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Original Source: Richards, G. (2003) What is Cultural Tourism? In van Maaren, A. (ed.) Erfgoed voor Toerisme. Nationaal Contact Monumenten.

What is cultural tourism?

Greg Richards


Cultural tourism has a long history, and with its roots in the Grand Tour is arguably the original form of tourism. It is also one of the forms of tourism that most policy makers seem to be betting on for the future. The World Tourism Organisation, for example, asserted that cultural tourism accounted for 37% of global tourism, and forecast that it would grow at a rate of 15% per year. Such figures are often quoted in studies of the cultural tourism market (e.g. Bywater, 1993), but are rarely backed up with empirical research.

A recent study of the cultural consumption habits of Europeans (European Commission

2002) indicated that people visited museums and galleries abroad almost as frequently as they did at home. This underlines the growing importance of cultural tourism as a source of cultural consumption. The generalisation of cultural consumption on holiday, however, points to one of the main problems of defining cultural tourism. What is the difference between cultural visits on holiday (cultural tourism) and cultural visits undertaken during leisure time at home? Much of the research undertaken by the Association for Leisure and Tourism Education (ATLAS) on the international cultural

tourism market (Richards 1996; 2001)

continuity between consumption of culture at home and on holiday.

has in fact underlined the high degree of

In spite of these problems, policy makers, tourist boards and cultural attraction

managers around the world continue to view cultural tourism as an important potential source of tourism growth. There is a general perception that cultural tourism is 'good' tourism that attracts high spending visitors and does little damage to the environment or local culture while contributing a great deal to the economy and support of culture. Other commentators, however, have suggested that cultural tourism may do more harm than good, allowing the cultural tourist to penetrate sensitive cultural environments as the advance guard of the mass tourist.

It is difficult to assess whether an optimistic or a pessimistic view of cultural tourism is correct, simply because we know remarkably little about it. Who are the cultural tourists? What are their motivations? Where do they go? These essential questions are still very difficult to answer, which indicates that the market is still not very well understood. One of the key reasons for the lack of information on the cultural tourism market is the fact that a consistent definition of cultural tourism does not exist. Individual studies adopt differing definitions, which makes them difficult to compare. Discussions of the definition of cultural tourism may seem academic, but the question

of definition can be crucial. Unless we know who the cultural tourists are, or how many

there are, how can we market cultural tourism effectively or plan for the management of

cultural tourism?

This paper outlines the discussion surrounding the definition of cultural tourism and also asks the question whether the term 'cultural tourism' is still appropriate to cover the wide variety of activities that now tend to be included under this broad umbrella. Before moving onto the question of definition, however, it is important to consider why

cultural tourism has grown in recent decades, because the way in which cultural tourism has developed has arguably coloured the question of definition.

Reasons for the Growth of Cultural Tourism

Discussions about the growth of cultural tourism have ranged from the highly theoretical to extremely practical approaches. First I want to outline one of the most important theoretical issues, namely the development of culture and tourism in (post)modern societies.

In theoretical terms, the relationship between tourism and culture illustrates that the current cultural tourism market represents the latest phase in a long standing process of convergence between culture and tourism. In the past, culture and tourism were seen as being separate spheres of social practice, undertaken by distinct social groups at specific times. As John Urry (1995) has noted, however, the barriers between culture and tourism are disappearing as a result of two parallel processes:

1) The culturisation of society

Everyday life is increasingly characterised by a de-differentiation of previously distinct social and cultural spheres, with the emergence of an economy of signs, the convergence of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, ‘art’ and ‘life’. Objects and people have become increasingly mobile, and boundaries between previously distinct cultures are increasingly being eliminated.

2) The culturisation of tourist practices

Tourism has attained a greater cultural content, most obviously through the growth of cultural tourism, but also through the increasing significance of signs in the production of tourist sites. Not only do tourists consume a wide range of signs during their holidays, but the signs attached to travel are increasingly produced and circulated by the cultural industries.

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.

