Cultural tourism (or culture tourism)
A subset of tourism concerned with a country or region’s culture, specifically the lifestyle of the people in those geographical areas, the history of those people, their art, architecture, religion(s), and other elements that helped shape their way of life. Wikipedia
In the past, announcing an interest in ‘cultural tourism’ could be perceived as elitist, posh’, exclusive, highbrow. After all, the original cultural tourists were wealthy gentlemen who went on the Grand Tour’ from the mid 17th century. It was most definitely not for ‘everyman’ and some thought it was more about historical paintings, classical music and plays rather than people and place. Yet, way back in 1717 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the Turkish Ambassador and probably the first woman to write about her travels abroad, not only described the dress and habits of the local women she saw in Constantinople (Istanbul) but also noted how many things in this exotic country were similar to home. In a letter to her sister, she concluded, “Thus you see, the manners of mankind do not differ so widely as our voyage writers would make us believe.”
I recently spent some time talking to various people involved in cultural tourism in Cumbria, as part of the Lakeland Arts Anchorhold Conversations. Grizedale Arts ‘Anchorhold’ was a large wooden structure on the lawn outside Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal. (At times, due to inclement weather, we had our conversations inside the gallery. )
Jamie Barnes, a freelance curator who works for the Brewery Arts Centre, artists and other artistic venues, is responsible for hanging many exhibitions that are seen by locals and tourists from all over the UK and abroad. Jamie aims to ensure the audience will get the most from these shows. “I always think about the public. ‘Can I understand what is in front of me?’ This gets down to details of height, labelling, space.” He’s also an artist and feels that culture is an intrinsic part of us all. “Art is how you live your life.”
Richard Greenwood, Head of Operations for Cumbria Tourism, has worked in and around the Lake District for over 30 years and is passionate about bringing more visitors to this beautiful part of the world to experience its culture as well as the stunning scenery. “I think places like Kendal and Keswick have an incredibly high quality of culture, especially given that we’ve only got 500,000 people living in the area. We have a rich outdoors culture, not only in the museums but also in the Mountain Festivals, which attract speakers and visitors from all over the world.”
“In the summer I saw Shakespeare Globe Theatre performing Much Ado About Nothing in the grounds of Blackwell Arts and Crafts House It was a fabulous performance in a wonderful setting.” Richard has a good grasp of what cultural tourism is all about and the benefits it can bring to an area. “These visitors are often higher spending, and look for quality hotels, self-catering and B&Bs along with good food and drink.” Nowadays the cultural tourist may well wish to link all of these on their travels.
An excellent example of this is Lakeland Arts. They run Abbot Hall Gallery, the Museum of Lakeland Life and Blackwell Arts and Crafts House and are currently developing a major new cultural attraction, Windermere Jetty. Not only do they provide superb visitor attractions but they have excellent gift shops, cafes serving delicious food and they also liaise with local accommodation providers to recommend special places to stay.
Sitting inside Anchorhold with the Reverend Rob Saner-Haigh, vicar of nearby Holy Trinity, Kendal Parish Church, seemed very appropriate as the route up to Kendal’s Anchorite Well starts at the church. “We collaborated with Grizedale Arts for the Harvest Festival. The church has been here for over 1000 years and has some significant art works.” He is keen to develop more cultural projects.We also talked about the spiritual and healing benefits of culture and its relevance to everyone. “Culture covers what people are, the world in which people live. I’d challenge the idea that culture has to be difficult to access. It’s an expression of hopes and dreams, joys and struggles.”
Ancient cathedrals, monasteries and convents have been on the tourist list for centuries and with the growth of rural exploration it’s hoped that our local churches and chapels, architectural gems full of artistic treasures, will become significant attractions on the cultural tourism map.
South Lakeland District Councillor Chris Hogg, was delighted to be given the newly created Portfolio for Culture, Events and Festivals. He’s very keen to encourage cultural tourism and develop long-term partnerships with local organisations that will enhance the visitor experience. With many exciting events happening over the coming years, he’s sure that cultural tourism is going to be very important for the local economy as well as helping to improve the health and well-being of us all. He’s very excited about the Lake District bid for World Heritage Organisation status as a UNESCO Cultural Landscape.
Chris added “We’ve got a great literary and artistic heritage going back centuries. Of course this area is famous for inspiring creatives like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Beatrix Potter, Turner, John Ruskin, Kurt Schwitters, Andy Goldsworthy and many others, but we continue to attract creative people all the time. Every generation re-interprets the landscape in a unique way for themselves.”
In a current exhibition at Abbot Hall Art Gallery, internationally renowned artists, the Boyle Family – Contemporary Architecture displays their unique earth studies. ‘Facsimiles of the ground taken from randomly chosen points in the world that resemble slices of the landscape fixed to the gallery walls.’ These huge artworks seem to perfectly illustrate Rob Saner-Haigh’s thoughts, “Culture helps us make sense of the world around us. There is a huge connection between people and place. It’s part of being human.”
This can be seen all over the world, not only in art galleries, museums, at concerts, festivals and theatres but on street corners, in restaurants, hotels, schools, universities, factories, offices and shops. At the recent launch of Lakes Culture, the Lake District was described as the ‘original cultural destination‘ and the advantages of combining culture and tourism sectors to develop ‘economic resilience’, were outlined.
Cultural tourism may be a fancy-sounding concept, but the reality is that we don’t have to try hard to experience it and its benefits are far-reaching and good for us all.