When Public Archaeology is conflated with Cultural Tourism

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) hosted on 26-27 June 2014 an International Conference on Philanthropy in collaboration with the European Foundation Centre, with vivid discussions as to how the crippling unemployment rates among young people can be remedied by creating new opportunities (please see programme here).

I watched the session on Cultural Tourism because I was interested to see what suggestions the speakers would offer, since this was under the general theme of “Recharging the Youth: Youth Unemployment and Initiatives to Create New Opportunities for the Young”. Given the fact that the Ministry of Tourism as well as the general press have been presenting Cultural Tourism as a panacea for the current economic crisis because of its enormous undeveloped potential, any views offered on this are of great interest.

But what one can hear and see in the short presentations is actually the concerned voices of a panel of archaeologists as experts on - why not? - cultural tourism - with the sole exception of Europa Nostra's Secretary General, Ms. Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović. It was only the latter who actually spoke about cultural tourism per se, and expressed very important concerns about the recent legislation changes made by the Greek State and the strategy of ‘numbers’ that the Greek Ministry of Tourism has been following in the last five years. The lack of experts in the panel who have accumulated experience on cultural tourism was striking and a very common symptom in discussions concerning tourism.

What we actually heard was the presentations of variable agendas with a main focus on what in reality was Public Archaeology, namely the need of community involvement, development of ties with the local non-experts, new and more attractive presentation techniques, development that will bring growth - financial and social - to the locals, the need of Private-Public-Partnerships, how archaeological heritage can be used to enhance the sense of pride and become a meaningful, life-changing experience, and how internships and training can provide young people with skill development opportunities. Voluntarism was also praised, even though it does not really resolve unemployment.

Public Archaeology in Greece is an underdeveloped concept and practice, and indeed a new field that more and more archaeologists talk about, especially given the current economic crisis. But do we really have to talk about it by conflating irrelevant, and yet so important concepts just because they constitute trendy ‘buzz’ terms?

Smaro Touloupa
Cultural Heritage Studies (MA)
Professional Licensed Tourist Guide for Greece


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