EVENT: Heritage Alliance debate on heritage & tourism, who needs whom?

We had a great evening last night attending the fascinating Heritage Debate hosted by The Heritage Alliance at Magdalen College, Cambridge.

Loyd Grossman, Chairman of The Heritage Alliance, hosted the debate led by a panel of speakers including: Dame Fiona Reynolds, shortly to step down from Director General of the National Trust to become the next Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge; James Berresford, Chief Executive of VisitEngland; Dr Marie-Louise Stig Sorenson, reader in prehistoric archaeology, and; Professor Robert Hewison, writer and visiting professor at Lancaster University.

The topic for debate was ‘Heritage and Tourism: who needs whom?’ It was clear that all the speakers agreed that they need each other but that a  careful balance needs to be struck to guard against the deterioration of heritage assets and the over-simplification of their role in our history.

The panel represented a range of perspectives but all agreed that now more than ever, heritage and tourism have a mutually beneficial relationship. Key points of interest emerging from the debate included:

  • Heritage contributes significantly to the economy. Heritage tourism last year from overseas visitors contributed £4.5bn and from home visitors (all 16m of them!) £4.3bn. Together they provided for 236,000 jobs in the heritage tourism sector
  • The world is an increasingly competitive place and our heritage is vital to ensuring that the UK stands out on a world stage. Therefore heritage and tourism must listen to the market, keeping up to date with changing needs and tastes
  • There is a declining interest from younger visitors in heritage, something that needs to be understood and addressed
  • Authenticity is vital to ensuring that heritage is relevant and educational
  • Day visitors are often much maligned in favour of longer stay visitors, but both are vital. Day visitors contributions are frequently overlooked due to the often intangible nature of their spend, but the audience was reminded of the devastating impact that a lack of day visits to places had during the most recent foot and mouth epidemic
  • Although heritage tourism is important, we must remember that it only brings income to a small proportion of heritage buildings
  • Heritage has a relationship with more than just tourism.  It has an important relationship with issues such as regeneration and local communities
  • The focus should be less on heritage in terms of isolated buildings and more on places and how heritage shapes the spaces within which we live. It was suggested that at present legislation does not help to foster this, often leaving buildings to be dealt with in isolation and the communities and traditions that help to form them separately
  • Successful heritage tourism is simple in essence.  It is about connecting people with places.

And last but not least, the odd statistic was thrown in to stoke-up the debate.  Perhaps the most startling was that Visit Scotland operate on an annual budget of around £60m whereas VisitEngland receive only £7m.

The Heritage Alliance ran the debate as pilot and judging from the calibre of the audience and impressive panel line-up it will be something that is repeated, so watch this space. For further information on the debate you can follow The Heritage Alliance on twitter (#heritagedebate) or visit their website.