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Mar 19, 2019 Industry News

Protecting culture through tourism

Read the second instalment of our interview with Chris Flynn and Caroline Childs from the new World Tourism Association for Culture and Heritage (WTACH).

Luxperience speaks with WTACH founder Chris Flynn and advisory board member Carolyn Childs about the new venture and why its work is so important.

Why is an association like WTACH necessary now?

Chris Flynn: With the continued explosion in global tourism arrivals, for that’s what it is, we see disturbing trends that need to be recognised, understood and acted upon. WTACH has been established to work with public and private sector organisations to develop clear Cultural Heritage Tourism (CHT) goals and principals that will serve to protect the unique cultures of the world by means of fostering and promoting practical guidelines that serve to guard against exploitation and unethical practices.

Carolyn Childs: We are seeing many destinations ‘loved to death’. At the same time, we are seeing that a narrow focus on visitor number growth and on solely economic outcomes is creating massive environmental and social impacts. Ultimately these threaten why tourists want to visit and undermine our social licence to operate in communities around the world.

How have changing travel trends had an impact?

CF: We can expect to see a massive spike in millennial and mature travellers, each of which has an increasing desire to experience authentic or real tourism experiences. Reports consistently state that more than 80% of millennial travellers seek to have a true authentic cultural experience. With literally hundreds of millions of millennials travelling over the next 10 years, just imagine the downward pressure that’s going to be felt by some of the world’s more fragile regions as they seek to find even more remote places to visit. And the impact this will have – both positive and negative – on the local inhabitants. This fact seems to have slipped under the radar for most organisations and is the key reason why I felt compelled to establish WTACH.

How will Australia be impacted by rising levels of tourists?

CF: Over tourism and the impact is having the global CHT sector means Australia is not immune from feeling the stresses and strains of this growing problem. Already we are seeing issues at some of Australia’s most iconic tourist regions. Broome is a classic example. On most days you have camels, cars and children all running around on the same beach at the same time. It’s a recipe for disaster and one that will have ramifications for the whole of the Australian tourism industry. But I firmly believe Australia is better placed than most destinations to combat this issue. To do this successfully, however, you need to have key stakeholder, government and local authority buy in. This approach allows you to determine issues before they arise and develop plans accordingly to ensure you manage growth accordingly.

CC: I think we are overall managing this quite well in Australia so far – we’ve focused on yield rather than numbers. But we can’t be complacent. We are going to have to ensure that we maintain that licence by investing in infrastructure, by intelligent place management and by policy initiatives. So the potential is just as good or bad as anywhere else, but I think so far we have time to learn those lessons.

What can destinations do to protect their culture and way of life?

CF: At the first thing we did was develop practical Codes of Conduct and Ethical Standards for the industry to embrace and practice. These were developed with the help and supported of Prof Bill Carter of Queensland University and Sue Hodges, President of ICOMOS Australia among others. These clearly outline in practical ways and in language that can be easily understood how to operate in a manner that ensures the cultural heritage assets are protected and maintained for generations to come. They also ensure that revenues and profits are shared equitably to counter exploitation. ALL WTACH members must conform to these practices.

CC: Opt in to the WTACH Charter! We need to have a focus on triple bottom line sustainability. That focus on place management and policy is vital. But there’s also a need for destinations to manage the ‘asymmetry of power’. Many emerging destinations often don’t have the depth of skills or the policy frameworks to negotiate with commercial organisations in a way that builds a ‘win/win/win’ outcome (good for destination, good for the business, good for the customers). Building those skills and the awareness of why they matter in the long term is vital.

Have any destinations or attractions been successful in mitigating the impact of tourists?

CF: In my opinion one of the best examples of this is Uluru. By minimising capacity but still offering a broad range of accommodation options. Developing soft adventures that don’t impact the environments. Charging an entry fee for all visitors and their vehicles etc. They minimise the visitor numbers. This ensures they maintain control of their assets but in a manner that ensures visitors always get what’s on the postcard.

CC:  We are seeing this emerging currently: Amsterdam and Scandinavian destinations like Copenhagen have all switched their focus. I think we are also seeing some fascinating experiments: New Zealand’s tourism levy, Bali considering insisting all visits to temples be part of an organised group. I also think there are some interesting ‘soft power’ opportunities for source markets: China is now seeking to educate outbound tourists on their role as ambassadors for their country.

How can travellers minimise their impact and should they be looking at less popular destinations instead?

CF: Travellers need to plan, but this issue is not because of the traveller. Travellers buy what we sell. They consume what we package. And they visit where and what we recommend. When profit is the only motive then there’s little if any regard for the impact travellers will have on destinations as long as the money keeps rolling in. It’s we that have to change not the traveller. As an industry we can no longer turn a blind eye to the destructive path we’re on and the impact we are having on these fragile communities.

CC:  It’s not always sufficient to look at less popular destinations many of these simply aren’t prepared for the impact of even a small increase in visitors. Instead, I think travellers need to focus on HOW they travel wherever they go.

PC: Tourism Australia

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