However, the number of people actually visiting cultural attractions has also grown, indicating a very practical outcome of the culturisation of society. According to the European Heritage Group, attendance at museums, historical monuments and archaeological sites has doubled between 1977 and 1997 (European Commission, 1998). Other estimates indicate that between 1982 and 1995, the attendance at museums and monuments across Europe grew by about 25% (Richards, 1996). This growth in cultural tourism can be explained in terms of both demand side and supply side factors.

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. However, recent research on cultural tourism in the Netherlands has tended to suggest that tourists are not particularly any more interested

in culture than they were in the past. De Haan (1997) argues 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 Europe is about three times as high today as it was 30 years ago. This means that more people are in a position to interpret and appreciate the culture presented by 'high' cultural attractions such as museums, theatres or the opera. This effect has been demonstrated very clearly for attendance at museums in France, the UK and the Netherlands. It seems therefore that cultural tourists do not necessarily consider themselves more interested in culture, but they are consuming more high culture as their capacity to interpret it grows.

Another major cultural trend that has been important in the growth of the heritage industry has been the growth of nostalgia. The increasing pace of life and the feeling of disorientation and loss associated with modernity has ensured that the preservation of the past has become big business. Membership of organizations dedicated to heritage preservation has grown considerably in recent decades. The growth of nostalgia is also related to the aging population in Europe and elsewhere. Many commentators have argued that as people get older, their feelings of nostalgia increase, and they are more likely to visit heritage attractions related to their own past.

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.

In addition to the demand factors driving cultural tourism growth, there have been a number of important drivers that related to the supply of cultural attractions. Tourism in general and cultural tourism in particular have come to be seen as major sources of jobs and income. In addition, cultural tourism is widely viewed as a growth market, and this has stimulated many regions and countries to promote cultural tourism as an economic development tool.

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.

At the EU level, culture is viewed as an essential resource that not only provides work but which can also develop cultural harmony within the European Union. Cultural tourism and cultural attractions have also become central to much of the regional economic development activity financed by the European Commission.

One of the consequences of increasing public sector intervention in cultural tourism has been a vastly increased supply of cultural attractions in recent years. In Europe, for example, the number of cultural attractions is estimated to have grown by over 100% in the past 20 years, actually outstripping the growth of demand. Richards (2001) has therefore argued that the growth of cultural tourism may actually be more supply driven than it is stimulated by a growth in demand for culture. This is a point which also becomes important from the point of view of defining cultural tourism. Many definitions of cultural tourism, as we shall see, have tended to emphasise its broad scope or the

number of cultural tourists, rather than concentrating on the 'essence' of the cultural tourism experience.

Definitions of Cultural Tourism

What is cultural tourism? As McKercher and Du Cros (2002:3) observe: 'this seemingly

simple question is actually very difficult to answer because there are almost as many


complex situation is relatively simple, however - the definition of culture itself is so difficult. 'Culture' was labelled by Raymond Williams (1983) as one of the most complicated words in the English language, and it has just as much variation in interpretation in most other languages as well. When the discussion spreads across national (or linguistic) boundaries, the question becomes still more complex. Consider for a moment whether the Dutch word 'erfgoed' means the same as the English 'heritage'. In principle these cover the same concept of things inherited from the past, but the English usage of the term is far broader, and also applies to intangible aspects of culture, such as customs or national identity. This difference explains why 'cultural tourism' has in the past been largely associated with history (cultuurhistorisch toerisme) in the Netherlands.

of cultural tourism as there are cultural tourists'. The reason for this

The problem of defining culture has been accentuated in recent years by the additional meanings and functions attributed to ‘culture’ as a result of the democratization of culture and the increasing convergence of culture and everyday life. The growth of culture is one reason for the colourful assortment of terms that have arisen in the literature and in policy statements in recent years. Cultural tourism, heritage tourism, arts tourism, ethnic tourism and a host of other terms seem to be almost interchangeable in their usage, but it is rarely clear whether people are talking about the same thing. In fact, a recent seminar staged by the Scottish Tourist Board to discuss the development of a new cultural tourism policy was entitled 'Culture and tourism: are we speaking the same language?'

