Economics of cultural tourism: issues and perspectives
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The special issue aims at exploring, with an economic perspective, the interconnections between cultural participation, in all its expressions, and tourism organization and patterns with the purpose of understanding economic effects, emerging trends and policy implications. The expanding notion of the cultural consumption of tourists makes the definition of cultural tourism increasingly elusive. Empirical investigations of the relationships between cultural participation and cultural heritage and tourism offer interesting hints in many directions. This introduction briefly overviews the premise of this special issue, the literature and the several perspectives taken by the included articles. Aside from their cultural topics—general, intangible or temporary—these essays all tackle some important economic dimensions of tourism. We encourage cultural economists to invest more in these fascinating areas as more than just intellectual tourists.
KeywordsCultural tourism Cultural economics Cultural consumption Sustainability Nonmarket valuation Heritage tourism
Mozart Così fan tutte (1790), I.1
È la fede delle femmine
come l’araba fenice:
che vi sia, ciascun lo dice;
dove sia, nessun lo sa.
Is like the Arabian Phoenix;
Everyone swears it exists,
But no one knows where.
2 ‘Elusive’ cultural tourist
Tourism is certainly a very important global industry because of its great contribution to the economy.1 Indeed, tourists consume a variegated array of goods and services, with linkages to virtually every industry in the economy. So, it is usually considered as a crucial factor for local development, and great attention is devoted to the measurement of its economic impact.2 At the same time, however, the ‘cultural’ impact and the potential risks generated by unsustainable tourism flows are also taken into account (Streeten 2006). Despite facing occasional shocks, over the past six decades, the tourism sector has showed strength and resilience, with a continuous expansion and diversification (UNWTO 2016).3
In qualitative terms, holidays, recreation and other forms of leisure motivated about 53% of all international tourist arrivals in 2015, business and professional purposes represented 14%, while 27% travelled for other reasons (e.g. visiting friends and relatives, religious reasons and pilgrimages, health treatment). International organizations do not make distinctions between cultural tourism, and other touristic experiences4 and international statistics do not distinguish between ‘leisure’ and culturally motivated tourists; however, they can be defined. Notwithstanding the lack of systematic measures, OECD (2009) reports positive estimates from various sources suggesting that cultural tourists, including all visitors to cultural attractions regardless their motivation, account for 40% of international tourists. However, it is difficult to distinguish between accidental cultural tourists and tourists who consider culture as the main goal of their travel,5 and this bears implications for the design of policies aimed at enhancing the role of culture as driver of attractiveness and competitiveness of destinations. Perhaps reflecting the blurred lines in official statistics, the scholarly literature continues to explore these overlaps.
Indeed, cultural tourism is a longstanding phenomenon, and travellers making the Grand Tour6 in the past can be considered the precursors of those who nowadays are labelled as cultural tourists. However, as Bonet (2013, p. 387) argues ‘…it is actually very difficult to define what cultural tourism is about. There are almost as many definitions as there are tourists visiting cultural places’. Indeed, though there is a wide agreement that cultural tourism implies the consumption of culture by tourists, the meaning of ‘culture’ in relation to tourism is not straightforward. Such a relationship has evolved from a narrow one, mainly based on immovable heritage, to a broader one encompassing tangible and intangible elements as well as creative activities (Richards 2011) and the search for cultural experiences based on the lifestyles, the habits and the gastronomy of the visited places (OECD 2009).
This expanding notion of the cultural consumption of tourists makes the definition of cultural tourism increasingly elusive. In the literature, various attempts have been made to identify different typologies of cultural tourists, considering the type of cultural attraction, and motivation and engagement, under the assumption that all people visiting cultural attractions can be considered cultural tourists (Richards 2003). Tracking technologies such as global positioning system (GPS) are increasingly used to understand cultural consumption of tourists in a destination (Shoval and McKercher 2017) or to investigate different profiles of cultural tourists, combining the data on the actual behaviour of tourists with information on motivation obtained through surveys (Guccio et al. 2017).
