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Cultural Tourism

Cultural tourism is a form of special interest tourism. Cultural tourists have been described as creative tourists when they are attracted to intangible cultural experiences that are co-created between the hosts and guests (Richards, 2011). The US Department of Commerce and the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities define cultural and heritage tourism as:

Travel directed toward experiencing the arts, heritage, and special character of a place. America’s rich heritage and culture, rooted in our history, our creativity and our diverse population, provides visitors to our communities with a wide variety of cultural opportunities, including museums, historic sites, dance, music, theater, book and other festivals, historic buildings, arts and crafts fairs, neighborhoods, and landscapes.

(US Department of Commerce, 2005, p. 1)

Developing cultural districts is a cultural tourism strategy. Some municipalities define specific boundaries that have a significant number of culturally related facilities, activities and assets, and designate them as cultural districts. Cultural districts, which were first formed in the 1980s in the USA, are walkable and compact, and are easily recognizable to visitors. There are currently over 500 cultural districts across the USA ( One of the key characteristics of a cultural district is that their success depends on collaborations among stakeholders (Thorbeck, 2015).

Meri Jenkins runs the Cultural District Initiative for the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC). During a visit to Amherst, Massachusetts to help the townspeople apply to the MCC to become a cultural district, she described the benefit of performing artists coordinating with the commercial interests of the nearby town of Lenox: ‘Only recently have the restaurants in Lenox started to coordinate with Shakespeare & Co’. She was referring to the renowned theatre company in the Berkshire Mountains. ‘The restaurants might offer pre- or post-show options, and the cultural organisation might boost ticket sales because people have already dined - a win-win’.

Jenkins’s example shows that communities are able to use cultural districts to create a coordinated tourism product, not only within their town limits but across nearby regions. Cultural districts help to create regional identities and serve as a basis for sustainable tourism and territorial development (Fanzini and Rotaru, 2012). In Massachusetts, the MCC partners with the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism for marketing and promotion of their cultural districts. Massachusetts has

13 Regional Tourism Councils, which are responsible for marketing each area. The establishment of cultural districts and partnerships with regional tourism offices is one way to attract outside dollars into rural areas. This concerted way of growing cultural assets and cooperating among the artists and cultural producers of a community has been associated with declining poverty rates (Guingane, 2010).

Merfeld-Langston (2013) writes how the declining village of Montolieu, France decided to rebrand itself as a book village as a revitalization strategy in 1990. The designation brought into play a host of other artisanal cultural activities, such as calligraphy, poetry readings, preservation and education about the art of book production and other professions related to it. The town became part of European Book Town Network. There was a new focus on making the place hospitable for visitors. Although some residents became resentful of the increased traffic, abundance of summertime visitors and special perks given to artists, like subsidized rent, this new identity has given the town a stronger rural economy, hosting at least 52,000 visitors annually.

The presence of local arts agencies has been shown to have widespread impacts on community placemaking and heritage tourism when examined through a community development tool, the Community Capitals Framework (CCF) (Delconte et al., 2016). The agencies were found to elicit positive changes to all seven CCF capitals, with the strongest effects being in financial, social, cultural and human capitals. The collective impacts contributed to the host community’s positive sense of place, which makes a locale a strong heritage tourism draw. The impact of the arts on multiple community capitals suggests a potential multidimensional approach to the multidimensional problem of poverty.

A rural design perspective can also lead to new insights. This process allows the community to find the assets that they share; defines the landscape character; and connects the social, artistic and landscape to create a sense of place. It also links economic development, quality of life and entrepreneurship, and encourages regional, cross-border collaboration (Thorbeck, 2015).

There have been calls to make poverty alleviation a specific goal of tourism (Ashley et al., 2000; Medina-Munoz et al., 2016). Pro-poor tourism is one approach to alleviating poverty, usually applied toward the Global South. However, there has been limited research on its effectiveness in reducing poverty (Medina-Munoz et al., 2016).

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