The broad nature of the cultural tourism phenomenon has also tended to generate a wide range of different definitions. Most of these definitions have been formulated for a specific purpose, and therefore tend to address only one major aspect of cultural tourism. In their review of definitions, McKercher and Du Cros identified four different types of cultural tourism definitions: tourism derived definitions, motivational definitions, experiential or aspirational definitions and operational definitions.

In very simple terms, these different approaches can be placed at opposite ends of two axes (figure 1). The experiential definitions say something about the nature of the cultural tourism experience, and essentially they are trying to understand the nature of cultural tourism in conceptual terms - what does it actually mean? The operational definitions concentrate on identifying cultural tourists, usually in order to measure the scale or scope of cultural tourism activity. The first definitional axis could therefore be termed the measurement-meaning axis. The tourism derived definitions essentially look at cultural tourism from the perspective of the tourism industry or the tourism system. Cultural tourism is simply one more market segment that utilises the infrastructure of the tourist industry. In contrast, motivational definitions usually begin with the tourists themselves and their reasons for travel. These definitions therefore deal with the second 'tourism-tourist', or supply-demand axis.

Figure 1: the definitional field of cultural tourism



resource based







The first axis is differentiated in terms of purpose. What are we trying to achieve by defining cultural tourism - do we want to understand the nature of cultural tourism and its meaning for the cultural tourists, or are we simply interested in counting how many people participate? What separates the definitions along the supply-demand axis is the viewpoint adopted - are we interested in knowing about the market for the tourism industry, or are we interested in knowing why the demand exists?

Structuring the different definitional approaches in this way makes clear why no single definition of cultural tourism is likely to be adopted. Which definition is appropriate depends on our perspective and our objectives. One interesting point that this analysis also makes is that there is very rarely a cultural perspective on cultural tourism. Either cultural institutions do not consider it worthwhile defining cultural tourists, or perhaps for them it is not a problem of definition? Cultural tourists are after all for most cultural institutions simply those tourists that choose to visit them.

If we look at some of the actual definitions used in studies of cultural tourism, we can appreciate some of the differences between the approaches and the problems these pose.

Conceptual definitions

Conceptual definitions are concerned with the nature of the cultural tourism phenomenon, and in particular tend to concentrate on what motivates the tourist to visit cultural attractions.

For example, McIntosh and Goeldner (1986) consider cultural tourism as comprising

"all aspects of travel, whereby travellers learn about the history and heritage of others or about their contemporary ways of life or thought". In other words, cultural tourists are motivated to learn about the products and processes of other cultures. The 'wide definition' of cultural tourism adopted by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO)

includes "all movements of persons,

diversity, tending to raise the cultural level of the individual and giving rise to new knowledge, experience and encounters". This definition again emphasises the learning aspect of cultural tourism, which is supposed to contribute to personal development,

because they satisfy the human need for

but the fact that all tourism could fall under this definition of cultural tourism makes it so wide as to be useless for the purpose of identifying, measuring or managing the phenomenon. A similar approach has been taken by ICOMOS in its Cultural Tourism Charter, which actually widened its definition over time. Originally defining cultural tourism as ' that form of tourism whose object is, among other aims, the discovery of monuments and sites' by 1999 the definition included 'any form of tourism to another place (that) involves the visitor experiencing all of the "cultural" aspects about that place, its contemporary lifestyles, food, topography, environment, towns and villages, just as much as its historic sites and cultural performances'.

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 behaviour patterns, or way of life) and what people make (artworks, artefacts, cultural products). Culture is therefore composed of processes (the ideas and way of life of people) and the products of those processes (buildings, artefacts, art, customs, ‘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 artefacts of the past) and ‘arts tourism’ (related to contemporary cultural production).

The conceptual definition proposed by ATLAS was therefore:

‘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’.

