What is Cultural Tourism?In order to try and clarify the meaning of cultural tourism, a conceptual definition was proposed by Richards (1996), based on the way in which tourists consume culture. According to Littrell (1997), culture can be viewed as comprising what people think (attitudes, beliefs, ideas and values), what people do (normative behavior patterns, or way of life) and what people make (artworks, artifacts, cultural products). Culture is therefore composed of processes (the ideas and way of life of people) and the products of those processes (buildings, artifacts, art, customs, and ‘atmosphere’). Looking at
culture in this way, cultural tourism is not just about visiting sites and monuments, which has tended to be the ‘traditional’ view of cultural tourism, but it also involves consuming the way of life of the areas visited. Both of these activities involve the collection of new knowledge and experiences. Cultural tourism can therefore be defined as:
‘The movement of persons to cultural attractions away from their normal place of residence, with the intention to gather new information and experiences to satisfy their cultural needs’ (Richards, 1996).
According to this conceptual definition, cultural tourism covers not just the consumption of the cultural products of the past, but also of contemporary culture or the ‘way of life’ of a people or region. Cultural tourism can therefore be seen as covering both ‘heritage tourism’ (related to artifacts of the past) and ‘arts tourism’ (related to contemporary cultural production).
So, a conceptual definition of cultural tourism may be ‘The movement of persons to cultural attractions away from their normal place of residence, with the intention to gather new information and experiences to satisfy their cultural needs’. Resource based definitions tend to start from the premise that all people visiting cultural attractions are cultural tourists, so cultural tourism can be understood through a consideration of the resources involved. In particular these definitions tend to emphasize the range of different types of cultural attractions. This has the advantage of illustrating the scope and diversity of the cultural tourism product, but often so many different types of attractions are lumped together that it is still difficult to say what cultural tourism is.
The production and consumption of signs and symbols obviously forms an important part of both of these processes of the culturisation of tourism. We might therefore be able to argue that tourism itself has become a culture, or a ‘way of life’ to quote the most frequent usage of the term. If tourism, like other sectors of social life, is becoming more cultural and is itself becoming a form of culture, is it still possible to talk about a distinct form of ‘cultural tourism’? One might argue that all tourism is cultural – and in fact some of the definitions presented later imply this is the case. If so, it is little wonder that cultural tourism appears to have grown.
In terms of demand, one of the most important arguments advanced is that there is an increased interest in culture in society as a whole. This obviously links to the idea of the culturisation of society. Can it be that tourists are not particularly any more interested in culture than they were in the past? One way to look at it is that more tourists are visiting cultural attractions today simply because there are more tourists, not because tourists in general are any more ’culturally interested’. Perhaps a more convincing argument is that levels of ’cultural capital’ or cultural competence have increased in society as education levels have risen. The number of people entering higher education in the world has greatly increased, which may be resulting in the proliferation of cultural tourism.
It seems that the combination of nostalgia for the past, the need to reassert national and local identities and the perceived economic benefits of cultural development have had a dramatic effect on the supply of cultural attractions. This goes without saying, but the local, regional, and national economies of most countries around the world have prospered from tourism, and heritage related tourism is one of the greatest attractors. One reason why cultural tourism in particular is a useful development tool for so many regions is the fact that every place has culture it can develop – unlike the development of beach tourism, which requires at least a coastline. The plentiful supply of cultural objects can also create major funding problems relating to the upkeep of historic structures and cultural venues. The solution to the funding problem may also be seen in the development of cultural tourism.