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Culture is an important element and a source of diversification of tourist product

Maria’s Papazoglou article in the journal “Epistimoniko Marketing” April 2010 Issue

Countries with a rich cultural heritage have a tremendous opportunity to diversify their tourist product and to reclaim market share by presenting innovative tourism services. Thus, they should be able to create higher quality products, attract higher spending tourists who will be willing to enjoy the resources even more.

What is cultural tourism?

Tourism destination marketing manages tourist resources as well as their promotion and visibility in the international market in order to optimize the impact of tourism on local communities (economic, social, and environmental). With the term cultural tourism, we mean the tourism model where culture is the basis for attracting tourists and creating the main motivation to travel. Cultural tourism is expressed in many different ways. It may be the journey of a group of scholars, an exhibition trip to a festival or other events, an excursion to archaeological sites or attractions, travel experience in art and folklore, but also a journey of lifestyle or nightlife.

Cultural tourism can really differentiate to a tourist destination, as long as it is used for creating interesting travel experiences in order to attract tourists. Lots of different ideas of culture are used by tourism promotion agencies and entrepreneurs: folklore evenings with local cuisine, music and traditional dance, night operation of museums and archaeological sites, theme festivals, art exhibitions, corporate events in cultural sites, etc.

The classification of cultural tourists is important in order to meet better their needs and offer appropriate services. For example a Japanese who wants to visit the Acropolis for half an hour and continue for the next destination, has needs which they are fulfilled with a different program than travelers / researchers who are interested in deeper knowledge. In this second category of visitors destinations may offer specialized expertise which could, for example, include meetings with a group of archaeologists, historians and / or participation in a symposium. Knowing the needs of visitors and to provide them the appropriate service may offer a significant competitive advantage for destinations.
The example of Greece

Few countries have such rich culture that is a major attraction and can support a differentiation strategy with their diversity. Greece is a country blessed in this area. Culture is a major resource of tourist attractions. I remain fascinated and moved that during all my travels abroad, I meet people who are familiar with impressive details about our culture and history, reminisce their school years where they were initiated into the grandeur of Greek civilization. For them it is a dream of a lifetime to visit our country some day.

What do we do in Greece in this field? Not much unfortunately. At present, we are utilizing culture to the level of sightseeing. There is no involvement of visitors to cultural events in order to understand better what they meet or even interact. For example it could be used electronic means in order to convey the experience to another dimension. The tourists could have a premeditator experience visiting through electronic / digital media to understand what the history of the ruins was and be able to reproduce their experience in the web-2.0 environment. Interpretation is at its infancy and there is a criminal lack of labeling and explanation of archaeological finds. Instead of just mentioning the name of a statue and the chronology, we can use notes that will make the information more understandable and create stronger feelings: location that it was initially found, purpose served, if found together with others, if associated with them, why it was created in this manner, artist information, etc. Small and detailed videos presented at the site could support a much better understanding.

In Greece we often forget that we have a responsibility to behave with consistency and respect for the visitor who has traveled thousands of miles to fulfill a lifetime dream by visiting an archaeological site. Think of a Japanese tourist to reaching out to the Acropolis only to find a handwritten note at the entrance stating that “Due to assembly of workers, the area will remain closed”. Suddenly a lifetime dream collapses and the visitor totally disappointed. Are we entitled to cancel their desire and love of travel in this way?

The dual role of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism
The combination of culture and tourism in the same ministry creates good conditions for cooperation between different sectors. The previous experience of independent functioning between the two showed that there was no coordination or even understanding for what it should be done. Cultural tourism remains a vague concept which is usually confined to the visiting of archaeological sites. It has been discussed enough about the competing and antagonistic relationships between archaeologists and tourism executives. The antiquities constitute part of our social offer to the world and we should find ways to collaborate in this area.

I was pleased to read an interview of the Minister of Tourism and Culture Mr. Geroulanos regarding the dual role of the Department: “To protect and to utilize culture as a resource” and whether this does work, it seems to be a good decision for the alliance so far of different ministries for understanding, on establishing a single strategy to achieve common goals.
The Culture through technology

Technology can generate innovative cultural tourism experiences. A European-funded project created by a network of scientists and others concerned about the technology and culture has been demonstrating this (www.epoch-net.org). The field of cultural tourism and technology, led the well known Greek Professor at the Bournemouth University Dimitrios Buhalis, researched  what kind of technology is used by tourists before the visit to archaeological sites, during and after. The research showed that the tourists are using the Internet to get information before visiting cultural sites. A lot of them are using electronic applications such as headphones, digital displays iPhones and computer games while on the field. Thereafter, the Web-2.0 environment is used to learn more and to share their experiences with friends.Α

Meanwhile, at the recent ENTER 2010 conference on tourism and technology the coordinator of EPOCH Professor David Arnold, of the University of Brighton, demonstrated technology applications for culture where the creation of graphic representation of monuments and archaeological sites achieves better promotion and e interpretations of cultural resources. This is a great opportunity for countries that have to show monuments and glorious civilization, such as Greece and Egypt. On the other hand, the absence of technology in the field of culture in our country (with the exception of “Foundation of the Hellenic World”) is a missed opportunity. Especially now, with the consolidation of ministries there is a chance of good synergies to take place.

Next Steps

Greece has a competitive advantage in culture that should be exploiting to demonstrate our culture and enable our tourism to reach where it really deserves !

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