What Is Heritage Tourism?

K. Kinsella

Heritage tourism involves visiting historic landmarks and locations that are of particular significance to people from certain cultures. In some instances, heritage tourism may entail visiting a modern community in which people live and work in a traditional manner that is associated with their culture. National tourism agencies and private enterprises both market heritage tours that are aimed at both people who are part of the culture being represented and other individuals who are curious to learn about the heritage of people from different regions or nationalities.

The ruins of Medieval castles are popular destinations for heritage tourists.
The ruins of Medieval castles are popular destinations for heritage tourists.

Many people around the world trace their family roots to particular nations or regions in Europe, Africa or elsewhere. The term Diaspora is often used to refer to communities of Jews who can be found in different parts of the world as a result of the gradual migration of past generations. In parts of the United States, Australia and elsewhere, there are large communities of people who trace their roots to nations such as Ireland, Italy and China. Heritage tourism often involves people who are part of the Diaspora of a particular culture or nation organizing trips to visit their ancestral homeland. For many people from the Middle East, heritage tourism is often combined with religious tourism or pilgrimages since religion and culture are often entwined.

In the Middle East, heritage tourism is often combined with religious tourism or pilgrimages.
In the Middle East, heritage tourism is often combined with religious tourism or pilgrimages.

Nations in Europe, Africa and Asia are often referred to as old world nations because advanced civilizations have existed in these regions for thousands of years. Historic sites such as ancient palaces, castles, traditional villages and various types of monuments in these nations are regarded as national heritage sites. The Great Wall of China, the Colosseum and the Tower of London are all well-known tourist sites that are of historic importance and attract heritage tourists from many nations. In the so-called New World nations such as the United States, Brazil and Australia, heritage tourism typically involves indigenous tribes and the communities who lived in these regions before European settlers arrived.

The many prehistoric sites that cover the Irish countryside are popular with Irish-American tourists.
The many prehistoric sites that cover the Irish countryside are popular with Irish-American tourists.

Travel companies often arrange heritage tourism trips that last for several days or weeks and enable travelers from overseas to visit multiple heritage sites in a particular region or country. These trips are often lead by tour guides who have a broad knowledge of local history and culture. Tour firms also offer shorter visits such as day trips to heritage sites. These trips are often marketed to schools and educational establishments so that history teachers can incorporate field trips into classroom studies.

People visiting the Forbidden City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in China.
People visiting the Forbidden City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in China.

Aside from organized group trips, heritage tourism often involves independent travelers visiting local sites such as churches or traditional farms. In some communities, people manufacture goods such as clothing, shoes or necklaces in the traditional manner. Revenues generated by the sale of these goods enable local residents to continue to live in the traditional manner and to keep the local heritage alive.

A map of the Middle East — the location of many heritage tourism sites.
A map of the Middle East — the location of many heritage tourism sites.
Lighthouses are a more modern part of heritage tourism.
Lighthouses are a more modern part of heritage tourism.
One of the most famous heritage sights in China is the Great Wall, which began construction around the 5th century B.C. and stopped around the 16th century.
One of the most famous heritage sights in China is the Great Wall, which began construction around the 5th century B.C. and stopped around the 16th century.

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