There has been some discussion subsequently about the utility of this definition. For example, Alzua et al. (1998:3) have argued that because ‘”intention” is a complex concept to measure’ that it would be better to use a scale of tourist motivations, such as that incorporated in Silberberg’s (1995) definition ‘visits by persons from outside the host community motivated wholly or in part by interest in the historical artistic, scientific or lifestyle/heritage offerings of a community, region, group or institution’. However, as our research has shown, it would be hard to find a tourist who is not interested at least in part in some aspect of the culture of the destination they are visiting. Similarly, some people have suggested that cultural 'needs' are difficult to measure, and than one should talk about 'wants' and 'desires'. This approach fits better with postmodern approaches to consumption, but the problem is that every cultural need (such as the need to learn) can be expressed in thousands of individual wants and desires associated with a basic cultural need. The need to learn, for example, may be expressed in a very formal sense, such as taking a course on art history, or very informally, through browsing the internet or buying a book in a museum shop.


Measurement approaches tend to be more pragmatic than philosophical, because they are concerned with limiting the practical problems of measuring or evaluating cultural

tourism. So for example the WTO (1985) also formulated a 'narrow definition' of cultural tourism which includes "movements of persons for essentially cultural motivations such as study tours, performing arts and cultural tours, travel to festivals and other cultural events, visits to sites and monuments, travel to study nature, folklore or art, and pilgrimages". The essential difference between the WTO 'wide definition' and this 'narrow definition' is that by monitoring the purpose of travel among tourists it is possible to separate the 'cultural tourists' from other visitors. This definition is therefore the basis of the WTO's estimate that 37% of global tourism is cultural tourism. However, the definition makes no distinction between levels of motivation, so in fact it includes all visitors to cultural attractions, since there is no attempt to define the extent of 'essentially cultural motivations' mentioned in the definition.

The problem of the extent of the cultural motivation of tourists was recognised in the Irish Tourist Board's (1988) study of cultural tourism in Europe. The ITB definition is "Cultural tourism is travel undertaken with the intention, wholly or partly, of increasing one's appreciation of Europe's cultural resources" . This definition allows one to distinguish between different types of cultural tourists, and the ITB identified two groups 'general cultural tourists' who visited cultural attractions but were not directly motivated by culture, and 'specific cultural tourists' who were considered to have a more specific cultural motivation for visiting certain cultural attractions. This idea is also taken up by the consultancy LORD inc in their definition: "Visits by persons from outside the host community motivated wholly or in part by interest in the historical, artistic, scientific or lifestyle / heritage offerings of a community, region, group or institution."

The 'technical definition' of cultural tourism proposed by ATLAS places motivation

centrally as the distinguishing feature of cultural tourists, but makes no specific mention

of the degree of motivation:

‘All movements of persons to specific cultural attractions, such as heritage sites, artistic and cultural manifestations, arts and drama outside their normal place of residence’.

Resource based

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 emphasise 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.

A typical example comes from ECTARC (1989), who define the resources involved in

cultural tourism as:

a) archaeological sites and museums

b) architecture (ruins, famous buildings, whole towns)

c) art, sculpture, crafts, galleries, festivals, events

d) music and dance (classical, folk, contemporary)

e) drama (theatre, films, dramatists)

f) language and literature study, tours, events

g) religious festivals, pilgrimages

A similar approach is adopted by Munsters (1996) who classifies a wide range of

cultural tourism attractions in the Netherlands and Belgium in the following way:










Theme parks




Cultural-historic events


Art events


Events and Attractions

Munster's typology is unusual for including 'theme parks' as cultural attractions, the example he gives being 'Mini Europe' in Brussels, which he argues can be seen as an architectural park. Although this may seem only vaguely 'cultural', the inclusion of an increasing number of cultural elements in modern theme parks tends to blur the boundaries between theme parks and heritage attractions, increasing the problems of creating a product-based definition of cultural tourism.