The empirical investigation of the relationship between cultural participation and cultural heritage and tourism offers interesting hints in many directions. The positive effects of culture on tourism flows are very often taken for granted, but empirical evidence is rather ambiguous in such a respect. The debate in the journal Tourism Management (Yang et al. 2009; Yang and Lin 2011; Cellini 2011) shows that the effects of heritage, namely the ones included in the World Heritage List (WHL), on attracting tourism flows are controversial. As examples: Patuelli et al. (2013) find that, in Italy, heritage included in the WHL is a domestic tourism attractor for a region, though spatial competition may reduce the positive effect; van Loon et al. (2014) offer evidence of the positive effects of cultural heritage on the recreationist’s destination choice for urban recreation trips; and Di Lascio et al. (2011) suggest a positive, though very small, effect of art exhibitions on tourism flows.
Other suggestions come from an opposite perspective, that is, the effect of tourism flows on cultural attendance. Borowiecki and Castiglione (2014) provide empirical results suggesting the existence of a strong relationship between tourism flows and cultural participation in museums, theatres and concerts in Italy. Cellini and Cuccia (2013) offer evidence of a positive effect of tourism on cultural attendance in Italy. Zieba (2016) finds that foreign tourism flows have a significant positive impact on opera, operetta and musical attendance in Austria. Brida et al. (2016) outline that the motivations of tourists, as museum visitors, are not necessarily cultural but recreational, perhaps better considered as associated with an entertainment type of tourism. Another type of relationship between culture heritage and tourism refers to the efficiency of tourism destination: Cuccia et al. (2016) suggest that heritage included in the WHL affects negatively the efficiency of a tourism destination as the WHL inscription raises expectations, which are not met by an equivalent increase of tourism flows.
Summing up, tourism and culture are closely related, in one way or in another. In order to catch the relevant economic implications of such a relationship, and to design efficient policies, research is needed for a better understanding of motivations and behaviours as well as rigorous methodological approaches, hence the premise for this special issue’s collection of articles on the economics of cultural tourism.
3 The articles
To briefly overview the articles included in this special issue, several perspectives might be taken. Cultural tourism often evokes special destinations known for the predominantly cultural nature of their attractors—as opposed to natural (e.g. ecotourism), recreational (e.g. gambling in Las Vegas or Monaco) or other values. This special issue offers two classic examples of this kind of tourist destinations: Amsterdam (Rouwendal and van Loon) and Italy (Guccio et al. 2017). Yet cultural tourism often involves more than just museums, monuments, plazas and other infrastructure that is itself historic or contains cultural artefacts. Cultural destinations can involve the intangible and, indeed, the temporary. To that end, the special issue features research on language tourism—immersing oneself in the intangible linguistic resources of a location (Redondo-Carretero et al.)—and on a cultural festival—a temporary exhibit of cultural assets or activities (Báez-Montenegro and Devesa-Fernández, Srakar and Vecco). These articles help identify distinctly cultural elements from other, more general and multidimensional attractors of tourists (i.e. a city or region ‘as a whole’).
Aside from their cultural topics—general, intangible or temporary—these essays all tackle some important economic dimensions of tourism. On the front-end, there is the interest in motivation and consumer tastes for tourism. Studies of motivation (Báez-Montenegro and Devesa-Fernández, Redondo-Carretero et al.) explore this in varying levels of detail and with different emphases. Both articles identify a segment of cultural tourists motivated by professional reasons (in language or in the film industry). This is quite distinct from tourists travelling for professional reasons unrelated to cultural amenities (e.g. attending a conference) yet who nonetheless undertake some cultural activities (as seen in the Rouwendal and van Loon and the Guccio et al. articles). The next step beyond the motivation—actual attendance—leads to some expenditures, and Rouwendal and van Loon examine the spending habits of cultural tourists in Amsterdam. At a more macro level, Srakar and Vecco then explore the economic impacts of cultural tourism associated with a major event and distinction. Finally, no collection of studies on the economics of cultural tourism would be complete without some inquiry into the supply side of the system—and Guccio et al. examine the efficiency with which Italian regions are able to produce cultural tourism experiences.
