Tourism and Culture

Tourism and Culture

The growing interest of visitors in genuine cultural experiences brings along considerable opportunities but also complex challenges for tourism. The sector needs to adopt and strengthen policies and governance models that benefit all stakeholders, while preserving and further promoting the widest possible range of cultural assets and expressions.

UNWTO provides support to its members in building and strengthening cultural tourism policy framework, strategies and product development in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the principles laid out in the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism.

Activities undertaken by UNWTO in the field of culture and tourism stem from the very definition of cultural tourism, which is defined as:

Activities undertaken by UNWTO in the field of culture and tourism stem from the very definition of cultural tourism, which is defined as: “A type of tourism activity in which the visitor’s essential motivation is to learn, discover, experience and consume the tangible and intangible cultural attractions/products in a tourism destination. These attractions/products relate to a set of distinctive material, intellectual, spiritual and emotional features of a society that encompasses arts and architecture, historical and cultural heritage, culinary heritage, literature, music, creative industries and the living cultures with their lifestyles, value systems, beliefs and traditions”.

Definition adopted during the 22nd Session of the General Assembly held in Chengdu, China (11–16 September 2017).

The action plan of the Organization is also driven by the recommendations adopted within the framework of Declarations on Tourism and Culture, as well as the studies and research on tourism and culture commissioned by UNWTO.

Declarations on Tourism and Culture

On the occasion of the UNWTO/UNESCO World Conferences on Tourism and Culture, the three Declarations on Tourism and Culture call for necessary actions in both sectors for a responsible, sustainable and inclusive development of cultural tourism.

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Intangible Cultural Heritage and Tourism

The global wealth of traditions is one of the principal motivations for travel, with tourists seeking to engage with new cultures and to experience the global variety of performing arts, handicrafts, rituals and cuisines. The cultural interaction spurred by such encounters prompts dialogue, builds understanding, and fosters tolerance and peace.

Fostering the responsible use of this living heritage for tourism purposes can generate employment, alleviate poverty, curb rural flight migration, and nurture a sense of pride among communities.

Tourism offers a powerful incentive for preserving and enhancing intangible cultural heritage, since the revenue it generates can be channelled back into initiatives to aid its long-term survival. Intangible cultural heritage must be thoughtfully managed if it is to flourish in an increasingly globalized world. Only true partnerships between communities and the tourism and heritage sectors, built on a genuine appreciation for the aspirations and values of all parties, can ensure its survival.

Sustainable Development of Indigenous Tourism

The Recommendations on Sustainable Development of Indigenous Tourism provide guidance to tourism stakeholders to develop their operations in a responsible and sustainable manner within those indigenous communities that wish to:

  • Open up to tourism development, or
  • Improve the management of the existing tourism experiences within their communities.

They were prepared by the UNWTO Ethics, Culture and Social Responsibility Department in close consultation with indigenous tourism associations, indigenous entrepreneurs and advocates. The Recommendations were endorsed by the World Committee on Tourism Ethics and finally adopted by the UNWTO General Assembly in 2019, as a landmark document of the Organization in this sphere.

Who are these Recommendations targeting?

  1. Tour operators and travel agencies
  2. Tour guides
  3. Indigenous communities
  4. Tourists
  5. Other stakeholders such as governments, policy makers and destinations

The Recommendations address some of the key questions regarding indigenous tourism:

indigenous entrepreneurs and advocatesHow can indigenous tourism result in equitable partnerships?
How can tourism experiences benefit both communities and tourism operators?
How can tour operators contribute to the empowerment of indigenous communities?
How can guides promote indigenous culture while enriching the experience for the visitors?
How can communities be drivers of tourism entrepreneurship and protect their resources?
How can indigenous communities set the limits of tourism development?
What kind of information visitors need prior to visiting indigenous communities?
How can visitors contribute to improving the communities’ livelihoods?

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UNWTO Study on Tourism and Intangible Cultural Heritage  

The first UNWTO Study on Tourism and Intangible Cultural Heritage provides comprehensive baseline research on the interlinkages between tourism and the expressions and skills that make up humanity’s intangible cultural heritage (ICH). 

UNWTO Study on Tourism and Intangible Cultural HeritageThe publication explores major challenges, risks and opportunities for tourism development related to ICH, while suggesting practical steps for the development and marketing of ICH-based tourism products.

Through a compendium of case studies drawn from across five continents, the report offers in-depth information on, and analysis of, government-led actions, public-private partnerships and community initiatives.

These practical examples feature tourism development projects related to six pivotal areas of ICH: handicrafts and the visual arts; gastronomy; social practices, rituals and festive events; music and the performing arts; oral traditions and expressions; and, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe.

Highlighting innovative forms of policy-making, the UNWTO Study on Tourism and Intangible Cultural Heritage recommends specific actions for stakeholders to foster the sustainable and responsible development of tourism by incorporating and safeguarding intangible cultural assets.


UNWTO Study on Tourism and Intangible Cultural Heritage

Studies and research on tourism and culture commissioned by UNWTO

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*Definition based on the 2003 UNESCO convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage
Photo credit of the Summary's cover page: