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of Tourism, the Arts, Culture,
and Heritage in Building a Culture of Peace
The OTS Foundation
The Responsibility of a Destination in Preparing Itself for Cultural Tourism
The focus of this session falls under a complicated umbrella since we are considering two objectives for tourism. If combined thoughtlessly, they have the potential to backfire. (Imagine a cruise ship passenger confronted by a crowded pier of hungry trinket-merchants and beggars. Is this a scenario for fostering peace?)
Investment is required in order to achieve both objectives. Peace is supported in an atmosphere of respect and dignity, so we need to think beyond volume and opportunism: "counting the heads in the beds". We need to think beyond the concept of simply bringing foreign currency into an economy with needs. We need to consider the role of the arts, culture and heritage in fostering a reciprocal relationship. This presentation will address the responsibility of a destination in preparing itself for cultural tourism: the sort of industry that presents a mutually beneficial exchange.
Let us first separate "mission" tourism from the kind that is discretionary, namely vacation or holiday travel. As concerns Cultural Tourism, we are discussing the person who has an interest in the place he visits and chooses to go there (as opposed to a businessman or professional who goes where circumstances dictate.)
This kind of tourism happens when someone who can afford to travel is enticed to leave his home and spend his money in another place, presumably to experience something new and different from what he knows at home. The money he spends to do this is supposed to trickle down through the system and enhance the economy of the host destination. The more tourists, the more money, the healthier the economy. The result? Hopefully, less poverty. (Maybe.)
Once the tourist is at the airport, there are many creative ways to share the revenue. Poverty reduction programs can be fed by special taxes and tour operator support. A dual purpose of enriching the visitor experience while also channeling more revenue into the economy can be served by high-content programming and excursion packages. Merchandising and quality souvenir production can be encouraged.
There are three aspects to this issue. Each is a necessary part of a successful outcome. There is the visitor who might be inspired to make responsible choices about where and how he travels, there is the supplier or tour operator who makes a policy decision about how he will help address the needs of a destination. The third view is from the perspective of the destination as a place that is visited, and its ability to make such visits meaningful.
It is with regard to the third of these aspects that I share my own experience. Here is my formula: first, you get the right people to come. Second, you share your wealth, (whatever it might be). And third: you don't insult the visitor.
For a destination, wealth can be climate or scenic natural beauty or cuisine or friendly people. It can also be art, culture, and heritage.
The first challenge for a destination that seeks to attract cultural tourism is to identify a resource: What do we have to offer that will bring a tourist here? What makes us different from the rest of the world? What makes us "special"?
The next question might be: How are we going to make this a personal experience? Usually, it is a relationship between individual people that accomplishes a trans-cultural bonding. This is the beginning of a culture of peace.
A visitor is dropped in an alien environment and shown all the highlights and sights. If he is lucky, he encounters a tour guide, a taxi driver or some local who gives back… personality. The visitor is reminded that this strange place is populated with people who are basically a lot like him. The architecture is different, the clothing, the food and the accent is different. But certain things are the same. The visitor has made a friend.
The visitor comes to experience what is different, but he relates to what is the same.
Peace and acceptance come from recognition and respect for these differences, made possible by personal identification with what is familiar and universal. Life in different flavors.
Humanizing the destination is a challenge that is frequently overlooked. Most tourists do not make a holiday decision based on identifying with the local people. Human interaction is a by-product, an intangible bonus that is far more important than the scenery, but harder to sell. The arts, culture and heritage are incomparable tools for attracting the visitor to a destination for experience on a personal level. They are the non-commercial magnet that transcends this confused reality.
Next question: Can we present our resources in a way that respects the sensibilities of the visitor?
How a destination presents itself is a key to making this complicated mixture work. The goal is to identify unique resources that will attract the right kind of visitor, make those resources available in a human way with which the visitor can relate, and incorporate mutually beneficial personal encounters. Glossy brochures that focus on things like monuments and landscapes and museum collections are not enough if the end product doesn't include a positive human element.
What are we giving back?
Once a tourist gets the feeling that he is valued only for his wallet, the friendly relationship is over. The difference is between the perception of being exploited and one of being valued and appreciated. It works both ways. The respect must be mutual, and this could mean special training and massive internal PR on the part of the host destination.
Now . . . How are we going to get him interested in coming here to have this experience?
For one thing, you don't keep it a secret. The community that can offer art, culture, heritage has all that it needs. These are elements to which everyone can relate although they may be delivered with different accents. They are also relatively easy to convey. To do so effectively, however, means commitment and cooperation.
A case in point is Malta, where we deal with the poverty of under-utilized and under-valued resources.