Product based definitions are also common among tourist boards and cultural organisations. The Scottish Tourist Board and Scottish Arts Council offered: "Realising the tourism potential of Scotland's performing, visual and literary arts (traditional and contemporary), language, museums, heritage, crafts, architecture, design, film and broadcasting". The Wales Tourist Board, which is currently working on a cultural tourism strategy of its own, has drawn heavily on this description, while adding "historic landscapes and gardens" and stressing professional and amateur arts. A similar approach is adopted in the Toerdata report on Noord Nederland, Consumentenonderzoek Toerisme 1998. In this study cultural tourists are considered to be those people who indicate they are motivated to visit the region by at least one of the three following elements: rural landscape (agrarisch landschap); historic town (historisch stadje) or museums (musea/bezienswaardigheden).

One of the problems with these types of definition is that the categories of 'cultural attractions' are not fixed and are becoming increasingly difficult to define as purely 'cultural' or 'entertainment' based, for example. Richards (2001) has therefore suggested that cultural attractions might better be viewed as a dynamic field of attractions rather than static categories.

In figure 2, the field of cultural attractions is divided into four quadrants by the two

dimensions of 'cultural content' (ranging from culture as product to culture as process, as outlined above) and 'cultural purpose', ranging from educational uses of culture to culture as the basis of entertainment. Quadrant 1 contains the major ‘traditional’ cultural attractions based largely on heritage and other cultural products of the past museums, monuments and galleries. Quadrant 2 features more contemporary types of attractions based on cultural processes, such as language courses and art exhibitions. On the right hand side of the diagram are 'entertainment' based attractions orientated more towards the needs of the cultural audience than preserving cultural resources. In the top left quadrant are grouped attractions related to entertainment arts festivals and performances. Theme parks arguably fall across the boundary between quadrant 3 and quadrant 4, because they not only present contemporary entertainment but also exploit historical resources, such as historical themes and attractions. Quadrant 4 contains a number of attraction types, including heritage centres and folklore festivals, which mix educational and entertainment elements based on historical resources.

The dynamic nature of the cultural field outlined in figure 2 suggests that it is increasingly difficult to base definitions of cultural tourism purely on types of attraction. What is today widely accepted as a museum may tomorrow re-invent itself as a 'theme park', or vice versa. This postmodern fluidity of definition is a problem discussed in more detail at the end of this article.

Tourist based

Tourist based definitions also generally start with the product or resource, but they concentrate on the purpose of visit of the tourists themselves.

The definitions adopted by most tourist boards are of this type, usually defining cultural tourists by purpose of visit rather than by motivation. So for example in New England cultural tourists are those visitors whose primary purpose for being in New England is to visit a cultural event or attraction. The rationale for this type of definition is that cultural tourists can then be identified easily by reference to the trip data collected by most tourist boards. However, it should be recognised that 'purpose of visit' is usually identified with reference to fairly general categories (such as leisure, business or visiting friends and family) and that travelling to visit a cultural attraction does not always mean that the visitor is culturally motivated. Consider the fact, for example, that only 20% of the tourists interviewed for the ATLAS Cultural Tourism Survey over the past 10 at cultural attractions consider themselves to be 'cultural tourists'. Most consider their cultural consumption to be one part of a general trip for other purposes, such as a 'city trip'.

A definition of ‘arts tourism’ was taken for figures emerging from the United Kingdom Tourism Survey on cultural visits by domestic tourists. The definition of arts tourism is where the main purpose of a trip is to attend a performing arts event (including the cinema) or to visit a museum, gallery or heritage attraction. The data indicate that ‘arts tourism’ accounted for 1.7% of all domestic holidays and 3% of all holiday expenditure in the UK in 1996. In US research on cultural visitors, for example, studies of ‘cultural tourists’ include all those visiting museums, monuments, historic sites and cultural performances and events (Travel Industry Association, 1997).

looking at the definitions as a whole, one can see that there are major differences in terms of the scope of the definitions of all types. In broad terms, definitions either seek to be fairly broad and inclusive, covering all possible forms of cultural tourism, or they seek to narrow the definition in order to identify the 'essence' of cultural tourism.

