The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is a celebration of cultural arts from exemplary destinations; destinations that are diverse, authentic, and home to living traditions—both old and new. This year's Festival highlights the cultural heritage of Peru - and to accompany the theme, Smithsonian created a symposium at the Freer Gallery of Art to emphasis the importance of culture for sustainable tourism development. The opening remarks from Richard Kurin, “Culture is what makes us human,” set the tone for the panelists to lead vibrant conversations regarding cultural conservation, intercultural communication, and the use of culture as an tourism asset for generating economic benefits.
Cultivating Cultural Industry
The first session focused on the tourism experience and how leaders of the industry can cultivate culture. Juan Luis Reus, Director of Peru Trade, Tourism and Investment Office in DC, spoke proudly of the rich cultural resources and their implications for Peru tourism. Immediately after, Nilda Callanuapa gave a vivid example of the work done at the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco: the objective of the center is to preserve the weaving traditions of the pre-Columbian Andes culture. In order for the weaving techniques to stay alive storytelling to engage tourists in the Andean ways and teachings at the Center is vital.
“When I first started the project, the skill was mostly left with the elders…now, the traditional weavings support over 600 workers at the Center.” -Callanuapa
Colvin English, whose ByHand Consulting Company helps artisans all over the world thrive in the tourism industry, gave some straightforward tips on how to run a successful cultural tourism project. “Respect the artisans, have lots of opportunities for interaction and purchase, and always keep your goal in mind.”
Panelists Rafael Varon Gabai, Halle Butvin and Stefania Abakerli added meaningful comments and concerns based on their experiences, including how sustainable tourism is limited by investments and policy support, and how it might be possible to factor culture into a multi-dimensional approach to reducing poverty.
The second session, moderated by Professor Don Hawkins, is how storytelling serves, promotes, and builds culture. Senior Geographer at the National Museum of the American Indian, Doug Herman reminded us that we are still drawing from past lessons to cultivate wisdom in the present world, and stories offer us the material to do just that.
Betty Belanus, curator at Smithsonian, showed a video testimonial of how the Folklife Festival acts as a platform for telling stories outside of a local setting. The audience had the opportunity to become enchanted by the story of Ana Rees, an Argentine descendant of Welsh immigrants who maintains her connection with the past by learning her ancestors' language and most imporantly- preparing Welsh tea and baked goods in Patagonia.
Thinc Design Founding Principal Tom Hennes recounted the experience of making the Jordan Museum exhibits more relevant to its own people by connecting history and present.
“It is not about archaeology. It is about people, and it is about Jordanian people. We are who we were…and now tourists has the chance to see Jordan through the eyes of locals.” -Hennes
Victoria Pope, Editor for Smithsonian Journeys, showed us a side of tenderness and sensitivity in providing an authentic narrative for a destination. Panelist Norie Quintos, Exective Editor for National Geographic Traveler, echoed her approach. As Norie said, the world for travelers is expanding. Not just geographically, but also in terms of cultural experience. Karen Ledwin from Smithsonian Travel stressed the role of guides in forging connections between locals and visitors, and putting the stories in place for the tourists.
Our CEO at Solimar, Chris Seek, took on a different perspective and warned against negative impacts brought on by unsustainable tourism practices. He urged for more active policy and market incentives to encourage sustainable tourism development, so that local communities can receive the respect and economic benefits they deserve.
The audience contributed to the discussion through lively Q&A sessions. A major concern was how we should manage changes made to the local economic, social and cultural system. Experts pointed out that culture is not static, but rather constantly evolving.
The symposium was informative for all and presenters and panelists aliked proved that making culture a focal point in sustainable tourism is not just important, it's also profitable.
With the tourism industry growing steadily, we became curious to see if cultural tourism is a key contributor. Over the past couple of weeks, we have found that an expanding number of travelers are more interested in cultural heritage and cultural activities when planning a trip now than ever before. Their search for cultural exposure brings them to off the beaten path destinations in search of authentic experiences. Today, more and more people seek to learn something new during their travels.
Numbers often tell stories by themselves, so let’s see how cultural tourism stacks up in the industry:
•International tourist arrivals reached 1.138 billion in 2014 - 4,000% higher than the 25 million annual tourists in the 1950s and 4.7% increased compares to 2013
•The travel industry contributed $7.6 trillion of world GDP in 2014, which equates to 9.8% of the total world GDP
•The tourism industry employed nearly 277 million people in 2014 and projected to increase to 356 million by 2025
•81% of the U.S. tourists are considered as ‘cultural tourists’
•Over one-third of U.S. tourists agree that specific arts, cultural or heritage events will influence their choice of destination
•Many travelers extend their stay in a destination because of cultural activities
These positive statistics indicate huge potential for cultural tourism to continue to thrive in the industry. Its upward tendency makes it a force, driving the industry forward.
Benefits of Cultural Tourism
Many destinations are famous for their cultural elements: Spain, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom. However, the benefit of cultural tourism is more recognizable in developing countries.