3.1 Travel purpose and expenditure patterns in city tourism: Evidence from the Amsterdam Metropolitan area
This special issue begins with Jan Rouwendal and Ruben van Loon’s inquiry into the expenditure patterns by tourists to Amsterdam. Yet this article is not merely a description of spending patterns in a city that happens to have a lot of culture. Rather, its central finding leverages a distinctly and uniquely cultural component of Amsterdam’s tourism: as a destination, it juxtaposes classic cultural heritage (e.g. famous museums, trademark canals) with a renowned quasi-legalized cannabis scene and a famed red light district. Mixing traditional cultural heritage with more contemporary, popular cultural themes offers an excellent opportunity to compare economic activity across trip purposes. Their results outline both the spending overlaps and the significant differences across tourists with different purposes. The observed tourist expenditures blur the line between traditional heritage and more popular culture but also reinforce the notion that there are separate types of cultural tourism offerings with differentiated (yet wide) appeal. Better understanding how the many dimensions of cultural amenities (e.g. nightlife, built heritage, cuisine, language) serve as complements or substitutes can help destinations seeking to optimize its portfolio of attractions. The Rouwendal and van Loon article highlights the usefulness of examining diverse trip purposes for destinations.
3.2 On the role of cultural participation in tourism destination performance: an assessment using robust conditional efficiency approach
The supply side of the tourism sector is the focus of the article by Calogero Guccio, Domenico Lisi, Marco Martorana and Anna Mignosa. These authors analyse the efficiency of tourism destinations in Italy to see whether their performance is influenced by the destinations’ cultural participation. In short, they assess whether regions’ cultural life can help extend tourists’ overnight stays and thus enhance the regions’ economic returns from their tourism resources more generally. They implement a robust, nonparametric approach to estimate regional efficiency, the first of its kind applied in this context. That cultural life can spill over to enhance a region’s overall tourism performance carries some obvious implications for destination managers and those in the tourism sector. Yet Guccio et al. find more than just another call for better coordination between the cultural and other dimensions of regional tourism. They also raise important considerations about congestion and sustainability in the tourism sector that cultural participation may be particularly well positioned to help address.
3.3 Language tourism destinations: a case study of motivations, perceived value and tourists’ expenditure
Language tourism is a rather novel topic and arguably the most distinctly ‘cultural’ of this special issue. Thus, the article by María Redondo-Carretero, Carmen Camarero-Izquierdo, Ana Gutiérrez-Arranz and Javier Rodríguez-Pinto marks an important initial foray into empirical economic research on language tourism destinations. Their analysis of motivations and expenditures of language tourists in Valladolid provides more than just insight into that specific empirical case; it helps set the stage for future investigations of language tourism (and other cultural tourism centred on intangible cultural resources). Very little is known in this field, which makes the Redondo-Carretero et al. contribution all the more valuable. They examine motivations from a ‘push/pull’ framework (see, e.g. Klenosky 2002) and test whether expenditures differ accordingly. The connections—between motivations for picking particular destinations and expenditures or perceived value—are particularly important in this context of intangible culture where cultural immersion may imply some arbitrariness to the choice of specific destinations. The Redondo-Carretero et al. article offers another example of cultural tourism spilling over into other sectors of the economy while opening the door to future research to consider culture in tourism where the cultural values themselves are not geographically located or destination specific.
3.4 Motivation, satisfaction and loyalty in the case of a film festival: differences between local and non-local participants
The next article examines how a temporary cultural amenity, a film festival, provides value to visitors and locals alike. Andrea Báez-Montenegro and María Devesa-Fernández’s detailed analysis of participant motivations highlights important differences between residents and tourists and demonstrates how carefully applying a structural model can help disentangle critical concepts like satisfaction and loyalty. Notions of loyalty can be especially vital to sustaining cultural events like film festivals, which makes this kind of motivation study valuable in its own right. Yet their findings point to something even richer in the cultural tourism arena: the differentiated roles of locals and tourists in supporting cultural events. In particular, their data analysis reveals two segments of the spectator market—those attending the event for professional reasons and those with strong interests in the cinema. For tourists at least, these two segments exhibit greater satisfaction and loyalty, respectively. Identifying a loyal base of cinephile tourists for this film festival, above and beyond those visiting for professional reasons, points to a complementary role for tourism in supporting cultural amenities that may have historically relied heavily on locals. The growing importance of that segment, and their different interests and constraints, points to new challenges for future research to help illuminate the interplay between the local and the tourist experiences with cultural events.