Cultural Tourist Typologies

It is clear from the preceding discussion of cultural tourism definitions that it is extremely difficult to find one single definition that will cover all aspects of cultural tourism. This is why both the World Tourism Organisation and ATLAS developed two different definitions of the concept. Other studies have tried to avoid the problem of definition in a different way, by constructing typologies that attempt to describe the different types of cultural tourists. Although a typology does not provide a definition per se, it can help to visualise the scope of the phenomenon.

Most typologies are based on the degree of cultural motivation of tourists, usually ranging from those with a fairly general or superficial interest in culture to those with a very specific and/or strong interest in culture. For example, an early typology was produced in the Irish Tourist Board Study mentioned above, which split tourists into 'specific' and 'general' cultural tourists. This concept was later operationalised in the ATLAS research, that distinguished between the two groups on basis of their self-

designation as cultural tourists and their stated level of interest in a specific cultural attraction. Survey data indicated that about 9% of all tourists could be seen as 'specific' cultural tourists, with a further 10-15% being 'general' cultural tourists, depending on the destination. Research has also indicated that the number of specific cultural tourists has tended to remain fairly constant over the years, while most of the growth in the cultural tourism market is coming from general cultural tourists.

Other typologies have tried to produce more detailed distinctions. For example, Bywater (1993) distinguished between visitors who were culturally interested, culturally motivated and culturally inspired. Culturally interested tourists are those who have a fairly general interest in culture and will consume cultural attractions casually as part of

a holiday rather than consciously planning to do so. Culturally motivated tourists are

those who consume culture as a major part of their holiday experience, but who are not

choosing their destination on the basis of specific cultural experiences. Culturally inspired tourists are those who see culture as the main goal of their holiday and who will travel long distances to collect cultural experiences.

A more complex typology was proposed by McKercher and Du Cros, who argued that

not only the importance of culture in the decision to travel should be taken into account in constructing a typology, but that the 'depth of experience' being sought by the tourist was also important. Based on this idea they produced a two-dimensional typology which divides cultural tourists into five groups (figure 3):


The purposeful cultural tourist - cultural tourism is the primary motive for visiting a


destination and the tourist has a very deep cultural experience. The sightseeing cultural tourist - cultural tourism is a primary reason for visiting a


destination, but the experience is more shallow. The serendipitous cultural tourist - a tourist who does not travel for cultural tourism


reasons, but who, after participating, ends up having a deep cultural tourism experience. The casual cultural tourist - cultural tourism is a weak motive for travel and the


resulting experience is shallow. The incidental cultural tourist - this tourist does not travel for cultural tourism reasons but nonetheless participates in some activities and has shallow experiences.

Field research in Hong Kong indicated that most tourists have cultural motivations for travel, but are not usually looking for 'deep' cultural experiences (figure 4). The largest groups in the typology are therefore the sightseeing cultural tourist (31%) the incidental cultural tourist (28%) and the casual cultural tourist (24%). In contrast the purposeful cultural tourist (12%) and the serendipitous cultural tourist (6%) were far less common.

Growing problems of definition

The wide variety of definitions of cultural tourism points to the problem of attempting to capture the meaning of cultural tourism in a single phrase. The truth is that not only has cultural tourism expanded as an activity, but the concept of culture itself has also grown. In the past, culture was considered to mean 'high' culture, such as museums and concert halls, but increasingly the cultural tourism product is also seen as encompassing 'popular' culture as well. In this context the division between high and popular culture begins to lose its meaning. Consider for a moment the museums run by football clubs such as FC Barcelona and Ajax. These are called museums, but they focus heavily on football as popular culture, and they are successful in attracting tourists. Should these be considered 'cultural' attractions, and therefore their visitors be seen as 'cultural tourists'?

In my opinion the term 'cultural tourism' is beginning to lose its meaning as a definition of a clearly identifiable activity or group of consumers. The expansion of the concept of culture makes a simple conflation of 'tourism' and 'culture' an unwieldy concept.

