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Heritage Tourism and Cultural Tourism Essay

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Updated: Dec 16th, 2019


Notably, the distinction between heritage tourism and cultural tourism has not been easy to draw. Researchers have devoted their time in an attempt to establish whether the two aspects are different or they just overlap (Timothy, 2011; Ivanovic, 2008). The key partners in the tourism sector have worked hard to find a way to define and distinguish between cultural and heritage forms of tourism. The subject has generated extensive debates that seek to find whether the two terms are similar and how to use them (Swarbrooke, 2001).

Heritage Tourism and Cultural tourism

Cultural tourism is a form of tourism that deals with the country’s culture. It has a major focus on the diverse cultures that different communities have. Sometimes, it is pegged on the art of the community. It also takes an interest in the unique social diversity of one community in a region (Timothy & Nyaupane, 2009).

The distinct features of one community such as art, which makes it distinguishable, are considered cultural tourism. Cultural tourism is mainly found in an urban setting where large cities and their cultural sites are held very core to tourism (‘Oxford English Dictionary’, 2008).

Cultural tourism has also been defined as a form of tourism concerned with the lifestyle of the people in a given country or region. This second definition is aligned to the activities that people engage in rather than the sites (Smith, 2003; Ivanovic, 2008). The historical practices that dictate the life style of one community form the main element of cultural tourism.

This form of tourism is not just restricted to urban areas; sometimes, tourists monitor rural community’s festivals. The museums and theatres in many countries are the main reasons why cultural tourism has been considered to be urban based. In regions where theatres and museums are located in the rural areas, cultural tourism becomes strictly rural (Shackley, 1998).

Cultural tourism encompasses movement of people from the residents to gather the necessary information from different cultural backgrounds. The new information and the experiences of traveling are the key purpose of cultural tourism. At the end of the day, a cultural tourist seeks to satisfy the cultural needs. The main destinations in cultural tourism are strictly cultural areas such as historical sites, festivals, and natural ecosystems (Ooi, 2002).

On the other hand, heritage tourism is defined as anything that a community receives as a transmission from the past to the present. Such transmissions in the present involve cultural materials, intangible heritage, and natural heritage (Timothy & Boyd, 2003). The guiding rule in preservation revolves around the uniqueness of the site to the present and future generations. For it to be considered heritage tourism, people must be moving from one preserved site to another (Smith & Robinson, 2006).

Heritage definition has the word culture. Heritage is thus defined as the travelling of people from one site to another so as to present people’s stories from the past to the present.

During the travel, culture has been a facilitating tool. The activities surrounding culture have been the core interest of heritage. It has been stated that heritage tourism is increasingly becoming popular in various parts of the globe. A tourist in heritage tourism is motivated by the presence of heritage sites. This is because heritage is the main product that shapes heritage tourism (Ronchi, 2008).

Numerous explanations seeking to show how distinct the cultural tourism is from heritage tourism have been raised. The endless debate to distinguish the two proves that differentiating the two is a complex phenomenon. The distinguishable elements are not only in the definition, but also in the location of the sites.

Several sites may be used for heritage tourism and cultural tourism. Such usage has confused many tourists to a point of finding no difference between the two. The interchangeable nature of the sites has made it hard to realize the difference between the two aspects (Richards, 2001).

Heritage tourism has several characteristics. Firstly, it ranges from sites considered relatively small to international sites. The small sites are normally not staffed while major attractions are well coordinated and staffed. Small heritage sites have few visitors who are expected at a certain time of the year (Singh, 2002).

Heritage sites also have natural resources. Admission to view these sites is free and at a time charged according to the market rate (Graham & Howard, 2008). There has been a perception that heritage sites are managed for tourism purposes. However, there are other heritage sites that are protected (National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States, 1991).

Promotion of authenticity has been one of the major characteristics of heritage tourism. It consists of having a competent visitor services delivery offering quality products. The benefits offered to a visitor always vary depending on the visitor’s experiences (Moufakkir & Kelly, 2010).

It has been argued that heritage and cultural tourism are hard to consider as distinct. The above definitions clearly indicate that the two types of tourism tend to overlap. It has been further asserted that the areas that overlap are more than the notable differences (Singh, 2005).

The main unanswered question has been how to distinguish between a cultural and heritage visitor. The two elements are similar and a suggestion to create well-rounded cultural heritage tourism experiences has been a fostered by key tourism stakeholders all over the world today (Lavery and Van Doren, 1990).

A survey between the two types of tourism basing on the programs in heritage and cultural tourism shows that many of the heritage programs are found in rural areas. On the other hand, cultural sites are found in urban settings (Howarth, Rowley, Butterfield, Madeley & Museums Association, 1901). The classification of the two programs has often been pegged on the location of the sites which distinguishes the two (Richards, 1996).

In describing historical preservation, the word “heritage tourism” is used. On the other hand, in cultural tourism programs, museums and theatres are evident. In the preservation of the sites for tourism purposes, it is clear that what is termed as the “culture of today” becomes the heritage of the future (McIntosh & Goeldner, 1986).

There are clear differences between heritage tourism and cultural tourism. Heritage tourism is said to be place-based compared to cultural tourism. Heritage tourism is attached to the place while cultural tourism is based on experience with minimum or no emphasis on the place. In other words, the content of cultural and heritage tourism has always been the same, but the context differs (Leask, 2008).

