The Foundation of Cultural and Heritage Tourism – Strong Partnerships

Partnerships: The Foundation of Success

  • The dynamics between tourism and cultural heritage sectors.
  • The strengths of each sector.
  • The challenges and benefits of partnerships.
  • Identification of legitimate stakeholders.
  • Tips for creating successful and resilient partnerships.

Strong partnerships are at the foundation of every successful cultural and heritage tourism initiative. Successful partnerships between the tourism sector and cultural heritage partners can result in the ability to attract new and repeat visitors, and increase tourism revenue.

As importantly, they can result in economic, social and cultural benefits for communities. Like any relationship, most successful partnerships have certain ingredients in common: all parties are fully committed, they are motivated to help each other realize greater goals, there is room for autonomy while being a part of a team effort, visions are aligned and productivity is maximized through combined resources and synergy.

Cultural and heritage tourism endeavours have a wide variety of stakeholders, which can be challenging at times. This chapter looks at how to navigate those challenges, and work most productively with stakeholders to ensure a successful outcome for all.

Strengths of Each Sector

The cultural heritage and tourism sectors often have varying and complementary strengths, as well as differing responsibilities. The most successful and sustainable tourism initiatives (economically, socially, and environmentally) are those that take full advantage of the expertise from both sectors to maintain viability in the long term.

The cultural heritage sector offers:

  • An understanding of traditional uses that creates a value-added educational component needed in cultural tourism products.
  • Skills and talent associated with activity or ceremony-based assets.
  • Commitment to maintaining the authenticity throughout the promotion process.
  • Commitment to a broad base of stakeholders who share an interest in the asset.
  • Motivation to develop the product/experience in a culturally appropriate manner.
  • Focus on long-term conservation and sustainable enjoyment of a given asset.
  • Legal and cultural rights and access to a given asset.

The tourism sector in Alberta includes organizations such as the Canadian Tourism Commission at the national level, Travel Alberta at the provincial level, and regional and community destination marketing organizations. The tourism sector has a wealth of expertise in evaluating cultural heritage assets for their market potential, and moving them forward for product development. Other tourism sector strengths and resources include:

  • Knowledge and experience in moving an asset through the promotion process.
  • Marketing and packaging skills, expertise and access.
  • Entrepreneurial skills.
  • Broad networks provincially, nationally and internationally.
  • Understanding of market cycles, supply and demand.
    • Financial resources.
    • Research and information.
    • Administrative expertise.
    • Motivation to develop authentic, culturally rich tourism products.
    • Interest in the long-term sustainability of initiatives.
    • Ability to provide “credibility” in certain cases

Challenges of Cultural Heritage and Tourism Partnerships

Cultural and heritage tourism endeavours often have an unusually wide variety of stakeholders who may be unaccustomed to working together. To increase the likelihood of long-term success, it is crucial for all players to take the time to establish and maintain strong relationships. The method of establishing partnerships for cultural tourism projects is relative to the unique context of each project.

This is the first potential challenge in this tourism segment: there is no set “partnership creation formula” to ensure success. There are, however, many principles that can be helpful in creating strong and committed partnerships across sectors despite diverse differences, interests and goals.

Often cultural heritage interest groups are not fully aware of all the sectors of the tourism industry (i.e. travel operators, hospitality providers, tourism services, accommodation providers and transportation providers). All of these sectors work together to create a whole system. Because cultural heritage is often initiated by a smaller-scale group of people with fewer financial and administrative resources, it is important to be aware of potential imbalances of power throughout the planning and development process, and strive towards an equitable process for both.

Cultural awareness and sensitivity is key. The Canadian Tourism Commission and Travel Alberta have identified cultural and heritage tourism, as well as Aboriginal tourism, as tourism opportunities with growth potential in international markets. Cultural integrity and respect between partners are critical to their success.

Another potential obstacle can arise when cultural heritage and tourism stakeholders have differing views of the end user.  The tourism sector often sees product development as a way of creating experiences for tourists. The culture and heritage sector may envision a broader audience including schools, local residents and those with traditional rights. This is one of the intricacies of promoting assets with rich cultural value: finding a way to generate revenue as a tourism product while maintaining the intrinsic cultural value of the asset.

Benefits of Partnerships

The inherent challenges involved in developing these cross-sector partnerships are great; however, the benefits to be gained from sharing costs, ideas and work are often even greater.

The greatest benefits occur when:

  • Diverse parties who share a resource base work together.
  • The common effort results in a product that generates revenue for the local economy.
  • The product provides a quality tourism experience.
  • Increased use of the cultural heritage asset fosters appreciation by the local community and tourists alike.

Without a partnership, it is very difficult for cultural heritage to develop a tourism experience. Similarly, tourism cannot progress and evolve without new cultural opportunities. When the two come together, economic, social and cultural benefits can result. And when all stakeholders know their needs and concerns will be respected, all parties feel a sense of ownership and excitement about the project. This results in partnerships that are committed, motivated and resilient.

Achieving Community Commitment

Cultural and heritage tourism is founded on the idea of telling stories. Whether through a work of art, re-enacting the history of a community, or sharing a tale about how good wine is made, sharing stories has the immediate and obvious benefit of informing and amusing visitors, but it can also make a real impact on the community.

Tourism operators require the commitment and support of their host community.

The tourism operation rarely stands alone; in most cases (apart from the occasional remote lodge) operations are embedded in local communities. Guests will pass through that community and pick up important first impressions from what they see. It is important that every person your guests encounter is a proud “ambassador” of what the community has to offer – contributing to a memorable visitor experience.

The Foundation of Cultural and Heritage Tourism - Strong Partnerships

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