3.5 Ex ante versus ex post: comparison of the effects of the European Capital of Culture Maribor 2012 on tourism and employment
The Srakar and Vecco article provides a new evaluation of the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) programme while engaging two related aspects of the cultural economics and policy that remain controversial. The first and immediate controversy arises in debates over the utility of economic impact analyses in general and in arts and cultural applications in particular (see, e.g. Seaman 1987). A criticism of economic impact analyses is often that their ex ante projections are biased or particularly unreliable and tend to paint overly optimistic pictures of cultural investments. Srakar and Vecco address this rather directly by using panel data models to conduct an ex post verification of the 2012 ECoC Maribor. The second, broader debate in cultural policy regards the use of ‘instrumental values’ (e.g. economic growth, job creation) in justifying cultural programmes rather than examining other, perhaps harder-to-measure or politically less salient, metrics. Cultural tourism must confront this policy debate as well. Nonetheless, the ex post verification for the ECoC Maribor is an important and, at least in this context, original application with interesting results in its own right. These results (far less job creation than the ex ante economic impact analysis showed) demonstrate the value of ex post analyses of cultural programmes and can inform future debates over the use of economic impact analyses and other economic indicators more broadly.
4 What is missing
This special issue benefits from a strong interest by scholars, leading to over two dozen quality manuscripts submitted on fairly short notice. Unfortunately, that means that many excellent pieces of scholarship will need to be published elsewhere. As guest editors, we had the unenviable task of selecting just a handful of pieces to represent here. In addition to the overall quality of each article’s research, we applied several criteria to help shape a special issue that we hope both has broad appeal and makes meaningful contributions to the subject. We sought to represent a diverse mix of cultural attractions in a diversity of locations. The five articles in this issue thus cover a few specific cultural offerings (film festivals, Spanish language or quasi-legalized cannabis) and, more general, regional cultural amenities. They also represent traditional Western European cultural destinations (in Italy, Holland and Spain) as well as relative newcomers to the literature (Slovenia, Chile). The articles here also span national to local in their scope, using data that range from individual level to regional or more macroeconomic indicators. Importantly, the selected studies also demonstrate a breadth of methodologies, including regression analyses of tourist expenditures, dynamic panel data analysis, conditional efficiency frontier estimation and structural equation models of motivations and loyalty.
We also sought a mix of articles in terms of their emphasis in innovating either theory or empirical methodology. In the end, as readers will see, little theoretical advancement is represented in this special issue. This entirely owes to the overwhelming emphasis on empirical applications in the pool of submissions, which we see as an interesting statement about the state of field in its own right. We also had a special interest in studies of novel or emerging areas in cultural tourism, and some of those are indeed represented here (drug tourism, language tourism, film festivals). More interesting and ongoing work in new areas—such as online ‘crowdsourcing’, cultural conventions or ‘cons’—should be encouraged. Also missing are studies of international trade flows related to cultural tourism, on sustainability issues in general and with respect to developing countries and nonmarket valuation (either stated- or revealed-preference) applications.
Nonmarket valuation studies have featured prominently in the cultural economics literature over the past decade or two. The 2003 special issue of this journal on the topic, in particular contingent valuation applied to arts and culture, highlighted a sizeable extant literature (Noonan 2003) as well as some tourism-related applications like Carson et al. (2002) and Snowball and Antrobus (2002). In the years that followed, many studies using contingent valuation methodology (CVM) and choice experiments have been conducted and published in the cultural economics field, and more than a few applications related to tourist sites (e.g. Bedate et al. 2009; Báez and Herrero 2012; Herrero et al. 2012; Ambrecht 2014). In addition, the literature has spread to other nonmarket valuation methodologies like hedonic pricing methodology (e.g. Noonan and Krupka 2011; Moro et al. 2013) and travel cost methodology (Poor and Smith 2004; Melstrom 2014; Voltaire et al. 2016). Wright and Eppink (2016) recently offer a meta-analysis based on evaluation studies of tangible and intangible heritage and identify common drivers of value.
