Loving it to death conference looks at cultural tourism

November 19, 2004

A conference examining the issues involved in promoting, managing and sustaining cultural tourism in places of historic significance is being held at Port Arthur this week.

The Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, in association with Australia ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites), Tourism Tasmania and the University of Tasmania Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre, will host the cultural heritage tourism conference from 25 to 28 November.

Cultural tourism is a growth industry, but with increases with numbers of visitors also comes increased pressures, not only as wear and tear on fragile fabric but also in terms of the visitor experience.

Queues of irritable tourists at places such as the Acropolis in Athens or the Mogao Grottoes in China do not contribute to a qualitative visitor experience.

Moreover, their very fabric is threatened by the impact of literally hundreds of thousands (in some case millions) of feet and hands per year as visitor numbers increase, not to mention the peripheral impact of the carparks, cafes, toilets and “get your photograph taken wearing funny clothes” businesses that have proliferated at many historic sites.

Peter Romey, conference convenor and Director of Conservation andInfrastructure at the Port Arthur Historic Site, is very enthusiastic about the conference and its importance to the cultural tourism industry.

“The conference will provide a forum for a dialogue between participants from the cultural tourism industry, from tourism operators, promoters and planners, to archaeologists, historians and interpreters. The opportunity to bring together such a diverse group of people with a passion for our cultural heritage and a commitment to sharing that heritage through tourism is extremely significant for the industry,” he said.

The conference has attracted speakers from the USA, United Kingdom, South Africa, Russia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Norfolk Island and most states of Australia.

The papers will address a diverse range of topics relating to issues such as conserving cultural value, changing visitor trends and expectations, managing the impacts on fabric, and how to pay for it all.

Port Arthur is an appropriate venue for such an event because of its undoubted international significance as a 21st. century tourism destination.

It is a place which (with some irony) was created out of 18th. and 19th. Century European attitudes to crime, punishment, social engineering and colonial expansion – a “hell on earth” for its first involuntary visitors.

The conference will be opened by the Minister for Tourism, Parks and Heritage, Ken Bacon MHA.

The first two keynote addresses will be given by noted writer and academic Professor Peter Spearritt of the Brisbane Institute and Bangkok-based Richard Engelhardt who is the UNESCO Regional Advisor for Culture in Asia and the Pacific.

Professor Spearritt will, using examples such as the leaning tower of Pisa and the Eiffel Tower, address the fundamental question raised by the conference theme, that is are we loving our cherished cultural icons to death by unrestricted access and inappropriate commercial exploitation?

Mr. Engelhardt will address the paradigm shift required to transform tourism into an agent for the preservation of our fragile cultural places. He will outline the model developed by UNESCO for encouraging cooperation between stakeholders for sustainable tourism at world renowned South-East Asian sites such as Angkor in Cambodia.

The conference will include a number of other notable presentations, including:

  • Dr. Neville Agnew and Dr. Martha Demas from the Getty Conservation Institute, Port Arthur Chair Professor Sharon Sullivan and Kirsty Altenberg of the Department of Environment and Heritage will discuss the management of two World Heritage Sites in China – the Mogao Grottoes in Gansu Province and the Qing dynasty Imperial Summer Resort and Outlying Temples at Chengde.
  • Betty Weiler, Professor of Tourism and Head of the Faculty of Business and Economics at Monash University will be speaking about the need to fully harness the power of interpretation as a way of enhancing the visitor experience at cultural heritage places.
  • Prof. Spencer Leineweber, Director of the Heritage Center at the University of Hawaii School of Architecture will be discussing her work at the Arizona Memorial, the top tourist destination in Hawaii and the most recognized symbol of the Pearl Harbor attack of World War II.
  • Dr Simon McArthur of Mawland Hotel Management will use the economic case for leasing and adaptation of the North Head Quarantine Station in Sydney to demonstrate the economic imperative to reform the way we view sustainable tourism at our landmark heritage sites.
  • Dr. Hamish Maxwell-Stewart of the University of Tasmania will discuss a new innovation in cultural tourism – Skulduggery: Unsolved Crimes of the Heritage Highway, a series of 19th. Century detective stories that can only be solved by visiting the scene of the crime.

Overall, a total of 47 papers will be presented over the two full conference days.

The conference will also include a workshop sponsored by Tourism Tasmania on the morning of Sunday November 28, Creating Sustainable Businesses in Cultural Heritage Tourism. Intended for those with a more “hands on” connection with making cultural tourism work at historic places, the half day workshop will capture the enthusiasm and ideas generated at the Loving it to Death conference and apply them to some practical issues that are facing tourism operators, local councils and communities in the current environment.

Tourism Tasmania’s Manager of Cultural Tourism Deb Lewis has overseen the planning for the workshop.

“The workshop will incorporate case studies from a range of tourism businesses currently operating within historic settings, including the West Coast Wilderness Railway and Brickendon. The presentations will focus on the factors that contribute to success in this environment, and will also examine the pitfalls. I am confident that participants will derive some real value out of the workshop,” said Deb.

A special feature of the conference will be the launch of the much awaited Illustrated Burra Charter.

According to the President of Australia ICOMOS Ms. Kristal Buckley, “The Burra Charter was developed by Australia ICOMOS, and is universally accepted in Australia as the benchmark for good decision making in respect to the conservation and management of heritage places. Moreover, the international conservation community is increasingly referring to the Burra Charter as the benchmark for best practice heritage conservation.”

The well illustrated and researched book, entitled A Harbour Large Enough to Admit a Whole Fleet, which has been produced by the professional conservation staff at Port Arthur will also be launched during the conference.

It deals with the fascinating convict period maritime history and archaeology of the Tasman Peninsula and beyond, with a focus on the busy but short-lived convict shipbuilding industry at Port Arthur. The book draws heavily on the exhaustive underwater archaeology investigations carried out at Port Arthur between 2000 and 2002.

Conference delegates will also be provided with a cultural tourism experience, with special tours of conservation work at the Port Arthur Historic Site and a tour of the former Tasman Peninsula convict sites at Norfolk Bay, Cascades, Saltwater River and the Coal Mines.

Some of these sites are now largely in private ownership and in varying ways are engaged in cultural heritage tourism. The owners and managers will provide delegates with a guided tour, and will discuss the business of cultural tourism at historic places from an operator’s perspective.

The venue for the conference is the Museum complex at Port Arthur, originally constructed in 1868 as an asylum to accommodate insane and infirm convicts. Following the closure of the prison at Port Arthur in 1877, the building was used as the town hall for the small settlement that sprang upon the site and had been renamed Carnarvon. The conference is expected to attract 170 delegates.

Loving it to Death Conference