What do we actually mean by cultural tourism, what are the different ways to engage with visitors and how can we encourage people to discover new destinations were just some of the overarching themes covered in ETOA’s seminar ‘Cultural Travel Portrait: past, present and future’ this week in Madrid.
Hosted by the Thyssen Bornemisza museum, Nick Greenfield of ETOA opened the event with an initial overview of the sector before Madrid Destino, VisitFlanders and the Thyssen shared their perspectives. Madrid is particularly synonymous with cultural product and Miguel Sanz, Director of Madrid Destino showed how art is a fundamental part of their offer. It was also highlighted how the visitor economy supported events and services that residents enjoyed and that this sector could help overcome the ‘us and them’ mentality. Flanders are about to enter three years of exhibitions and events looking at their golden age of art with Brueghel, Van Eyck and Rubens to the fore. Judit Sala of the Travel Trade Department at VisitFlanders showed how these initiatives not only would boost tourism but would be part of the day to day life in cities across the region. Evelio Acevedo, Managing Director of the Thyssen Bornemisza also picked up this baton by illustrating how the museum was more than just a building with a collection of art but also formed part of various programmes and events as well being a popular place to meet and enjoy the various ancillary services on the site.
The second half of the seminar opened out to a panel session with Ignacio Gomez de Villalobos, Managing Director of Cosmopolitan People and Maria Heredia, Cultural Director at Cultur Viajes underlining how as specialist cultural operators they were encouraging people to expand their horizons and visit lesser known places. This was a theme that chimed with the audience and many of the questions and observations from the floor returned to the question of sustainability. The seminar was followed by a VIP tour of the museum and a lunchtime networking reception at Lamucca del Prado.
What was clear from the event was that cultural tourism and sustainability are closely linked; how Europe's cultural travel destinations respond to demand and develop supply are central to tourism's continued success. Unless cities remain appealing and viable places to live and work in, the living culture sustained by the local community will quickly ebb away.
Without income from visitors, resources to safeguard tangible heritage are over-stretched. Without spreading demand across a wider range of attractions and improving ticketing and reservation systems, site stress and overcrowding are inevitable. What do we want tourism to look like in 20 years? ETOA is working closely with some of Europe's top cultural destinations trying to evolve sustainable solutions. These address product innovation, market awareness, city planning and visitor information.
Our next major cultural tourism event will take place in Florence this autumn.