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The Importance and Positive Impacts of Cultural Tourism

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Initially though culture and tourism were seen as being separate spheres of social practices, but gradually as Urry (Urry 1995 as quoted in Richards 2003:2) has noted, the barriers dissolved mainly as a result of two parallel processes of ‘culturisation of society’ and ‘culturisation of tourist practices’. Culture now has become an essential element of the tourism system or ‘culture of tourism’ (Richard & Wilson 2006: 1209). The bond between culture and tourism strengthened during the 20th century when tourists searched for new experience something more than just leisure. Thus more places began to recognize the value of culture as a potential means of generating tourism. The combination of tourism and culture contributes immensely in image creation process especially in terms of ‘aestheticization of landscapes’ (Morgan & Pritchard 1998 as quoted by Richards & Wilson 2006:1209). The growth of cultural tourism basically has been an outcome of a “fundamental shift in the nature of consumption, changing factors of production and changes in the nature of tourism itself” (Richards 2009:1). This happened with the shiftingof the trajectory of consumption from basic needs to creative needs.

With the fulfillment of the basic needs for food and shelter, cravings for “higher order” needs such as status and self-fulfillment arise. This according to Scitovsky (1976), (as quoted by Richards 2009:1) is a shift from unskilled to skilled consumption. People just do not want to accumulate goods but also develop their potentials and build their own skills. Moreover as pointed out by Pine and Gilmore (1998:97) the stages of economy based on production of goods and services has been replaced by the economy specialized in the production of experiences. In the experience economy the product is a unique experience for the consumer, which cannot be replicated (Richards 2009: 2). Along with this change towards skilled consumption and the growing importance of experience economy the trajectory of tourism has also demonstrated a shift from mass tourism to cultural tourism followed by a further move towards creative tourism. Cultural tourism, in contrast to mass tourism which had several negative impacts like overcrowding, environmental degradation, ruining of local culture, is considered to be “a good form of tourism, which was small-scale, high spend and low impact. Perhaps the cultural tourists themselves were perceived as desirable visitors, because they were usually wealthy, well-heeled and well-behaved” (Richards 2009:2).

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The number of people actually visiting cultural attractions has also grown with the growth of cultural consumption (of art, food, fashion, music, tourism) and the industries that cater to it has fueled the ‘symbolic economy’ of cities and regions (Ray1988 ; Zukin1995). As pointed out by WTO Cultural tourism is one of the fastest and the largest growing segments of global tourism (WTO, 2004). According to the European Commission 1998 record the attendance at museum, historical monuments and archaeological sites has doubled and attendance at the museums and monuments across Europe grew by about 25% (Richards 2003:2). It is also argued that the number of tourists visiting cultural attractions has increased not only because they generally are culturally interested but also because that the levels of ‘cultural capital’ or cultural competence have increased in society as education levels have risen. Thus more and more people are in a position to interpret and appreciate the culture presented by high cultural attractions such as museums, theatres and the opera (Richard, 2003:3). Another reason cited was that with rise in number of tourists and their ever-rising demand for newer experiences, additional sources of attractions has to be identified and created. Thus the image of the destinations has to be created so that it is not only based on the physical assets but also linked to the cultural heritage and assets.

Thus culture has become one of the basic resource from which the themes and narratives essential to ‘place making’ can be derived (Gottdiener1997 as quoted in Richards & Wilson 2006:1209) and often in association with the physical assets. A number of areas both rural and urban have been found to re-define themselves as consumption spaces in which history, cultural heritage and traditions act as the key elements of identification. The possible cultural heritage assets of interest to tourism are extremely diverse. The tangible heritage assets includes buildings and historic places, monuments, artefacts, etc. which are considered worthy of preservation for the future (UNESCO 2015). Intangible heritage represents traditions and culture of communities. According to UNESCO the intangible cultural heritage includes but not limited to traditional festivals, oral traditions, oral epics, customs, ways of life, traditional crafts etc. (UNESCO 2015).

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