One of the examples is China, which is becoming a mecca for cultural tourism with its long and profound history. There are numerous historical encounters and human moments that should not be missed. And its long distance from source markets like North America and Europe is not a hindrance. In 2014, China received 3,846 million tourists. They brought in a total revenue of about ¥3,380 billion, a 14.7% increase compared with 2013. Travel industry contributes over 4% to the growth of the China’s GDP and greatly enhances employment and economic development.
The concern is how to promote cultural tourism sustainably, so it brings positive benefits to a destination instead of harm.The Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s criteria for destinations and travel trade addresses this and, replete with its own set of project indicators, offers destinations in development a measureable way to protect cultural heritage in parallel with the rising success of tourism.
Solimar & Cultural Tourism
Solimar deeply understands the value of cultural tourism. For more than a decade, we have been devoted to supporting small, developing and amazingly beautiful countries, exploring, enhancing and promoting their sometimes-overlooked cultural treasures. Our mission is to tell their stories and link them to curious & conscious visitors.
The power of cultural tourism is unlimited. We appreciate the fascinating plethora of cultures around the globe and believe it is possible to promote cultural tourism without exploiting local populations via sustainable tourism practices.
If you are interested in learning more about cultural tourism, check out our Tourism Destination Management – Achieving Sustainable and Competitive Results Toolkit!
A destination’s culture is manifested in its art, local traditions, colorful landscapes, and the diversity of the human intellect. Its most unique and alluring elements are derived from culture- and perhaps this is why the demand for cultural tourism in increasing.
Now, more than ever, it is vital for tourism industry leaders to preserve the cultures of destinations. Thanks to our numerous partners, Solimar’s team has had the pleasure of working with various people in dozens of destinations around the globe, and we want to share a few highlights from our favorite destinations for promoting cultural tourism:
Chris Seek, President/CEO: Integrating Local Communities into the Tourism Experience
“Our traditions and culture define who we are, our heritage reminds us where we come from. We must find a way to preserve and support traditional villages like Nobgang, that have tremendous cultural value to Bhutan.”
-Dorji Wangmo (Queen Mother) stated to Chris Seek, as they were discussing the importance of how to preserve the traditional architecture and way of life of the village she was born in, Nobgang.
Bhutan’s tourism industry continues to steadily increase, at a 10.25% growth rate. With this type of rapid development and a culture with deep traditional roots, responsible tourism is required. The Bhutan Ministry of Culture, the World Bank, and Solimar have teamed up to help integrate local communities and Bhutan’s rich culture into the tourism experience. Solimar understands that demand-driven products and experiences can greatly benefit heritage villages in Bhutan. When thoughtfully developed, cultural heritage products, such as the 13 traditional crafts of Bhutan, are a vital strategy for increasing revenue to rural villages that can directly support cultural heritage preservation.
Natalie Sellier, Director of Finance and Operations: Mapping Artisan & Cultural Heritage Routes
“Walking into the Jemaa el Fna (the night market) in Marrakech is something I’ll never forget. It’s one of the most chaotically beautiful places I’ve ever been. The whole area has such an incredible energy of sounds, smells and activity. Can’t think of anywhere else you’ll find monkeys wearing hats, snakes being charmed, African drummers, talented artisans, incredible food stalls… it’s such a magical place!” Natalie Sellier
Morocco is a country with rich cultural heritage and artisan traditions. Despite the success of Moroccan crafts in the international market, there is a lack of direct selling. With the help of Aid to Artisans, and Ministry of Crafts (Government of Morocco), Solimar linked the handicraft and tourism markets through the creation of artisan and cultural heritage routes in the cities of Fez and Marrakech. These routes—aided with over 500 interpretive signs--make stops at artisan workshops in each city, increasing awareness of Moroccan culture and craft traditions. The routes have also helped increase artisans' revenue by allowing them to sell their products directly to tourists instead of through a retailer or wholesaler. As a result of our work, the routes have had a direct impact on 6,603 points of sales in Marrakech and Fez.
David Brown, Marketing Director: Strategic Marketing in Rwanda
Rwanda is usually visited for its wildlife attractions - particularly the mountain gorillas. In addition to the country’s wildlife, it is rich with cultural heritage. With cultural tourism on the rise, the country’s cultural attractions have become an increasingly important component for the Rwanda experience. The Government of Rwanda and the World Bank partnered with Solimar’s Program Director to create a new strategic plan for the EAC region.
Through the new strategic plan, cultural tourism increased annual visits and the new marketing campaign reached 850,000 people. An example of this change can be seen at The Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village. This village sits just steps outside the gates of the Volcanoes National Park, and was designed to create opportunities for former gorilla poachers to find livelihoods in a more sustainable activities - demonstrating Rwandan traditions of food, dance, music, architecture, and healing to visitors. In addition, local artisans also use the cultural village as a marketplace to place to sell baskets and woodcrafts. This program has been an incredible example of how cultural tourism can support conservation efforts and create economic opportunities.
