Ways to highlight heritage

Cultural heritage tourism is important enough to Greece to warrant a study by the Academy of Athens, claiming that it could do more to boost the country’s economic development, create jobs and help Greece become something other than a purely seasonal destination. The study, «Cultural Heritage as a Development Factor for the Greek Economy,» by three professors working for the academy’s office of economic affairs, focuses on using Greece’s cultural heritage to enrich the products and services offered to visitors in Greece. Through an analysis of sectoral demand and supply at the national and international level, it concludes that the model used for the development of tourism in Greece over recent decades is a limited one, full of structural problems. It also shows that promoting Greece’s cultural heritage has been done in fits and starts and has not been a consistent policy. The study estimates that the contribution of cultural heritage tourism to the Greek economy in 2004 was just 0.05 percent of the country’s GDP, when tourism as a whole accounts for over 15 percent of Greek GDP. Compared to 1990, this contribution had fallen by more than half. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has said promoting Greece’s cultural heritage would be a top priority in his government’s tourism policy, but results during the past two and a half years have been scant so far. The idea of cultural tourism is a Greek one: In the second century BC, Pausanias compiled a guide of temples and other monuments for the benefit of his contemporaries. His contribution has not been imitated by recent governments: As the academy study shows, visits to the country’s museums have fallen 35 percent over the past 25 years. Visits to archaeological sites have stagnated in the same period. And revenues from museums and archaeological sites have remained at roughly the same levels since 1990. The main aim of state policy, the study says, is to upgrade archaeological sites, especially in regions outside Athens, and make better use of them in order to achieve a sustainable growth in tourism. Among further action that can be taken are proper methods of maintenance and new ways of presenting monuments. Museums and archaeological sites could become world-class centers of cultural education, it adds. Encouraging research and innovative ways of presenting cultural heritage would attract more visitors and, most importantly, encourage repeat visits. The study recommends the creation of online sites and databases that would present vast amounts of information with the help of multimedia. Prospective visitors should also be able to access information about lodging and dining, cultural and other social events and book tickets and make reservations online. Such improved practices are vital for the development of cultural heritage tourism. Today’s visitors are not satisfied with just looking at a monument but look for a multifaceted experience, allowing them, if possible, to imagine how it was when these monuments had a function within a specific historical context. The study also recommends using other forms of tourism to promote Greece’s cultural heritage. Already, some hotels have become moving in this direction on their own by organizing artistic and cultural events. The private sector clearly has a role to play: In the United Kingdom, for example, for every pound invested by the state in cultural heritage, the private sector invests 4.5 pounds. The results have been encouraging: In 2003, 63 million visited 900 cultural heritage sites in the UK and this is not all the country has to offer: There are at present 500,000 listed buildings, 34,000 archaeological sites and 9,000 preserved sites or regions.