A big concept however attracts much attention, and there is a growth of intervention in cultural tourism not just by tourist boards but also cultural institutions, heritage organisations, local authorities, motoring organisations, the media, theme parks, hotels, etc. A plethora of plans, projects, platforms product developments, discussion groups, networks and policies are being developed around cultural tourism. A major problem is that all of the organisations that concern themselves with cultural tourism seem to be convinced that it is a new, growing market. In fact, cultural tourism has been around for

a very long time, and the core market of 'culturally inspired' tourists is not growing as

fast as the number of projects developed for them. This leads to an increase in competition between cultural attractions chasing the same cultural tourists. The inidications are that the search for distinction and more fulfilling experiences on the part of the cultural consumer means that cultural tourism growth is more likely to be found in specific 'niche' markets rather than the general cultural tourism market, which seems to be fairly mature and highly competitive (see figure 5). The future seems to lie in specialised areas such as arts tourism, architectural tourism, festival tourism, opera tourism, gastronomic tourism and creative tourism (Dümke 2002, Hjalager and Richards 2002).

There seems to be a strange divergence taking place between policy and practice in cultural tourism. One the one hand, policy is becoming more integrated, with tourist boards bringing organisations together from different cultural and tourism sectors to form a 'cultural tourism product'. On the other hand the consumer seems increasingly less likely to identify with the general label 'cultural tourist', and increasingly more likely to look for specialised cultural experiences which can meet very specific cultural wants and needs.

This trend away from general to more individualised patterns of cultural consumption is evident in (post)modern leisure market. People undertake an increasing diversity of leisure activities in an increasingly short amount of leisure time. The development of the 'zap' culture has stimulated the emergence of the 'cultural omnivore', who consumes both high culture and popular culture with equal ease, shifting between theme parks and museums as if they were interchangeable modules of leisure time. Arguably what lies at the base of all these developments is the basic experience hunger that characterises (post)modern societies (de Cauter 1995). Cut off from the ‘authentic’ experiences of the past and apparently unable to reach the same depth of experience, we build our identities not so much on the pillars of modern society, such as work, marriage or religion, but more on a series of unconnected individual experiences. The lack of connection between experience and nature, the family, spirituality or the development of the self is a lack that is keenly felt and is translated into a constant hunger for new experiences which promise to provide those connections.

Through these new patterns of consumption, people have been separated from a cumulative form of experience (erfahrung) and are increasingly reliant on individual experiences (erlebnis) for development of the life course (de Cauter 1995). This makes

it increasingly necessary for individuals to piece these discrete fragments of experience together into a coherent story which contributes to their identity. In the past it was enough to know that someone had a specific trade, and had undergone a training for that trade to understand the cumulative experience they had. In postmodern societies

the individualisation of experience makes this easy identification of a life course and sequential modes of experience obsolete.

The need to piece together a coherent life history partly explains the postmodern concern with narrative. Narratives are important because of the uncertainty and fragmentation of postmodern life. Narratives provide the means to link together disparate experiences into a coherent whole and perhaps more importantly, a distinct, individualised whole. We all have our own individual narratives, which are arguably of equal worth in the postmodern world. Of course, in this situation the power relationship between the supplier of cultural experiences and the consumer also begins to change. In the past we were used to the museum being the 'factory of meaning', whose authority to produce cultural narratives was unchallenged by the visitor. These days, the visitor is more likely to be seeking part of their own story when they visit a museum - a piece of the puzzle which constructs their identity. The visitor will increasingly decide which parts of the cultural offer they want to consume and which are irrelevant for them.

Suppliers of leisure experiences have reacted to the development of this Erlebniskultur by combining different types of cultural experiences into their products. Museums become a mixture of the traditional culture presented in display cases, new media represented by interactive displays and websites, catering in the obligatory cafe and/or restaurant and shopping in the inevitable 'museum shop'. These new leisure products provide more apparent choice for the consumer, in the hope that at least one of the elements will appeal to all potential visitors. The problem is that as these products diversify, they in fact become more alike - the museum becomes less distinguishable from the theme park and both become more like IKEA. Distinguishing cultural attractions through their products is no longer as simple as it used to be. This is one reason why cultural attractions are turning to narrative and theming to add power to the basic product.