Annabel de Braganca, Marketing Coordinator: Marketing a Culture of Fusion
A traveler's first exposure to Namibia begins in a city, and one of the most interesting aspects of this encounter is taking in the unmistakable fusion between German-colonial influence & Namibian tradition. Take Swakopmund: even stopping for food or coffee is a unique experience. Visitors are able to enjoy classic Namibian barbecue in a cozy German-style café nestled somewhere between the arid Namib Desert and the wild Atlantic coast.
As a traveler heads to Northern Namibia, the unique and beautiful handicrafts and traditional dances of the Himba interest travelers. This semi-nomadic indigenous group attract a lot of interest from travelers, but exploiting this community is all too possible.
During the North American Destination Marketing Campaign (2010-2014) Solimar and its partners went to lengths to ensure that the local and North American travel trade was educating clients on appropriate behavior and interactions with native Namibian tribes; allowing cultural tourism to flourish, not degrade in Namibia. Solimar continues to connect sustainably minded North American travel trade members to well-informed Namibian ground handlers. As a team, we seek to introduce travelers to Namibia's wild & unique culture in a celebratory manner, not in what otherwise could be exploitative or invasive.
Simon Jones, Vice President: Revenues Generated by Cultural Tourism
Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s most visited park. It is home to tree-climbing lions, buffalo, hippos, and numerous other species. In addition to having vast bio-diversity, it is also where a group of women, known as the Kikorongo sell their intricate woven baskets. These women are part of an organization called Pearls of Uganda. This organization partnered with Solimar to increase the Kikorongo women’s revenue. We aided the Kikorongo Womens Group in establishing a small craft center appealing to visitors, and assisted them in developing craft workshops for visitors. Through the collaboration of Pearls of Uganda, Solimar, and strong work ethic of the Kikorongo women; the women were able to significantly increase their revenues and pay for a full time teacher at the local primary school and renovate the school building.
Gabriel, Director of Enterprise Marketing: Creating a Cultural Tourism Product
The largest nation in Central America, Nicaragua, encompasses many aspects of culture with its colonial seaside cities, scenic waters, and areas of deep cultural heritage. The regions of Masaya and the Pueblos Blancos are no exception. These areas contain several rural villages known for traditional crafts, including hammock making, artwork, ceramics, leatherwork, and furniture making. These artisans usually live in remote parts of Nicaragua, and needed a facet to distribute their goods. This is why Gabriel helped start a much needed partnership between a local Nicaraguan resort, Pacaya Lodge & Spa, and the local artisans. This partnership has developed cultural tourism products; artist workshop tours, interactive and educational tours, and art workshops for travelers. In addition, the Pacaya Lodge & Spa, has started to facilitate a sales and distribution for these tour products as well as the artists’ work itself.
Chris Seek, President/CEO: Tourism Strategy Resonates With Cultural Heritage
“Georgia is known for it’s Supras (feasts) that they have with guests - I have been to three now. These feasts are some of the most memorable travel experiences of my life. In addition to the excellent food, the practice of Tamada or making multiple toasts throughout the meal is incredible even if translation is required for non-Georgian speakers. They even maintain culture in the way they drink wine - proud to be the birthplace of wine and still use the Kvevri clay jars which is now on the UNESCO Intangible cultural heritage list” -Chris Seek
Georgia resides at the crossroads of Europe and Asia making the culture rich in cathedrals and churches, cuisine, customs, and folklore. In addition, Georgians have smaller enthno-cultures residing in different areas of the country. Each entity has produced its own values and traditions, but the country desired a national tourism strategy versus a regional one. The Georgia National Tourism Administration (GNTA) turned to the World Bank and Solimar to consult them in creating their own national tourism strategy, while highlighting the country’s rich culture.
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This month, The Smithsonian Institution and The George Washington University (GWU) will host 'Culture Matters',a companion event to the upcoming DC-based Folklife Festival Solimar International's CEO Chris Seek has the honor of presenting as an expert panelist in the segment entitled Storytelling Places: Cultural Interpreters and Compelling Narratives. Chris will represent Solimar & share his experiences working to integrate communities into a destination's tourism value chain, and demonstrate how culture has a strong and positive impact on tourism for destinations and visitors alike
Collaboration between cultural heritage and international tourism has the potential to create impactful social and economic growth opportunities for a destination's local communities: capacity building, skills training, field guide training, product development and job creation. On the other side of it, by encountering a destination's compelling narratives, travelers come away with a deeper connection to the unique treasures that exist there, and most importantly a memorable, fulfilling travel experience.
Our clients are promoting cultural experiences to travelers from around the globe. We love seeing and hearing about visitors dancing with the Himba in Namibia, spending an afternoon with Bhutanese monks in the heights of the Himalayas, learning to fish Moken-style in the southern islands of Myanmar's Myeik Archipelago. These types of community-based tourism experiences are fun and foster cultural exchange while giving local economies a boost.
'Culture Matters' will harness the knowledge of its participants to discuss means for developing strong and lasting cultural tourism opportunities. Solimar is excited to participate in this symposium and panel discussion.
Thursday, June 25 2015
DC-based readers, sign up for the event here!
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