Though the definition and understanding of cultural and heritage tourism have been hard to distinguish, it is still clear that lay people and visitors attach some different meanings to the two aspects. However, in the broad sense, the two words have been used interchangeably. An imagination of a distinct definition between heritage tourism and cultural tourism has been extremely pursued (Kockel, 1994).

There is one main reason as to why different researchers and other interested parties have sought the distinction between the two elements. This reason is grounded on the fact that various tourists find the two aspects to be different. The various reasons as to why people visit heritage sites have triggered the need to have a definition (Leask & Fyall, 2006; Leask & Yeoman, 1999). The complexity of definition has been promoted by the fact that a cultural tourist will visit a heritage site with a reason. On the contrary, a casual tourist visits a heritage site for adventure. The attraction is sometimes used to discover a site for the first time (Howard & Ashworth, 1999).

To unfold the complexity introduced by definition and why it is necessary to define heritage sites, it is important to state that the object of heritage tourism is the people. Therefore, it is difficult to define heritage tourism. This is because the definition has various meanings to different individuals (Hoffman, 2006).

The unique way in which different individuals perceive heritage site dictates the nature of experiences to be achieved by the tourists. There are those who view a heritage site as a place where they go for holidays. On the other hand, there are others who collect information from such sites (Agarwal & Shaw, 2007).

The cultural background of an individual helps in understanding heritage tourism. Notably, it is not possible to distinguish cultural influences from the understanding of heritage tourism. What the Americans consider as reasons to visiting a heritage site may be understood differently by someone in Australia (Hannerz, 1992).

The main reason for such variations is that different places have different types of heritage sites (Timothy & Boyd, 2006). In some instances, natural places are regarded as sites while others attach heritage to the notion that the people in a given place are unique. From the analysis, it is possible to observe there is no uniformity in the definition for heritage tourism (Hall & Jenkins, 2003).

There is a need to unveil the complexity behind the definition of heritage tourism. This is triggered from the fact that, in recent year’s, heritage has become a commodity that is capable of being sold. The selling includes substantial marketing that requires diverse knowledge. Most of the heritage sites around the globe have been widely advertised to allow tourism attraction (Hall & McArthur, 1996). In order to attract the target group, one ought to be aware of the cultural meanings of a heritage.

There are some parts where heritage is not a tourism product since people believe that it represents ancestry. Some are strictly opposed to its commercialization (Sharma, 2004). Such opposition is very evident in rural sites. Many still argue that it is unfair for people to try to market heritage while they are unable to get an extensive definition on what it means. The fact that heritage sites have been moved to the urban centers means that the meaning attached to them has been lost through commodification of the sites (Goeldner & Ritchie, 2009).

The intangible nature of culture has made heritage complex since it has pegged much value to the experience of the site rather than the site. At a time when tourism is determined by the forces of demand and supply, there are interpretations created in understanding the term and its outcome. The assertion that heritage tourism has assisted in preservation of sites has been viewed as promoting the traditional view of heritage sites being a place to remind people of their ancestry (Fyall, Garrod, Leask & Wanhill, 2008).

The conflict in understanding between the effectiveness of demand and those that believe that heritage is important and should be preserved while others think that heritage is a commercial product. The only way to harmonize the two conflicting sides is by finding a definition to suit the two sides (Goh, 2010).

To reach that definition has been hard hence presenting the situation in complex state. Irrespective of the complexities presented by the definition, different researchers have tried to simplify the definition by introducing the three categories of heritage tourism (Drummond, et al, 2000).

The first category of heritage tourism is the heritage status attributed to the visited site. Secondly, the visitor’s knowledge of the status given to the site is equally important (Herbert, 1995). Lastly, the relationship between the visitor’s personal heritage and the site is also considered. The categorization of heritage tourism simplifies the complexity (Drummond & Yeoman, 2001).

The above discussions show how hard it has been to come up with a universal definition to suit heritage tourism. At the same time, it has also proved hard to differentiate heritage from cultural tourism (Palang & Fry, 2003).

he greatest hurdle which has made it hard to get the definition is the interpersonal differences witnessing in perceiving the word heritage. The naming of the world’s heritage sites by UNESCO has continued each and every day, but it has been hard to get a definition that stands for heritage tourism (Dasgupta, Biswas & Mallik, 2009).

I would suggest that the suitable universal definition for heritage tourism is: the experience one gets when visiting historical and cultural places. The definition is centered on the experiences rather than the places visited. The factors that compel a conclusive definition are to effect a definition that cuts across to ensure that cultural and heritage aspects are joined together. Such a definition will establish cultural heritage tourism.

This is grounded on the fact that everyday, different heritage sites are created, and hence a more conclusive definition must state the experience and not the site. It has been established that the definition given to a site assists in guiding different tourists. At a time when tourists are from different cultural backgrounds, it is important to have a clear definition so as to avoid confusion.


The distinction that exists between cultural and heritage tourism is based on form and not substance. The features that make the cultural heritage are sometimes the characteristics of heritage tourism depending on the place. There are notable differences between the two aspects as mentioned above.

The complexity in the definition of heritage tourism is worth unveiling so as to get the different context that people adopt. The suggested definition is also critical to assess since it seeks to harmonize the views of different people to create a universal definition that cuts across different people. Tourists from different cultural background have varied reasons for visiting sites. Therefore, they can only know where to visit if clear definitions are adopted.

Reference List

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