As Gottdiener (1997) has suggested, the desire for meaning on the part of the consumer is met increasingly by the creation of themed environments. Such theming is designed to appeal to an extremely wide audience, containing sufficient 'cultural cues' so that every visitor can recognise something that links with their own cultural needs. The basis of competition between commercial suppliers, and implicitly between cultural organisations as well, has therefore become symbolic differentiation and thematic distinction.

In this new competitive environment, the narrative provides a link between the culture being presented and the culture of the visitor. The consumer takes selected pieces of the experiences created for them and constructs their own narrative on which they can base their identity. This idea is not just being taken up by commercial suppliers such as Disney, but is also increasingly being used to valorize 'high' cultural or heritage experiences.

One example of the development of narrative from local identities is the Identity Factory Southeast (Identiteitsfabriek Zuid-Oost: IDZO) in Kempenland region of the southern Netherlands. The IDZO is not a traditional museum where 'authorised' versions of culture are produced. The project attempts to present culture as a series of ‘cultural biographies’ based on the life stories of local people, which can then be creatively used and interpreted by the visitor. The system is flexible thanks to new technology. The visitor can scan through the biographies in the way that fits their own vision of the world, and therefore create their own interpretation, or story, based on local culture. The importance of allowing visitors to construct their own narratives is emphasised by the important role played by ‘authenticity’ in tourism consumption. Our research

indicates that the need for authentic experiences is high among a broad group of tourists, but particularly among cultural tourists. By allowing tourists to work creatively with cultural biographies and to accumulate their own views of local culture, the perceived authenticity of the tourism product can be increased. Tourists who have the feeling that they are being presented with a ‘staged’ version of local culture will soon become dissatisfied. Tourists who can choose to construct their own versions of local identity become themselves involved in the staging process, which therefore slips into the background.

One advantage of using such biographies is that they overlap in time and space, giving discrete attractions the chance to link together in new ways. For example, the biography gives attractions the potential to link together a storyline that may contain a wide variety of different types of objects or attractions. This contrasts with the traditional classificatory strategy of grouping objects of similar types (e.g. castles, historic houses or art museums). Such an approach seems more attune to the modern zap culture than the staid classificatory approaches taken by many cultural institutions at present.


Modern cultural tourism is an apparent paradox. It is a form of tourism that has become so popular that everybody seems familiar with it and many people are keen to develop it. But our understanding of the concept has not kept pace with its growth. The concept of cultural tourism is still fairly vague, and many different definitions of term are in circulation.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that culture is itself so difficult to define, but the different approaches to cultural tourism have tended to add to the confusion. Different definitions have been developed for different purposes, whether to understand, measure or identify cultural tourism. The difficulty of designing one simple definition which cover the whole concept is underlined by the fact that some organisations have opted for multiple definitions, while many academics have developed typologies which describe the different types of cultural tourists instead of a clear definition.

In the increasingly complicated postmodern consumer landscape, definition will become even more difficult, because fixed categories such as 'museum', 'monument' or 'theme park' will become increasingly untenable. It is little wonder that many practitioners question the wisdom of having a definition at all. In my view, however, it remains important to adopt a definition of cultural tourism. Without a consistent definition it is difficult to communicate to others what is meant by cultural tourism, and making policy or management plans becomes far more difficult. Without a definition, marketing cultural tourism becomes impossible. The most practical approach, therefore, seems to be to choose the definition that is most suited to the task at hand. If understanding cultural tourism is the main aim, a conceptual definition would seem most appropriate. If counting cultural tourists is most important then a measurement approach should be adopted.

It remains curious, however, that the one viewpoint that is obviously missing from current definitions of cultural tourism is that of culture. Rather than taking culture for granted in the process of definition, perhaps culture should be placed at the centre of the picture. In this way, the current friction between the demands of the culture of tourism and the needs of the cultural object of tourism could be avoided.


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