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Paloma Reyes

Cultural heritage in international tourism

- The dynamics of world tourism integrates new conceptions for the creation of alternative tourist products to the hegemonic tourist offer.

Cultural heritage in international tourism

The dynamics of world tourism integrates new conceptions for the creation of alternative tourist products to the hegemonic tourist offer. Cultural tourism contemplates offering an experience capable of allowing the visitor to satisfy their perception of the place before knowing it. In addition, it is possible to have a unique contact with local traditional values and history, making this option a possibility to live as residents.

What is cultural heritage?

In traditional discourse, heritage is synonymous with history and culture. Local communities lead the process of recognizing and linking both concepts with heritage. Political use is the most common, since the collective memory of the territory of interest falls on it. On the other hand, when speaking of a different use, it is with the intention of its preservation, far beyond its identity value.

A clear definition of heritage is that it is "made up of all those elements and tangible or intangible manifestations produced by societies, the result of a historical process where the reproduction of ideas and material are factors that identify and differentiate that country. or region.”

Various authors put the following question on the table: Can everything be considered heritage? In the last 30 years, different proposals regarding heritage appeared, which were integrated into currents of thought with a universal strategic vision. In other words, these currents emerge as an alternative perspective around the study, where the dynamism of local communities intervenes so that their conservation policies for heritage assets adapt to the evolution of the concept itself.

The continuous transformation of international relations at the social, political and economic level, has supported the emergence of multiple interpretations in the process of staging culture, with the opinion of disciplines such as Anthropology, History, Archaeology, Philosophy , Art, among others. This will influence three central aspects: the use, consumption and interpretation of heritage.

The modern concept of heritage includes manifestations of popular culture, that is, indigenous, regional, popular, urban elements, traditional communities, indigenous languages, handicrafts, popular arts, clothing, knowledge, and characteristic values of a culture.

Cultural tourism

Cultural tourism is one of the most important branches of this economic sector. Its symbolic component is sold as an authentic and unique experience for visitors, which is created from an individual perception rooted in the feeling of local culture. During this process, a reinterpretation of the space and territory occurs in which consumers are the main objective of the commercial demand, since they are the ones who have the first contact with the experience. In addition, the influence of culture means that tourists arrive at the destination with a double perception of their visit. On the one hand, the expectation of arrival about what they can find and the reality of the place.

Heritage has commonly been used as a synonym for culture. According to the Ministry of Tourism of Mexico, cultural heritage is considered to be the territorial space that has monuments (architectural works, sculptures, paintings); sets (group of constructions isolated or assembled with universal value) or places.

According to the authors Ritchuie and Zins (1990), there are 12 cultural elements that attract tourists to this type of destination: crafts, language, traditions, gastronomy, art, music, the history of the region , types of work of local residents, religion, education systems, clothing and leisure activities.

The incorporation of cultural heritage into tourist activity meets three elements: being attractive, being suitable and being available. The attractions that motivate the travel of tourists lie in the creation of a distinctive tourist product to traditional destinations such as sun and beach, which justifies the displacement of people.

Tourism, culture and heritage complement each other according to the relationship between the physical, social, economic, environmental, historical and political environment ad hoc to the specific place where cultural tourism is practiced. Heritage is transformed into a tourist product, defining itself hegemonically as the local "stamp" of a country.

Some of the economic benefits of cultural destinations are the generation of jobs, the conservation of spaces declared as heritage, the generation of a budget for the improvement of the landscape and space, etc. The investment dedicated to cultural infrastructure is destined mainly to the maintenance of the region. For example, the facilitation of access to destinations, that is, the improvement of land routes such as highways and main roads, as well as the installation of clear arrival signs to the place.

The preservation of quality as a zone of cultural tourist interest depends on being a strategic resource for the need of the market. The economic benefit is a complex issue to determine who is the one who earns the most, if the local community that offers the tourist service, or the dynamics of the capital that benefits from world tourism.

