Novelty vs Loyalty in Cultural/Heritage Tourism?

Balagan Cafe at the Florence synagogue, August 2013

This thoughtful article about heritage tourism by Neil Silberman raises many questions about heritage, authenticity, promotion, and audience. We hope it can foster a discussion on the issues he mentions — important ones to those involved in heritage tourism but also in museum work and heritage preservation.

The question is rather one of sustainability– the watchword of conservation and management everywhere.  Do sites and museums, already financially hard pressed, have to invest continually in new attractions to keep up with the competition?  Is novelty an essential requirement for a heritage destination’s sustainability? […]

Novelty has been the gold standard for achieving destination competitiveness, but the encouragement of destination loyalty may be a more sustainable alternative […] The implication is clear:  cultural tourist destination should not concentrate solely on investment in new interpretive technologies and expanding physical restoration and infrastructure– always the most expensive investments– but should put special emphasis on developing the living environment and the cultural traditions and practices of the host community as a focus of interaction, not a one-way, one-time gaze. […]

At the heart of cultural heritage is the originality and creativity of communities as they develop through time.  Those visitors who seek to learn about and interact with the tangible and intangible expressions of a destination’s heritage may be brought back for repeat visits by their discovery of the seemingly hidden, quirky, and evolving cultural traditions of every community– not only by static heritage forms and whiz-bang technology alone.

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Thinking in Jewish terms, it can be argued that the development in Krakow’s Kazimierz district over the past 25 years, which includes heritage preservation, cultural events, educational and interpretive events and institutions — as well as commercial tourist exploitation and infrastructure (all against the background of a living city) lives up to this model and indeed encourages multiple visits — many if not most fans to attend the Jewish Culture Festival pride themselves on going each year, if they can.

Where else do we find this?

A recent example is in Florence, where the Balagan Cafe each Thursday night throughout the summer in the garden of the majestic, Moorish-style synagogue (which also includes a Jewish museum) draws a steady and regular audience that by now numbers in the hundreds. People come for the concerts, lectures, guided tours and other events — as well as to sample the kosher food and wine. But they also come simply to schmooze.

Likewise, the many events programmed during the European Day of Jewish Culture also draw repeat visitors. In Italy especially the scores of varied EDJC events in about 60 towns and cities up and down the peninsula have become fixtures in the late summer cultural calendar, with many repeat visitors.

What do you think?

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