The megalithic monuments of Malta are the oldest buildings in the world, built by an advanced civilization that vanished 4,500 years ago. There is good fuel for tourism here. Yet ten years ago the tourist office did not even publish a brochure about the archaeology of the islands. Today, a tourist buys a ticket to see one of these temples and he finds himself wandering between a lot of interesting old stones, but not really understanding what they are. Maybe he's with a group and a guide who can give him a little background, but for the casual visitor, the structures are not related to anything human. It demonstrates a sadly overlooked opportunity - both for Malta and for the visitor.
These prehistoric temples are actually monuments to peace, built by a mysterious culture that had no weapons or warfare. But they don't do much to foster a culture of peace today. For complicated reasons, they have not been considered of any particular interest by past governments or commercial tourism concerns.
The temples are just the early end of 7,000 years of human history on the islands. Malta is, in fact, a huge open-air museum. Yet, the typical visitor to Malta today is not engaged in understanding it. Imagine when a visitor comes and perceives that there is something really interesting here, but goes home disappointed because he never really got what it was. He couldn't find the site, or maybe he got there to find it had closed at noon. Maybe he got in all right, but there was nothing there to explain it. Nobody could answer his questions about "what is this?" Nothing has enticed him to care.
Historically Malta has marketed itself for a different type of tourism. It has sold itself as a cheap sun and resort destination that has well served a mostly European market. A million vacationers a season crowd the boardwalks, the hotel lobbies and the island's small beaches.
It is not a happy fit. Malta is already one of the most densely populated places on earth. It's a small island of 280 square miles with 380,000 residents and 220,000 cars on the road even before the tourist season starts. Summer brings an influx of sunburned tourists who, for the most part, don't come for sightseeing or to appreciate the art, culture or heritage of Malta. They are on a cheap holiday. The population stress problems would be even worse if the taxpayer in Malta were aware that he is subsidizing these budget packages. Consider what it takes for an island to produce enough fresh water for a million tourists in season, and what is required to process the waste. For sure, these things are not part of the tour operator's bottom-line competitive pricing. Malta is coming to see that this exploitative sort of tourism is not what they want for the future.
New brochures are not enough to make the shift. The perception of the product has to change, and so does the whole approach to marketing. Partnerships must be forged and nurtured. Maybe outside help has to come in to get things organized.
What can any destination do to encourage the type of tourism that brings the mutual respect that builds a culture of peace?
What The OTS Foundation did for Malta was to create an educational program that focused on the layers of history on the islands, much of it presented by university professors and experts in various fields. We incorporated plenty of local contact and interaction, and ran it in the off-season of mild winter and shoulder months. Because the market was in the USA, we played on America's positive relations with Malta in the past. Elderhostel has been offering this program since 1996. It has resulted in strong friendships, satisfied participants, greater understanding and mutual respect. Because the OTS Foundation is a non-profit organization, Malta has derived additional benefit from this relationship.
We realized that the treasure of the ancient prehistoric monuments differentiated Malta. They are unique to that place. Because local textbooks did not include any information about them, we found that much of the Maltese population lacked any knowledge of the value of this resource. The people themselves did not take much pride in their own heritage and this was perceived as a serious problem. A local heritage appreciation program was undertaken in the schools. An educational video was produced.
Documentary-type presentation was pursued at the level of magazines and television, in an effort to generate public awareness in the potential market. This had to have content of deeper nature than that of a travelogue.
A scientific conference was organized to find links between the temple culture and other early civilizations that are better known to the market. As a side benefit, new information has the potential to become free publicity.
A lecture tour and various exhibitions have been organized, that bring a human element and a hint of the richness of the Malta experience closer to the potential market in North America.
Conservation and presentation of the sites themselves are urgent priorities that await coordination of a new heritage management system in Malta. Governmental strategy had to change to make incentives for improving the way the sites are experienced. More governmental strategy and trans-ministry cooperation is required to coordinate the full potential of cultural tourism for this destination.
The case for Malta has been an uphill mission, and a valuable learning experience.
The tourist has a world of destinations from which to choose. I think that responsibility for building a culture of peace through tourism lies equally with the destination.
I believe that success lies in a concerted program undertaken by a country or destination that has an interest in developing cultural tourism for mutual benefit. The best recipe for success is building a strong cooperation between local tourist offices, universities, museums departments, and cultural resources . . . and nurturing links with suppliers and the market audience.
The answer to the opening question is yes. Travel and Tourism can be a leading force for poverty reduction. And links between tourism, the arts, culture and heritage are a strong platform for building a culture of peace. On this platform, the destination carries its equal share to the enrichment of all involved.
Linda C. Eneix
P.O. Box 17166,
Sarasota, FL 34276 USA
International Institute for Peace Through Tourism