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  • Writer's pictureJohanna Kouzmine-Karavaïeff

Culture in the context of economic diversification

Part 2: Culture and sustainable tourism - an integrated view and approach of different kinds of cultural assets


This is the second article in which I address culture in the context of economic diversification based on the reflection on my work in Algeria last year at the foresight department of the Ministry of Finance. The work was undertaken in context of the programme for supporting the implementation of the EU-Algeria Association Agreement (P3A). My deliverables were operational mechanisms for cultural economy development. You can find the first article here.

Before diving into culture, let us look at what is meant here by economic diversification. Economic diversification is the process of expanding the range of economic activities and sectors in a country or region. It is about diversifying goods and services produced. Thus, it is about reducing the dependence on a single or few sources of income, enhancing innovation, creating more opportunities for employment and growth, and creating resilience and competitiveness in the global market.

Why cultural tourism?

Why cultural tourism in the economic diversification context? Culture and sustainable tourism are connected in that culture is both a driver and an enabler of sustainable development. In Europe, cultural heritage is a valuable resource in the fields of tourism, education, employment, and sustainable development.

Tangible and intangible cultural heritage is linked to identity - to who and what we are. Cultural heritage helps us to connect with our history. The UNWTO report on Cultural Heritage and Tourism Development (2001) argued that “arts and crafts, dances, rituals, and legends which are at risk of being forgotten by the younger generation may be revitalized when tourists show a keen interest in them.”

Tangible and intangible heritage are cultural assets - but let us not forget assets such as museums and theatres in the cultural tourism context. An illustrative example is London’s West End which generates significant numbers of annual visitors and footfall.

The development of cultural and creative sectors as economic powerhouses is gaining pace around the world. My previous article covered the basic conditions that need to be in place to expect economic return. The social, societal and economic potential of culture are tremendous if basic conditions allowing the sector to function are respected.

Beyond the intrinsic values of culture, the instrumental and the economic values present untapped potential for wider economic growth and societal innovation such as the creation of jobs and income for locals who can offer their skills, knowledge, and services to visitors and to other sectors at a local and national level. Spill-over effects from the culture and creative sectors offer significant value and must also be thoroughly considered.

In addition, building up a prosperous culture sector ecosystem also supports e.g., peace and security agendas in that cultural and artistic expression can be more efficiently integrated in such missions.

This last point can be further backed up by the logic that cultural tourism fosters cultural exchange and awareness between different people, groups, and countries. The understanding it can bring reduces the “otherness” and can lead to further cooperation.

All this implies that there is considerable potential in working with culture transversally and in a holistic integrated manner – something that goes beyond the idea of enhancing the attractiveness and distinctiveness of a destination by showcasing its unique identity and diversity.

An eco-system for cultural tourism, what are the challenges?

Working with cultural tourism from the angle of economic diversification means that an integrated approach is also needed while developing an ecosystem. An ecosystem that goes beyond the direct infrastructure for cultural assets and cultural practitioners - one that has the intersectoral dialogue at its center.

The successful integration of cultural assets in such a dialogue can enhance their preservation and promotion by increasing the resources and incentives available for their protection, management, and development. This integrated intersectoral dialogue is also needed from the entrepreneur’s perspective. Businesses around cultural heritage sites and other kind of assets can create new opportunities for cultural tourism by developing new products or markets based on existing or emerging cultural assets – but these need to be supported and lifted by policies.

There are many other points to consider in regards of local communities, visitors, and the environment. These include, for example, the importance of:

  • Ensuring the participation and empowerment of local communities in decision-making processes related to their culture and heritage.

  • Ensuring that the context of economic diversification does not lead to the loss or dilution of cultural heritage (short-term profit over long-term sustainability). Cultural heritage should not be exploited or commodified without respect or consent from its owners or closest communities.

  • Balancing the preservation of authenticity and integrity with the adaptation to changing demands and expectations of visitors.

  • Considering and managing the impacts of too many tourists on the environment, the infrastructure and social fabric of a destination.

  • Developing quality standards and indicators to measure the performance and benefits of cultural tourism.

These points highlight challenges which underline the need for coordination and collaboration among different actors at local, national, regional, and international levels and who have an interest or influence on cultural heritage, cultural assets, and cultural tourism.

Cultural assets in their diverse forms e.g., artistic expression and its venues, mastering of practices and intellectual property, tangible and intangible cultural heritage are sources for cultural tourism and for pride and identity.

Moreover, they also provide important drivers of economic diversification and development. By recognizing their value and addressing their challenges, we can create more sustainable, inclusive and economically viable societies.

Johanna Kouzmine Karavaieff is founding Partner & Principal Consultant in Culture and Creative at Artisans of Innovation. She specialises in cultural strategy, culture in external relations and cooperation, transfer of skills & perspectives from creative sectors to business sectors, creative economy development and innovation.

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