Prospects for favorable economic conditions

A perspective on cultural heritage

Published on 9 January 2012

Author(s): Jean-Louis Luxen/Euromed Heritage News

Type:  Feature N°9 - JAN 2012

There may be hasty archaeological excavations ordered to support tourist interest.

Taking into account the economic dimension of heritage preservation is fairly recent. Drawing on examples from the methods applied to the natural heritage and to the national parks, economic studies have shown that spending on heritage conservation and promotion can be considered a real investment, generating direct and indirect economic benefits. To a considerable extent, these economic benefits are due to the development of cultural tourism, or to the mobilising effects of operations of urban rehabilitation. In both areas, the Mediterranean basin has an area of application that captures the attention of national and international financial institutions.

However, we should not be under any illusion. The economic concern can lead to abuses. Thus, when the same Ministry has joint responsibility of the heritage and tourism, there may be hasty archaeological excavations ordered to support tourist interest. Or it can lead to a dangerous overattendance to key heritage sites. Not to mention the risks of destabilisation of cultures and local ways of life. It is clear that for the economic benefits to be positive, serious precautions must be taken.

For the monument or the site itself it is important to monitor their attendance. This control can be based on the number of authorised entrants per day, to avoid congestion and degradation of the site. Taking into account the budget of a cultural trip to Egypt, it is quite normal to set a high entry ticket price for major museums, such as the Cairo Museum, or exceptional sites such as the Valley of Kings. More importantly, it should ensure that at least part of the revenues from the entrance, and even tourism financial contributions, will go to the sites themselves, to ensure proper conservation and management. Of course, often the revenues are centralised by the public services so that a form of solidarity is achieved between the sites, regardless of their size or their respective attendance.

Nevertheless, in a perspective of long-term conservation and to better empower site managers, it is important that at least some direct revenue and economic benefits will also go to the sites.

For the local community, it should be taken into account the economic and the social life of the region or of the historic city. This requires a dynamic «destination management». It is recognised that at least one overnight stay is necessary to generate real local benefits, while the cost and nuisance of «day tourism» outweighs the benefits. Sites such as Jerash, in Jordan, Dougga in Tunisia or even historic cities as Meknes in Morocco and Tyre, in Lebanon, are visited in a few hours, as part of a tour without benefits for the local economy. A coordinated approach is therefore needed, based on the cooperation of local government, industry, hotels and restaurants, tourist services and local site managers. The cities of Fez and Marrakech in Morocco, meet more favourable conditions in this regard.

Examples could be taken by observing the management of the Alhambra in Granada, Andalusia. There the existence of a coordinated management between municipal authorities, the tourism sector and site managers has generated a kind of virtuous circle of benefit to the economy and local social life. This management practice can even regulate the collective circuits, in order to prevent the local tourism being driven by private coach companies. Forms of a «soft tourism» and eco-tourism are growing especially in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt especially as short economic circuits that benefit the local economy directly.

For the country as a whole, depending on its level of development and the national context, it is recommended to study the source and the terms of the investments related to the heritage and to the tourism infrastructure. Through a proper study it is important to ensure that their establishment and their operations offer a positive contribution. Economic analysis has demonstrated that the benefits of the tourism industry are often repatriated to foreign countries without leaving correct margins to the national economy. It should also be a negotiation in order to obtain a national participation in tourism companies and to develop national services of local transport. In this respect, it is interesting to use the procedures in force in Turkey. Or it is now generally imposed to use the services of national guides.

An ongoing analysis of the economic conditions is made necessary in order to have a clear view of the economic flows, both positive and negative. This is something that should be undertaken by the national or local government. But these same governments have an incentive to build on the dynamism of the private sector, by promoting closer consultations and cooperation between public and private sectors.

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