The magnet of culture

Cultural tourism can bring prosperity to cities of every size. Uncontrolled, it can suffocate inhabitants, spoil heritage assets and degrade the environment. The European Picture project has explored this phenomenon and proposed global management strategies for this futurelooking sector.

Amiens. ©Shutterstock Amiens.
Telč Telč
Syracuse. ©Shutterstock Syracuse
Belfast. ©Shutterstock Belfast.

At conferences held in Luxembourg in 2006 to summarise their work, Picture’s researchers presented several case studies pinpointing the problems encountered by various smaller (10 000 to 50 000 inhabitants) and mediumsized cities (50 000 to 250 000). “Analysis of the effects of tourism is very often limited to its financial repercussions”, notes Jacques Teller of the Architectural Methodology Research Laboratory of the University of Liège (BE). “There are too few tools for weighing up the economic, social and environmental costs and benefits at local - city or city district - levels. It is this gap that our project has sought to remedy, by tackling the issues of evaluation methods and of ways of organising this activity.”

At the end of the project, specialists from different disciplines (architects, urban planners, sociologists, psychologists, economists, etc.) proposed a certain number of “good questions” and “good practices”. We give four examples by way of illustration.

1. Amiens

This city of 135 000 inhabitants, with its world-renowned Gothic cathedral, seems to have long remained indifferent to its own citizens. In 1997 a public consultation entitled “Amiens listens to Amiens” surveyed 14 000 families and included a series of open discussions with the municipal council. This brought many frustrations to the surface. It was time to improve communications, restore monuments, clean facades, develop public spaces. This done, the city is much more welcoming and is attracting a cascade of cultural initiatives.

2. Telcˇ

160 km from Prague, 6 000 inhabitants, surrounded by water and offering the Central European charm of its arcaded city squareVisited by increasing numbers of tourists in 2006. Does this spell overload? With the regional manufacturing economy in decline, local politicians are standing by their decision to promote tourism. They are promoting long stays, extending tourist seasons and increasing the number of sports and cultural activities. Consultation with inhabitants has been one lever of this strategy. Shops, restaurants and Bed&Breakfast (B&Bs) are opening across the historic centre, where the Baroque houses have been renovated. Other projects are under way. The essential thing, for Telcˇ’s inhabitants, is for these initiatives not to be limited to daytourists and short-stay visitors.

3. Syracuse

123 000 inhabitants, an industrial base (shipbuilding, petrochemicals), SMEs, and a tourist industry which, it is hoped, can mitigate the economic crisis facing Southern Italy. This city, a UNESCO world heritage site, has a lot going for it: vestiges of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Aragonese civilizations… Not to mention the sea. Tourists suffocate Syracuse in the summer and abandon it in the winter. Two categories of visitors cross here: “cultural visitors”, who stay for a few days, also out of season; and “sand-and-sun” tourists, who stay longer and spend more. After surveying these two tourist profiles, the municipality decided to increase the quality rather than the quantity of tourist facilities. The objective is to strengthen cultural tourism, among other things by creating a multisite entrance ticket and developing longer duration events like festivals.

4. Belfast

For many years visitors to Northern Ireland visited the city to detect signs of the “troubles”. Belfast people have had enough of this and are refusing to see their city become atheme park on war. In recent years, the city has been emphasising its artistic heritage, its literary traditions and the popular culture of its pubs. Inhabitants are developing visitor structures, in particular B&B accommodation. The majority of them see this new approach as a positive way of giving new life to their city - and starting to say goodbye to the past. As a result, tourism grew by 8.5% between 2004 and 2005.

Christine Rugemer