September 21, 2022
Event takeaways: Heritage tourism & youth entrepreneurship – a long term vision

To celebrate the publication of our case study, produced by the University of Winchester, “Youth heritage tourism and entrepreneurship: Long-term thinking for diaspora engagement”, on 7 September we invited the researchers and special guests to discuss the potential of these exciting, intersecting topics. Read on for the highlights.

Ties with the country of heritage are hyper-diverse, shaped by one’s experiences and reason for leaving the country. This diversity needs to be taken into account when developing heritage tourism products as well as related diaspora engagement strategies. Indeed, the question of identity and the sentiment of “belonging” are crucial to diaspora engagement at a conceptual and practical level. 

Framed by the results of the research, the online discussion revolved around concrete diaspora-engagement action based on the case studies in Barbados, Brazil and Rwanda. We listened to different perspectives offered by a youth diaspora member, Miguel Pena, a freelance heritage professional from Barbados, a government representative, Maurice Mugabowagahunde, Executive Director of Research and Policy Development, Ministry of National Unity and Civic Engagement (Rwanda) and a representative of an international organisation, Louise Haxthausen, UNESCO Representative to the European Union and Director of the UNESCO Liaison Office in Brussels. Despite the varied standpoints, a number of patterns and recommendations emerged:

Building personal narratives

Youth are interested in finding new narratives about who they are and tapping into cultural heritage can be a formative element of narrative building. Heritage products can be defined as something tangible (such as buildings) or intangible (such as songs or food). The research highlighted that diaspora youth were more interested in intangible heritage because they often did not recognise themselves in the tangible heritage products proposed by their countries of origin, such as colonial plantation sites in Barbados for example. An example for reference comes from Rwanda, where the government is organising experiences for young Rwandans in the diaspora to explore a narrative about the country that goes beyond the recent history of genocide taught in their countries of residence. Youth diaspora’s interest in intangible products is in line with the recent shift in tourism towards cultural experiences. Therefore, the main actors of the heritage tourism sector, as well as policy makers, need to rethink what can be considered as heritage and whether the products they offer are in line with young people’s interests. It is crucial to include youth in this reflection.

The digital-first era

Digitalisation is profoundly changing our cultural experience and the way one accesses culture. It has widened access to heritage tourism activities. Youth diaspora can now have a first glimpse into their heritage, which might pique their curiosity and lead them to want to explore it further by travelling onsite. In the last few years, Covid-19 travel restrictions led to an acceleration in the digitalisation of cultural and heritage products – in how they are produced, distributed and accessed. New technologies have brought unprecedented opportunities. Many museums, for example, managed to digitalise their contents during the pandemic. The digital content was often created in an interactive and sometimes co-creative manner that is perceived by some as being more engaging and inclusive. The democratisation of cultural creation is spreading and seems to be a trend that is set to last.

Diaspora youth as outreach champions

It is important to recognise the contribution that diaspora youth can make. Even though access to financial capital is more difficult for them, they have the potential to provide remarkable support to the heritage tourism sector. For example, youth offer skills in digital marketing, which can be a challenge for governments. Social media allows a completely different style of outreach and powerful platforms, via which diaspora youth can unleash their potential for creativity and innovation.

Mr Mugabowagahunde proposed to identify diaspora youth champions to support outreach and branding efforts. Ms Haxthausen added that social media provide opportunities to interact with actors that are not the “usual suspects,” game changing potential. In order to provide a more inclusive and wider access to heritage tourism products, it is important to go to where the communities are, and social media are one way to break down this divide, as well as a site for heritage tourism products themselves.

Small-scale, unknowable potential

In our second Future Forum we noted that it is critical to promote small initiatives and shed light on “unusual” stakeholders to bring new ideas to the discussions. Diaspora youth are more usually considered as beneficiaries than actors in the field of heritage tourism. UNESCO provides an opportunity to young people to have an active role. The project “Cash for Work: Promoting Livelihood Opportunities for Urban Youth in Yemen” provided jobs to artists in Yemen to rehabilitate cultural heritage sites destroyed by the conflict. The situation in the country makes it very difficult for young artists to produce culture, but this initiative helped to connect them with the diaspora and led to artistic innovation and more sustainable creative experiences.

In the world of cultural heritage, experimentation and incubation of small-scale initiatives that are tailored to specific contexts are key to leverage its incredible potential.

Government responsibilities

While new technologies provide a virtual space for diaspora youth to become actors in the field of heritage tourism, countries of origin still have an important role to play to ensure the right environment is in place to welcome further engagement. Security is one of the first criteria sought after by diaspora youth.

The representative of Rwanda was resolute in the need for governments to engage the diaspora in the tourism industry. But how to reach out to everyone? Rwanda put in place several initiatives to invite youth diaspora members to discover their roots through travel. These initiatives also create an opportunity to listen to the diaspora and their interests as well as to propose them different opportunities to engage and invest in the country.

An important challenge facing governments is the need to change mind-sets and perception of the heritage country. This is not only true for the diaspora youth, but also for the local population. The authorities need to prepare the locals to receive tourists at heritage sites, for example. Local mind-sets need to be changed to see heritage tourism as an opportunity to do business.

For a more in depth analysis of the potential role of diaspora youth in the heritage tourism industry, read the full case study or the abridged version comprising the executive summary and recommendations.

EUDiF is supporting two actions related to heritage tourism, one in Moldova, one in Sierra Leone. For more information, visit the Capacity Development Lab.

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