Visitors are part of the successful chain of world tourism. They measure the satisfaction of the destination and the profitability of the tourist activity, which is defined from the preconfigured image of consumers in accordance with the heritage destination that is intended to be visited.

At the international level, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) assesses the natural and cultural heritage capacity of countries through the Convention on the Protection of the Cultural and Natural Heritage of Humanity. It seeks for countries to have public policies related to the protection of heritage and the acquisition of rights and responsibilities for both the authorities, the local community and tourists.

At the same time, UNESCO has the power to declare a country's identity spatiality as Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which grants it a designation as an exceptional cultural destination with greater commercial value. At the end of 2021, Mexico has 35 records in this category, among which are:

  1. Historic Center of Mexico and Xochimilco (1987)
  2. Pre-Hispanic city of Teotihuacán (1987)
  3. Sian Ka'an (1987)
  4. Zone of historical monuments of Querétaro (1996)
  5. Islands and protected areas of the Gulf of California (2005)
  6. Central campus of Ciudad Universitaria, of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (2007)
  7. Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (2008)
  8. Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley – Habitat native to Mesoamerica (2018)

Negative implications of cultural tourism

Not everything is positive for cultural tourism. If viewed from a scale, the benefits of tourism activity have a cost that is symmetrical to the socio-environmental impacts. The negative impacts can range from the massive exploitation of the tourist product, the increase in the urbanization of local communities, real estate speculation, etc.

The academy, for its part, is insufficient. There is little research in this regard, focused on scientific and field evidence about the damage and alteration of cultural heritage. Even so, the scientific support with which it is counted comes from the official reports of UNESCO and other international institutions such as the World Tourism Organization. Among other solutions, these documents conclude by classifying negative impacts on cultural heritage into three categories:

  1. In archaeological and architectural areas and monuments, populations and traditional communities
  2. In popular arts and crafts
  3. In languages, knowledge, festivities, customs and traditional values

When local natural resources are used as a tourist attraction and as a means of economic exploitation, the community of origin becomes the recipient of the waste that it originates, be it aquatic, visual, soil, odor, or other contamination. The environmental impacts cause the traditional values, identity and norms of the place to be neglected, due to the growth levels of tourism with the massive arrival of tourists.

Heritage deterioration can occur with or without visitors. In this case, a preventive measure of the governments is to promote a culture of conservation, which specifies, among other points, that the care of the natural and cultural heritage must be a community priority and of general interest.


The accumulation of capital seeks new spatialities for its use and massive exploitation. In this case, cultural heritage is one of the modern world tourism resources for more profit. During this uneven process, a new meaning is given to the space known as world heritage, based on the values of capital, appropriating the local culture in order to continue exploiting the place.

Despite the fact that the practice of cultural tourism is a tourist offer in demand, the human and natural costs are also high. The vulnerability of this tourism (tangible and intangible) is presented in the form of cultural and natural identity loss, on the historical, unique and local representativeness, since heritage is used as a justification for its commercialization and global consumption.


    Coronel, F. (2018). El Patrimonio Cultural como motor de turismo. Entorno Turístico.

    Espinoza, C. G. (s.f.). El turismo, factor de aprovechamiento y conservación del patrimonio cultural de la humanidad (Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo, Ed.).

    Fernández, G., & Ramos, A. G. (2002). TURISMO, PATRIMONIO CULTURAL Y DESARROLLO SUSTENTABLE. Caminhos de Geografia.


    Ramos, Á. M. L. (2018). Propuesta de acciones para la gestión turística del patrimonio cultural de la Universidad de La Habana: necesaria y viable. Revista Estudios Del Desarrollo Social: Cuba y América Latina, 7(2).

    Santana, A. (1998). Patrimonio cultural y turismo: reflexiones y dudas de un anfitrión. Revista Ciencia y Mar, 6, 37–41.

    UNESCO World Heritage Centre. (s.f.). Centro del Patrimonio Mundial. UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from

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Reyes, Paloma. “El patrimonio cultural en el turismo internacional.” CEMERI, 8 sept. 2022,