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The Importance of Empathy in Culture and Heritage Tourism

The Importance of Empathy in Culture and Heritage Tourism

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.
Just over 100 delegates from 17 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.

“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 are 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 give 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 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 local dining experience in a local family 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 for video clips in museums was reducing all the time.

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.

Summit 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.

Presenting Iceland’s and Belize’s approach on how to balance tourism growth with cultural preservation, Debbie Flynn, Managing Partner and Global Travel Practice Lead at FINN Partners mentioned that it’s up to effective communication and storytelling from the government to make people interested and respectful in cultural heritage.

Presentations from the 2023 WTACH summit will be available on very soon.