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Reflections on cultural heritage, children and the tourism of the future…

Reflections on cultural heritage, children and the tourism of the future…

I have been giving a lot of thought lately to a topic I hadn’t considered before: sharing local heritage with a younger audience. I’ve realised just how important it is for tourism, one of the main themes of this blog.

But let’s start from the beginning, and go back to the questions I have been asking myself since I decided to write about a topic that, in my opinion, is fundamental for the future of tourism:

How do inhabitants relate to their cultural heritage? What are the main components and characteristics of cultural communication? Do the inhabitants of a particular place know and value their cultural heritage? What methods or communication strategies can be used by the parties involved to encourage local residents to take ownership of their cultural heritage? What tools can be used to raise awareness of cultural heritage?

I am convinced that preserving cultural heritage, in terms of both tangible and intangible heritage, depends to a great extent on the value that society places on the same, and globalisation is currently putting many of the values of local culture at risk. If the local residents of an area are not able to know about and assimilate their culture, then it will be difficult for visitors to do the same, and they will not be very involved in preserving it. In order to prevent this from happening, local residents need to believe in the value of their culture, history, folklore and identity, not as something that is superior to others, but as something that enriches the cultural heritage of humankind.

Intangible cultural heritage, which is transferred from generation to generation, is recreated constantly by groups and communities, imbuing them with a sense of continuity and identity and therefore contributing towards promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity. Global cultural heritage has a significant role to play in the task of communication and taking back ownership, and it is a fundamental part of the cultural management carried out by institutions in every community, human group, nation and region. For this reason, there should be no doubt as to the need for activities aimed at raising awareness of local cultural heritage among children and young people: they should identify it, value it, respect it and take care of it for the future. Even UNESCO carried out some actions aimed at achieving these objectives (for example the figure of “Patrimonito”, among other initiatives).

From my point of view, if children are aware of just how valuable natural and cultural heritage is to the area where they live, then they will become actors in favour of care and conservation and will be more likely to develop similarly responsible attitudes when they travel. In other words, they will be interested in the culture and heritage in the tourist destinations they visit and will become consumers of local and cultural tourism products while behaving in a way that respects their surroundings.

These ideas might sound overly optimistic, and I am aware that we are making slow progress along this path, but I believe it will bear fruit over the long term. I am still hopeful and insist that this is a road we need to take. It is us, the adults, the private companies, public bodies, parents and schools, to name just a few, who are responsible for transmitting the value of local culture to the youngest members of our society, so that they grow up to respect and love the area where they live and become conscious and respectful adults.

As Freeman Tilden, considered to be the father of heritage interpretation, said, “Interpretation addressed to children should not be a dilution of the presentation to adults”.  The goal is not simply to explain the same thing that is explained to adults, but in an “easier and more summarised way”. We have to try to focus on specific content aimed at children, because they often understand more concepts than we think. For this reason, we have to work on moving closer to the concept and how to explain it, so that the children themselves can understand it, internalise it and reach their own conclusions. We should also encourage a critical and analytical spirit, making the most of the curiosity that is so well developed in children of that age. So, they ask questions about everything? It’s great, and they should keep it up for the rest of their lives. I have never stopped asking myself questions, and I’m convinced that it’s the best way to learn.

I think we are taking small steps forward, bit by bit. So, this post is dedicated to the youngest guardians of our heritage and to a future that is more closely linked to responsible tourism.