of the heritage management system. Over the last several decades, the popularity of this type of governance has been rising to become the dominant characteristic of twenty-first-century cultural preservation practice (Chitty, 2017). Local community members gain educational, social, and personal benefits by actively participating in heritage preservation activities. Local activism is particularly vital as the state often lacks the capacity or incentive to address heritage preservation, while the private sector is primarily oriented for commercial purposes. Therefore, community engagement and participation in the management of heritage sites have practical economic and social benefits.

Public-private Partnerships

A public-private partnership (PPP), which is the cooperation of the government and the private sector to deliver public services, is an alternative type of ownership in managing heritage and cultural sites. This model is becoming increasingly prevalent due to the efficient collaboration of stakeholders to meet the needs of preserving the heritage (Yung et al., 2016; Ventura et al., 2016). The government’s lack of financial resources is compensated by private actor investment and sponsorship, while the state’s bureaucratic and administrative capacity facilitates the efficient management of the site. This ownership model can be a unique and effective solution for the problem of scarce financial resources. However, to ensure successful cooperation, PPPs should share the risks and responsibilities related to the cultural heritage asset equally between stakeholders through proper legal and institutional arrangements (Jelinčić et al., 2017). Thus, with adequate implementation, this type of ownership can positively impact heritage revitalization.

Interpreting and Improving the Visitor Experience

Authenticity and Cultural Contact

In their raw forms, heritage and cultural objects can be of limited benefit to cultural tourism without interpretation and presentation to generate the tourist’s curiosity. If managers and interpreters employ additional methods to satisfy the tourists, the visitor experience can be more positive, and they are most likely to revisit the place. For instance, increasing cultural contact is more likely to derive memorable experiences for tourists. In other words, interacting with the local culture and residents can allow tourists to understand the tourist destination better, creating a positive, memorable experience (Chen & Rahman, 2018). In addition, the originality and historical accuracy of the tourism objects, attractions, and sites, is more likely to contribute to the formation of tourist satisfaction and loyalty to heritage sites. Hence, extensive cultural contact and ensuring authenticity in visitor experiences can substantially improve the quality of heritage tourism services.

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Characteristics of tourist destinations significantly affect their appeal to tourists. Specifically, features of the heritage site such as its location, entertainment facilities play a crucial role in determining whether tourists will be interested in the destination. In addition, the population living within this destination, the culture and cuisine of this population are also likely to make the heritage site highly appealing for tourists. While some tourists might prefer urban architecture, others will choose rural areas with natural settings. It is also essential to ensure the accessibility of the destination since lower costs are likely to generate higher appeal. Hence, heritage and cultural site administration should identify what feature of the heritage object is expected to attract potential tourists and emphasize this aspect in its marketing strategy.

Communication and Information

Communication with visitors and providing access to accurate information can significantly improve the tourist experience on the heritage site. Kempiak et al. (2017) found that audio and visual communication with visitors through interactive and digital media tools is more likely to improve visitor satisfaction and prompting them to revisit the site. Most of the visitor’s motivation to visit heritage sites is the desire to familiarize themselves and increase their knowledge of particular historical or cultural events. Hence, ensuring the accessibility of information is crucial. While information boards can provide the essential data, well-informed staff can provide more detailed knowledge to visitors. Thus, to improve the visitor experience, managers of heritage sites should ensure well-informed staff and actively communicate with tourists.

On-site Engagement

Engagement with visitors during their visit can leave more pleasant impressions. Visitors are often willing to participate in interactive and hands-on workshops (Kempiak et al., 2017). Moreover, since most tourists visit with their families, managers should orient their interactive activities towards families and children (Kempiak et al., 2017). For instance, educational games for children are more likely to influence the visitor experience positively. Thus, providing basic information about the heritage and cultural object is insufficient for a positive visitor experience, and extensive engagement with tourists is crucial.

Heritage Interpretation Methods

Before applying the heritage interpretation methods, managers should analyze several following aspects: first, managers should know the audience of visitors and categorize them based on nationality, age, motivation, interest, experience, and time, personal preferences, and expectations (Jarolímková & Míšková, 2018). Second, managers should understand the objectives of interpretation. Third, site administrators should also consider the feasibility of the interpretation method. Namely, managers should analyze the effect of the interpretation method on the protection of heritage, predisposition of the site, and the availability of technologies (Jarolímková & Míšková, 2018). Finally, managers should analyze the efficiency and availability of human and financial resources for each method. Considering these aspects will help to achieve the most effective heritage interpretation method and prevent the inefficient allocation of funds.

The most common methods of interpretation for the heritage and cultural sector are guiding services, printed materials, and trails. Guiding service, that is, a tour led by tourism professionals, and printed materials are the most prevalent for types of heritage sites such as architecture, religious monument and tradition and customs (Jarolímková & Míšková, 2018). Meanwhile, trails, which are methods of directing tourist experience by presenting a purposeful route, can increase visitors’ appreciation and active engagement with heritage sites (Macleod, 2016). These three types of interpretation methods are the most difficult ones due to technical, organizational, personnel, and cost demands (Jarolímková & Míšková, 2018). Less demanding interpretation methods include expositions, visitor centers, games, educational programs, workshops, experience programs, shows, and events (Jarolímková & Míšková, 2018). Thus, the most effective method of interpretation is likely to combine guiding services, trails, and printed materials with the less demanding ones to obtain the most positive visitor experience while also considering the feasibility concerns.


Due to its distinctiveness, the heritage and cultural sector constitute a significant part of the travel and tourism industry. Nevertheless, heritage and cultural tourism management encounter several financial, environmental, and organizational challenges. Managers can address these challenges by defining and monitoring the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders involved in heritage and cultural tourism. Each of the stakeholders can have unique properties that can positively impact the development of cultural tourism and the preservation of heritage sites. Thus, to prevent the exploitation of lucrative cultural heritage, these stakeholders should equally share the responsibilities and benefits.

Moreover, improving and interpreting the visitor experience is significant to attract more tourists to the heritage sites. Administrators can improve visitor experience through incorporating extensive cultural contact, providing authentic and accurate information, maintaining qualified and well-informed staff, and ensuring active on-site engagement. In addition, managers can derive the most efficient heritage interpretation method by combining different ways depending on the type of the heritage site and availability of resources.


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