Accordingly, we expected to see a strong representation of valuation studies in response to the call for this special issue. In fact, several stated preference studies were submitted, so this kind of research is indeed being conducted in the cultural tourism arena. They were omitted from this special issue not because of the vocal, outside critics of the approach (e.g. Diamond and Hausman 1994; Hausman 2012). Rather, they simply were not the strongest examples of economics research related to cultural tourism. We see this as much as a compliment to the strength of the other articles contained in this special as it is an observation that some nonmarket valuation studies prove sufficiently easy to conduct (i.e. the barriers to entry are low) that the level of rigour and quality for typical studies may fall short. This is not unlike some of the criticism levied at economic impact studies (e.g. Seaman 1987; Frey 2005), where convenience of methodological tools and relevance of application often outweigh the needs for rigorous implementation and novel scientific contributions. The economic impact study included in this special issue (Srakar and Vecco), for instance, stands out for its application of a (much-maligned) methodology in a particularly novel way that clearly articulates a contribution to the economic literature. Clearly, it is possible to advance the field and state of knowledge substantially even in controversial areas. The prevalence of studies using a particular methodology (e.g. CVM, economic impact analysis, DEA) merely raises the bar in terms of rigour and novelty that is needed to stand out from the crowd.
That said, there may be special reason to be concerned about the state of the nonmarket valuation research in cultural economics—perhaps especially as applied to tourism. The criticisms recently levied in prominent venues like Journal of Economic Perspectives (see Hausman 2012) raise the concerns that (a) key audiences remain unconvinced of the fundamental validity of this suite of empirical tools and (b) specific weaknesses associated with the methodologies lack strong and vibrant economic literatures to address them. The former concern implies a challenge to stated preference researchers to better articulate their economic fundamentals and make their case for genuine contributions. In that regard, we would recommend stronger references to the experimental economics literature (which appears to suffer less from these criticisms) and to the more formal elements of the theory and experimental designs underpinning these methods. The latter concern offers a road map to future stated preference researchers to better connect their work to these ongoing and emerging challenges in the literature. There is a sizeable literature that has already addressed many of these criticisms (Haab et al. 2013), and it falls to future researchers to build on that foundation.
In the cultural economics area, the challenge should also be to identify the specifically cultural dimensions of those research questions. Yet another estimate of willingness-to-pay and how income or education affects it, for instance, offers little contribution to the broader cultural economics field, even if the good being valued is obviously cultural. This applied element of the challenge to make the research more fundamentally cultural points to the value in developing research designs and applications that lend insight into some particularly cultural component of preferences or preference elicitation. This might be inquiries into how culture manifests in values that individuals express, how culture affects how we elicit those values, or something else. The cultural economics literature to date has been largely caught up in estimating values of cultural resources (goods, artefacts, experiences). The next step may require moving beyond valuing yet-another-cultural-good and better connecting the valuation exercise with something distinctly and theoretically cultural in terms of values or methodology. The notion of cultural capital (Throsby 1999), in fact, brings about both economic value and cultural values; while the former is measurable in financial terms, the latter is multidimensional and lacks an agreed unit of account. In the standard economic approach, it is assumed that all values can ultimately be expressed in monetary terms and that cultural values are recognized as determinants of economic value, rather than values in themselves. The open and challenging question is whether the value of cultural resources can be expressed as a combination of two separate—economic and cultural—components. Throsby and Zednik (2014) find some evidence for the hypothesis that for works of arts: the cultural value component, while related to economic value, is not subsumed by it. However, the assessment of cultural value is still in its infancy.
In this sense, the challenge resembles the broader challenge identified in this essay about ‘cultural tourism’ more generally. At its heart, the distinction between cultural tourism and tourism generally may be a false distinction. The research agenda for valuation research in the cultural economics arena needs to better articulate its contributions to the academic literature, in particular how it relates to the cultural economics field. Similarly, cultural tourism economics research should strive for something more than economics that can apply to tourism topics. Of course, tourism management is a field that can inform this work, but so can the considerable cultural economics literature. Classic ideas like Baumol’s cost disease, superstar attractions (Frey 1998), cultural capital and sustainability (e.g. Throsby 1995; Caserta and Russo 2002), cultural distance (e.g. Ginsburgh 2005) and taste formation (Castiglione and Infante 2016)—and the dynamic interdependence with supplier choices (Blaug 2001)—are all ripe for application to tourism topics.
