Who are the Real Winners and Losers in Heritage Tourism?

Berkita Bradford
D’Andra Bradford.
Cultural heritage tourism is traveling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present. Heritage tourism allows tourists to learn about and be surrounded by local customs, traditions, history and culture. (www.sulturalheritagetourism.org) In a recent New York times article, Experiencing New Orleans with fresh eyes and ears the author refers to cool places in New Orleans as “really rundown” and not rundown by design (www.nytimes.com). Being a native of Louisiana and currently living in Queens, NY, I found the article quite disturbing. During my lifespan, I have gone to a number of “rundown” places in search of an authentic experience. I have always considered the condition of the facility as part of the experience.

I was also recently in the Bahamas with a group of hospitality students for a study abroad course. While in the Bahamas we participated in a People to People cultural experience. People to People is a free program that allows you to experience Bahamian culture and cuisine, learn more about their history, and develop long-lasting friendships with Bahamian ambassadors (www.bahamas.com).Bradford & Bradford 2

During our visit to the Bahamas we experienced everything from extremely glossy to the not so glossy. However, what the students enjoyed the most was the “People to People” experience. When the students were in the backyard of a local Bahamian eating conch fritters and salad they expressed they felt like they were “really in the Bahamas”. However, we didn’t pay for the delicious food, great music, or entertainment and it was all five star caliber.

As business students we are taught that free has no value. When “locals” invite you into their homes and neighborhoods, when you purchase the cheap authentic food, and the not so expensive trinkets, and woven handbags who really wins? Is it the expensive hotels owned by foreigners with their over priced “Americanized” coffee and sandwich shops? Is it the local tourism office or business owners with shiny new buildings? After reading the New York Times article and listening to my students it got me to thinking. Who really wins in heritage tourism? Does heritage tourism exploit indigenous populations? How can government agencies and tourism bureaus better serve those individuals providing these authentic experiences?