June 16, 2024

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The Rising Importance of Empathy and New Technology in Culture & Heritage Tourism

4 min read

Heritage tourism experts grappled with complex issues of presenting culture and heritage to tourists at an international gathering of culture tourism experts 24-25 September in Valencia, Spain.

Dozens of delegates from 30 countries debated the latest issues, trends and opportunities affecting the sector, which accounts for 40% of all tourism activity, according to the UNWTO.

Heritage tourism is worth around US$570 billion per year, said Scott Wayne, president at SWA Development. Within the sector, 51-70 year olds generate 60% of its revenue. However, 73% of millennials were interested in visiting cultural and historical places.

The role of technology, not least artificial intelligence, was centre stage at the summit, where presenters shared the latest cultural and heritage tourism insights from Iceland, Belize, Finland, Spain, Morocco, Ras Al Khaimah in the UAE, and other destinations.

Certain issues unite all destinations.

We should be more worried about artificial intelligence than climate change, said Yrjotapio Kivissari, CEO of Visit Oulu, Finland. He admitted that while many operators, including his organisation, use artificial intelligence, the technology is being abused by destinations which were happy to mix fake images with real ones in their marketing.

However he predicted that AI would very quickly remove language barriers in culture tourism settings.

Also on technology, Wanderlust magazine revealed 3D headsets which gave destinations the ability to show 360-degree immersive visual and sound experiences. To great effect, Wanderlust executives used samples from Petra, Fiji, the Norwegian fjords and the Holi festival of colours from India to show how immersive headset technology is transforming destination marketing.

Delegates learned that new technology can serve traditional local artisans and communities. For example, ResiRest has established itself as a social enterprise that helps 9,000 families in 50 countries by connecting them with tourists who want an authentic destination dining experience with a local family in their house.

Similarly, the Tuzmo website allows tourists to not just find and meet local artisans such as wood carvers, weavers and sculptors, but makes it easy for the tourist to order and ship any artefact they buy from the artist.

On attention span issues, delegates said it was imperative for museums and built attractions to convey a narrative story with emotion and empathy, preferably with multiple access points to the story. Stephen Ryan, heritage design director at Freeman Ryan Design, Australia, told the audience that the average time duration for video clips in museums was always going down.

On heritage tourism finance, delegates admitted that the fight for adequate funding was perpetual. It was imperative for governments and donors not to just think about ROI in terms of money. It should also be expressed in job creation, a sense of ownership and pride, training and employability, cultural value, environmental gain and social inclusion.

Summit attendees said that there should be a task force set up to address investment issues in culture and heritage tourism.

The event’s debate facilitator, Rajan Datar, told the audience that WTACH should consider supporting skills in financial proposal writing. However, a delegate from French Polynesia said that it was imperative for politicians to listen, but the only way to ensure that was to “vote well”.

Closing the summit, Nigel Fell, CEO of WATCH thanked Visit Valencia.

Valencia has been a wonderful host culture for the inaugural heritage tourism summit. The breadth and depth of culture in the city has to be experienced. It is no wonder that Valencia is such a vibrant tourism success story.

The CEO announced Johannesburg in South Africa as the host city for the 2nd WTACH Global Leaders Summit, which will be held in September 2024.

In a handover ceremony on stage, Miguel Angel Perez Alba, brands and marketing director of Visit Valencia wished Septi Bukula, founder of the Renzo Network of South Africa, well with the 2024 event.

Mr Chris Flynn the Chairman and founder of WTACH said: There was a wonderful engagement between varied culture and heritage tourism leaders, analysts and stakeholders at the inaugural WTACH summit in Valencia. We will build on the success and take the important work of culture and heritage in tourism to the next level in Johannesburg next year.

Mr Flynn said that WTACH looked forward to hearing from potential summit partners for 2024.

Presentations from the 2023 WTACH summit will be available on WTACH.org very soon. The 2023 event programme with full speakers list is here.

From Egypt to the Bronx, listening to community voices is vital to the success of culture and heritage tourism— Photo by World Tourism Association for Culture and Heritage (WTACH)From Egypt to the Bronx, listening to community voices is vital to the success of culture and heritage tourism— Photo by World Tourism Association for Culture and Heritage (WTACH)
From Egypt to the Bronx, listening to community voices is vital to the success of culture and heritage tourism— Photo by World Tourism Association for Culture and Heritage (WTACH)

About Visit Valencia

VISIT VALÈNCIA is a non-profit Foundation, in which the Valencia City Council, the Chamber of Commerce, Feria València and the Valencian Business Confederation participate together alongside other local tourism companies. Its objective is the strategic management and promotion of tourism in the city of Valencia, with an approach that combines public and private interest. Since its creation in 1991, the Foundation has contributed to the evolution of tourism in the city, promoting employment, tourism development and increased economic impact, factors that have had a direct impact on the well-being of Valencian society.

About World Tourism Association for Culture and Heritage

WTACH seeks to establish clear goals, objectives and strategies for the protection of cultural heritage through responsible and sustainable tourism practices. Working in collaboration with public, private and specialist academic sector organisations, WTACH determines best practice ethical principles and standards in line with the most robust global research available. WTACH was established in 2018 by Chris Flynn, formerly Director – Pacific, at the Pacific Asia Travel Association. WTACH is based in New South Wales, Australia. Visit Email: [email protected]


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