5 What is next
Moving in the direction of developing more distinctly cultural economic theories of tourism presents an important challenge to the field. This special issue contains a host of articles that take some first steps in that direction. Guccio et al. and Rouwendal and van Loon describe some important spillovers between cultural offerings and other tourist activities and thus raise questions about the portfolio of attractions supplied and how that affects demand. Redondo-Carretero et al. introduce another layer of complexity, where the cultural appeal (language tourism) is not specific to the destination. The taste heterogeneity among locals and tourists identified by Báez-Montenegro and Devesa-Fernández, and the questionable positive impacts of ECoC Maribor described by Srakar and Vecco point to issues of sustainability and justifications for public subsidies that are general to cultural tourism.
What is next for the field in terms of research on the economics of cultural tourism remains to be seen, of course. The challenge of continuing to develop and refine theories (and applications) of the cultural aspects of the economics of tourism looms large. This special issue demonstrates promising signs and hints at several key areas for future inquiry. This includes a continued development of the literature about motivation and trip purpose. Market segmentation and how the local portfolio of cultural offerings gets consumed by those of varying trip purposes or motivations represent core issues for suppliers and regional planners as well as those studying cultural participation more broadly. There are niche markets in cultural tourism, and what it means to travel significant distances for symbolic goods that relate to personal identity should reveal a great deal to discerning economists. That a substantial portion of those trips occur as groups, introducing collection choice and shared experience (Sable and Kling 2001) into the tourist experience, invites even more inquiry. Similarly, cultural tourism’s relationship with scale and joint consumption remains a fruitful area for research, especially when congestion costs matter (Maddison and Foster 2003, Caserta and Russo 2002) or when the crowd itself is part of the attraction (such as in Rio’s Carnaval).
Shifting attention somewhat to the supply side, the articles in this special issue direct our attention to the supply of cultural offerings to tourists. How that portfolio is determined and provided, and what kinds of trade-offs are made—including balancing local and tourist markets—call for more positive and normative analysis. The role of public subsidies in cultural production may differ when the consumers are predominantly foreign. In addition, three of the cultural attractions addressed by the articles in this issue are inherently intangible (language) or temporary (a film festival, a European Capital of Culture designation). Cultural tourism is clearly about more than built heritage, immovable installations and museums, or other permanent attractions. Yet even the temporary confronts issues of sustainability in the context of cultural tourism, as festivals may return and investments may outlive or extend beyond the event itself. Cultural economists may have much to contribute to our understanding these intangible and temporary tourist attractions.
Finally, other major societal trends may have significant implications for cultural tourism that are only now unfolding. New, digital technologies (e.g. crowdsourcing of recommendations, digital substitutes and complements to consumption) and ageing populations may affect how we participate in cultural tourism. Peacock (2006) has argued that technological changes, rather than having a substitution effect on real cultural attendance, are likely to create a ‘globalization of culture’, operating as advertisement and, thus, stimulating tourism flows. The rise populism in areas around the world and other policy shifts, such as opening (or closing) of borders, may have special impact for cultural tourism. Likewise, changes in economic prosperity and emerging markets (e.g. China) might offer opportunities to learn more about demand for and supply of cultural tourism around the globe. In addition, the emergence and growth of destinations attracting tourists with ‘popular culture’ (e.g. shopping meccas, red light districts, major sports events, blockbuster TV and film locations) promise fertile grounds for cultural economists. We encourage cultural economists to invest in these fascinating areas as more than just intellectual tourists.
According to World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) (2016), in 2015 travel and tourism accounted for 3% of GDP, with a yearly rate of growth of 2.8%, higher than that of the global economy, and a forecasted increasing trend.
For a survey of the literature on the economic impact of tourism, see Gasparino et al. (2008).
International tourist arrivals reached almost 1.2 billion in 2015 with a forecast of growing up to 1.8 billion by 2030; worldwide, an increasing number of destinations have opened up and arrivals in emerging destinations expect to increase at twice the rate of those in advanced economies.
According to the Eurobarometer (2016), more than a quarter of Europeans (26%) mention culture (religion, gastronomy, arts) as one of their main reasons for taking a holiday in 2015, with greater percentages for older and more educated people.
The label Grand Tour was adopted for the first time by Richard Lassels in the Voyage or a Compleat Journey Through Italy (1670), though the phenomenon of cultural and artistic travelling across Europe had started in the second half of sixteenth century.
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