Jewish Heritage Europe

Cultural heritage and tourism: Who pays for preservation?

Mass tourism in the Jewish quarter of Prague. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Opening Jewish heritage sites to tourism is one of the goals of preservation, restoration and promotion of these historic, fascinating (and often splendid) places. It allows them to be visited and encourages knowledge about Jewish history, heritage, traditions and culture. In addition, Jewish communities and other owners and stakeholders often hope — or assume — that once established as tourist sites, these sites will generate income.

This is not always the case, however — especially with sites where entrance is free, or places like the restored Jewish quarters of towns, which are simply open to visitors. Moreover, tourism, especially on a mass scale, can damage ancient — and not so ancient — sites. Some tourists even deliberately deface sites with graffiti — elsewhere simply the number of people can cause structural and other problems.

Tourist graffiti at Auschwitz. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

This leads to the question of who should pay for upkeep, maintenance and preservation.

This is not an issue that affects solely Jewish heritage sites, of course.

On the World Travel Market’s responsible tourism blog, Harold Goodwin discusses this and related questions as they regard cultural heritage sites in general, including protected ruins, prehistoric sites, museums, and other places. He focuses in particular on the UK.

Many regard access to a nation’s or a community’s heritage attractions as a “Merit good”. The belief is that people should have free, or low cost, access to their heritage as it is theirs, because enjoyment of it contributes to their education, and because there is a public interest in the maintenance of culture. In the UK the major national museums are free to enter; yet some 40% of visitors are internationals who are enjoying a freebie for which they make no contribution as a taxpayer.   The British Museum was the UK’s most popular visitor attraction in 2012 – a status which it has enjoyed for the last six years. In 2012 it attracted 5.6 million visitors, 60% of them were international visitors making no contribution to its maintenance.

Government-sponsored museums ceased charging admission in 2001, as part of a government plan to widen access to the nation’s culture and heritage. Almost 18 million people visited the 13 attractions in 2010-11, compared with only 7 million in 2000-01. Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) figures suggest that eight of the top 10 most-visited attractions in the UK are free, government-sponsored national museums.  The total visitor numbers to DCMS-sponsored museums for 2010-11 was 43.8m – a free cultural heritage and tourism success.


Goodwin notes that these and related issues will be discussed at the upcoming World Travel Market, Nov. 4-7 in London, as part of the Responsible Tourism program.

we shall be asking what is the economic contribution of tourism to maintenance of the world’s cultural heritage? How much is tourism putting back?


See more here, including some of the programmed speakers

(We shouldn’t forget that vandals also sometimes target Jewish sites, including those open to visitors. Sometimes such vandalism is anti-semitic in character; other times it is just vandalism…).

Graffiti defaces the entrance to the 17th century Jewish cemetery in Zizkov, Prague.The entire wall was scrawled over when this photo was taken in April 2010. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber


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