The Evolution of Cultural Tourism

23 Jul 2023

Envisioning the future of cultural tourism demands a comprehensive understanding of the societal trends and global influences that have shaped our lives. Exploring the link between culture, traditions, heritage, lifestyles, and local values is essential to grasp how cultural tourism is currently experienced. 

As we delve into this discussion, we must confront the rapid and complex changes occurring worldwide. While this article won't cover every aspect, we will highlight key phenomena relevant to our focus. One central concept that arises in this context is the Anthropocene, a geological period marked by human activities impacting the planet since the industrial revolutions of the nineteenth century (Gren & Huijbens, 2014).

The Anthropocene and its Implications: The Anthropocene represents a critical factor in our discourse, signifying the human-induced impacts on our planet due to an unchecked, profit-driven system of resource extraction and exploitation (Braidotti, 2019). Advanced technologies, financialization of the economy, and the overwhelming power of media and cultural sectors contribute to this toxic system. Braidotti aptly refers to this era as the Capitalocene, exposing the destructive forces of capitalism, a prevalent global economic system based on private ownership of production means.

The political economy of global tourism is intricately linked to the capitalist system, wherein tourism plays a significant role in environmental change and social. These threats seriously endanger cultural heritage (Hall, Baird, James, & Ram, 2016). Consequently, the development of cultural tourism emerges as a pressing policy issue, emphasizing the importance of strategic governance.

As we move forward from the pandemic, cultural tourism governance has become a topic of discussion. Calvi et al. (2020) emphasize the need for destination managers to interpret and embed culture thoughtfully into tourism products. Drawing from a comprehensive review of cultural tourism and sustainability literature, Calvi & Moretti (2020) outline two broad cultural tourism governance approaches: the "community-oriented" and "economy-oriented."

In the economy-oriented approach, cultural tourism capitalizes on local cultural resources to maximize economic benefits for the tourism industry. In contrast, the community-oriented approach focuses on revitalizing local cultures and prioritizing community well-being over solely economic gains.

Envisioning a utopian future for cultural tourism can inspire positive change and guide decision-makers towards a more sustainable and equitable path. It involves embracing degrowth strategies, post-anthropocentric governance, and slow tourism practices.

Sustainable growth, advocated by organizations like UNWTO, is being questioned for its attainability. Instead, tourism degrowth is proposed, which involves radical reorganization for reduced resource use while improving well-being. This should not be mistaken for economic decline but rather a qualitative development that respects natural capital.

Degrowth aligns well with creative tourism and New Urban Tourism, emphasizing localhood and placemaking practices. A utopian cultural tourism future requires leadership with ethics of care and political commitment, promoting a paradigm shift to post-anthropocentrism. This view values the interconnectedness and interdependency of all forms of life, human and non-human, within the social-ecological system.

Local communities should take responsibility for cultural tourism's impact on residents' well-being. Grassroots movements and ethical consumption should guide cultural tourism governance, with a focus on local production and consumption of endogenous products and services. Prioritizing domestic and proximity tourism reduces dependency on outbound markets and strengthens place attachment.

Cultural diversity must be preserved, and participatory tourism governance should involve citizens in decision-making processes. Utopian cultural tourism aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and enforces the "right to tourism" for more equitable and sustainable practices.

In summary, a utopian future for cultural tourism embodies degrowth strategies, post-anthropocentric governance, and an emphasis on local communities' well-being. It involves a paradigm shift towards more equitable and sustainable practices that prioritize the rights of local communities and the protection of cultural and natural resources. Through dialogue and multi-stakeholder collaboration, these initiatives offer a way to address issues like overtourism and shape a better future for cultural tourism.

Changes are needed

In a utopian vision of cultural tourism, significant changes are needed to address ongoing anthropocentric disruptions, such as biodiversity loss, climate change, and cultural commodification. A rapid transition is required to curb these negative impacts. However, a dystopian future loom if we fail to act decisively.

Anthropocene impacts, including rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions, threaten cultural heritage sites and historic buildings. Dystopia is evident in destinations chasing popular attractions for competitiveness, resulting in cultural commodification and homogenization. Overtourism further damages destinations, leading to conflicts between tourists and locals, and the commercialization of public spaces.

World Heritage Site status, while attracting visitors, may not benefit local stakeholders or protect the site effectively. In a dystopian future, cultural products may be distorted for extreme appeal, leading to negative stereotypes and prejudices against host communities. Even well-intentioned tourism development can lead to disempowerment of local communities and low-wage employment.

To avoid this dystopian path, addressing these issues is vital. However, the deeply rooted economic growth modes of governance pose challenges for a radical shift in mentality. While a complete global transition may not be achievable, initiatives aiming for positive change in even potential dystopic places offer hope.

Last scenario is this: in a heterotopian future of cultural tourism, radical political change towards degrowth and equitable distribution of benefits seems unlikely due to deeply entrenched neoliberal capitalism. Despite the failure of sustainable tourism efforts, pockets of resistance or heterotopias may emerge as alternate spaces challenging mainstream practices.

Heterotopias are counter-sites where people deviate from norms, offering an alternate social order. They can exist alongside other spaces and serve as sites of transgression or utopian enactments. These bubbles of ethical consumption and practices already exist in the form of cooperatives, social enterprises, and community-based projects, promoting solidarity, cultural diversity, and social justice.

In this heterotopian future, cultural tourism experiences would emerge from collaborative efforts and creative departures from capitalist governance. These spaces would prioritize social encounters, cultural skills, diversity, and care for nature. Successful pockets of resistance can inspire other communities seeking alternative tourism experiences, leading to a proliferation of such cultural tourism bubbles.

Heterotopian destinations would cater to tourists seeking ethical and slow tourism experiences, providing an escape from overtourism. Economy-driven slow cultural tourism and glocalised cultural tourism scenarios align well with this vision.

In conclusion, the future of cultural tourism is likely to be heterotopian, with various degrees of utopian, dystopian, and resistance-based practices coexisting at destinations. While a complete shift to utopian degrowth strategies seems challenging due to entrenched neoliberal capitalism, pockets of resistance will emerge, emphasizing ethical consumption and democratic relationships between tourists and hosts. These initiatives can serve as role models for community-led cultural tourism, offering hope for a more meaningful and inclusive future. Embracing an affirmative philosophy of rebellion against conventional practices and vested interests may lead to a brighter cultural tourism future that prioritizes the well-being of local communities and meaningful experiences.

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