There is tourism future in culture | Inquirer Business
MAPping the Future

There is tourism future in culture

The pandemic experience is an eye-opener. Countries realized the impact of the tourism industry and its long value chain in national, regional and global economies. What used to be in high demand teetered and slumped to its worst record, averaging 75 to 80 percent reduction in international arrivals as 2021 ended.

On the flip side, the global health crisis provided the unintended benefit of freeing the destinations from being overworked, affording their communities the chance to breathe again without the crowd. As people turned inward with the lockdowns, they also saw with renewed interest the local treasures beginning to recover from their stressful tourism past.

Even prior to the pandemic, the voices of the communities in popular destinations were steadily rising in protest of overtourism. Too many visitors congested their narrow, ancient streets, their places of worship, the restaurants they regularly patronize; and when tourists come in droves, they themselves cannot even find accommodation for their close relatives who are visiting.


The antitourism sentiment, expressed in billboards and demonstrations, manifested the desire of community residents to take back their cities and their lives. Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau captured this in her statement, “It’s paradoxical, but uncontrolled mass tourism ends up destroying the very things that made a place attractive in the first place: the unique atmosphere of the local culture.”


With the lifting of the travel bans in 2022, tourism started to slowly pick up. Many of these tourists began doing what is coined as revenge travel—an overwhelming need to go out, see the world and make up for the shut-ins for the past two years. As yet, there are more sellers than buyers though, making competition tight. Countries are aggressively taking steps to entice travel markets to get back the tourism numbers the industry used to enjoy—but where and how?

The “where” will be to destinations that the tourists can safely go to with little risk of exposure to infection; where they can enjoy open spaces without the face masks, appreciate more sedate pace, leisurely commune with nature and immerse more in the tourism communities they will visit. Nature and culture—the green and gold—fit these changing preferences. Fusing these two into a blended travel experience will showcase our unique attributes as appealing proposition for the “new” tourists.

Cultural tourism

Cultural tourism can be that distinct experience we can offer to travelers—a potentially lucrative touch point for both domestic and international market. Culture is unique in every destination. It mirrors the various influences and experiences woven into a living tapestry handed down from generation to generation. It is dynamic and constantly evolving, giving it a special character with facets that cannot be replicated anywhere else.

Cultural tourism cuts across all product offerings. Everything that we do is animated by our culture—the way we welcome visitors, in the food we serve, the activities and events we plan, in our festivals, in our local markets. Reciprocally, a strong culture-based tourism market enables inclusive development as crafts, arts, heritage sites, festivals—all these can generate and sustain employment and livelihood for the community, protect the environment and destinations, and celebrate the indigenous. It can bring travelers to our shores because who we are and what we have is something that can only be experienced where we are.

Cultural tourism can be transformative for travelers—eat, love, pray—travel, enjoy, respect. Destinations can engage the mission-oriented market because they will not exact the high price of a damaged biodiversity, and instead of intruding, can actually blend into the peaceful life of the communities.

The “how” is in solidifying this interest into a push factor so that this growing market segment will actually travel to the country. We have to highlight our stories so they can be heard in a travel marketplace filled with tourism vendors where the noise decibels can drown the messages. The usual shotgun marketing and promotion activities will have little usefulness in creating a compelling narrative that ticks all the boxes for the discerning travelers.



Careful planning with implementation strategies done in a sensible, creative, productive and sustainable manner will be needed to make our cultural tourism offering stand out. It should factor in critical issues such as:

ʎ The need to balance profits and economic gains with maintaining cultural integrity. There is the danger of manufacturing heritage practices by staging events because it sells, even though they are only hanging by a thread in the cultural fabric. Commoditizing culture diminishes authenticity and disrespects our history.

• Adherence to the defined carrying capacity of destinations to conserve our heritage sites, preserve the cultural/natural treasures and protect the environment.

• Tourism is an industry that can be developed and promoted, but it must not be the only one. A tourism mono-economy poses risk when too much dependency will be at the expense of other industries. When crisis imperils this mono-industry, there might be lack of viable alternatives that can be tapped to take its place. This was seen in this pandemic when many tourism-dependent businesses fell because there were no other business options to consider for pivoting.

•Tourism drives the cost of living for local residents because they compete with the visitors’ requirements. This gentrification of tourism areas can limit the supply for local consumption, drive the prices of commodities up and affect the quality of life in the community.

Instituting a policy framework that considers these challenges will enable destinations to systematically prepare for the requirements of cultural tourism. Steps can be taken to calibrate the growth of tourism numbers to maximize the value of cultural tourism while safety nets are in place to minimize disruptions in community lives.

Of culture and symbolisms

Authentic culture sells. Being anchored to our roots gives us a sense of identity in a world where traditional and digital are fusing. We must preserve that authenticity to honor and respect who we are and where we come from. We can learn from cultural exchanges made more accessible with enhanced mobility and by welcoming visitors into our fold.

Culture can differentiate. It personalizes the experience in a destination, giving them character. Without culture and symbolisms, they are just another photo op—awesome to behold but forgotten when tourists see the next big one. Culture allows us to bring our legendary hospitality to the fore, develop local pride and a sense of identity among the people. The strands of our history and traditions weaves into our cultural fabric to create a whole that is colorful, respectful and wonderful. That should be what our visitors can see, hear, enjoy and learn from us, and like it enough to visit over and over again.

Formative and transformative culture influenced what we are today. We take pride in our unique identity as a nation and as people. Cultural tourism can create the thematic experiences, enable exchanges and become constant reminders that we live in a beautiful country with a great tourism future.

What we do today will leave a heritage that the next generation can celebrate—and who knows, even immortalize in their museums in the distant future. INQ

The author is vice chair of Management Association of the Philippines Tourism Committee, chair of MAP CEO Conference Committee, president and CEO of Health Solutions Corp. and former Undersecretary of the Department of Tourism.

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