INTERVIEW WITH Jordi Tresserras Juan
*This is a translation of the original interview in Spanish
Hello Jordi, your theme, “wealth increaser”, will be the first one to be approached by in this series of interviews with keynote speakers… We usually identify this topic with the commoditization of cultural sites. Do you think that a non-commoditized cultural heritage is a non-valued cultural heritage (& vice versa)?
Commoditization happens when cultural heritage has been activated as a cultural product through cultural heritage management. Not all cultural heritage has been activated in this way, even some sites with an exceptional universal value inscribed in the World Heritage List. Heritage may have value for a community and still avoid commoditization. The abuse of cultural heritage commoditization usually triggers rejection from its community, who stops feeling it as its own, or finds it invaded by strangers. Thereby, community’s participation is fundamental in these processes. A well-managed commoditization process can really support conservation and research activities on the site, and opportunities for local communities to produce new jobs through entrepreneurship and even raise their self-esteem and their local identity.
As this conference is about people and communities, do you think that communities living around these sites should have the last word in the process of commoditization? And if not, what should be their role?
Participation of that people who coexist with heritage is fundamental. Participation is sometimes confused with information. Participation means something quite more complex and to set management bodies that can enable guaranteed governance. It is not only important that communities want to participate in the process of commoditization, but also that they are a key element in the proposal, design and/or management of products and services, if it is to be really sustainable and responsible.
According to Hangzhou Declaration (2013:5): “National policies and programmes should be strengthened in order to secure the protection and promotion of this heritage and of its inherited systems of values and cultural expressions as part of the shared commons, while giving it a central role in the life of societies. This should be achieved by its full integration in the development sector as well as in educational programmes.” So, it seems that there is not such a negative view of the commoditization of cultural heritage, where do the critiques come from?
Hangzhou Declaration is fundamental because it offers a transversal view of the six current UNESCO Conventions about culture. In the case of the Convention Concerning the Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972), it is worth reminding that it did not include the role of communities in their operative directives until 2007, configuring then the so-called five C of the Convention concerning the Protection of Cultural Heritage. They added the C that stands for Communities to the previously four C established at the Budapest Declaration: Credibility, Conservation, Capacitation and Communication. Critiques lie in the lack of real and effective management plans for World Heritage sites and especially in the absence of any model where the community can be really included. This has actually been one of our challenges we and UNESCO-Quito have faced, in order to implement the management plan for the conventual assemblage of San Francisco de Quito which will integrate this spirit through the creation of a trust to manage both external and internal funds and revenues from the community.
Anyway, within this context of commoditization, cultural tourism seems to be a sustainable option. In an article in 2003 you pointed out that “cultural tourism could divert visitors to other less crowded areas”. Could this have a negative impact on the World Heritage sites? Or turning the question upside down, could it be beneficial for other sites and communities of the surroundings?
A sustainable cultural tourism must mitigate precisely any negative impact on heritage. It is required to count on carrying capacity studies articulated with the management plans of World Heritage Sites. As an example, the main touristic pressure in Barcelona’s World Heritage is focus on the works of the architect Antoni Gaudí. In this case, the Urban Landscape Institute of Barcelona Council, promoted the visits to the Palacio de la Música and the Hospital de San Pablo, from the architect Domènech i Muntaner, which were inscribed in the list too, in order to boost peripheral nodes that were not adapted to public visits. Through the Modernism Route, it is aimed to articulate flows and even new options to the recidivist tourists to offer them the chance of visiting sites not included in the World Heritage List. In this sense, we are now working in cooperation with the Urban Landscape Institute to set up the Pabellones Güell, which is a Gaudí work owned by the university, through the plan Watch 2014 from the World Monuments Fund and the support of American Express. In this case, the local district of Sarrià-Sant Gervasi has got involved too, in order to ensure the free entrance of neighbours and community activities after the opening of Pabellones Güell and Jardín de las Hespérides. This also opens a corridor connecting two important nodes in the city; FC Barcelona stadium and museum, and Pedralbes Monastery.
The real risk comes when heritage is totally exploited by means of the overcrowding of the sites, without establishing carrying capacity studies, management plans, or clear policies and strategies to revert these funds obtained from tourism into the 5 C’s mentioned above. To do so, the Convention has an instrument: the List of World Heritage in Danger.
When we talk about archaeological sites in rural areas, normally depopulated, do you think they are more threatened of touristic overexploitation? How could we avoid it?
It depends on the management model they have. We have some interesting experiences such as the Prehistoric Rock Art Path, an European cultural itinerary that incorporates all the World Heritage rock art sites in Spain and Portugal; Rock art of the Mediterranean Basin on The Iberian Peninsula, Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain and Prehistoric Rock Art Sites of Foz Coa and Siega Verde. A key element in the design of the route was to define both those sites which have real potential to be visited by the general public and those which cannot be it except for special visits. I am not talking only about Altamira, but also other paints in rock shelters with a difficult access. Cultural Parks in Aragon such as Río Vero, are an example of integrated management of cultural tourism in the region (Somontano).
Talking now about cities, some like Bilbao or Glasgow, changed their industrial past to offer a different image. Is urban marketing a way of betraying the identity of a city? What impact can this have on World Heritage Cities?
Urban marketing is a device and as such it depends on the interests of the people who are behind and the participative processes whereby stakeholders, including local communities, can have decision power. Bilbao managed to bring a worldwide known franchise like Guggenheim to become a new icon in the city, able to bring national and international tourism. This was part of a bigger plan to recover and enhance the estuary and Bilbao Metropolis 30. Guggenheim has become part of the city and its identity. Urban marketing must be a device at the service of the World Heritage Cities to activate them if it is so considered from the universal exceptional values which define them. If we do not know how to convey those values to the community and those working with the urban city of the community then, conflicts may arise. Working by means of networks lets us add and share experiences and ideas… with regards to this issue, it is worth pointing out the existence of international networks such as the World Heritage Cities Organization, whose national secretary for the south of Europe, the Mediterranean and Africa is located in Cordoba, or the national networks such as those existing in Spain, Italy or Mexico.
Academia is always accused of ignoring reality. In the context of heritage, and its economic impact (specially tourism), which do you think should be its role? Just teaching, research, critique, practice…?
I don’t think academia ignores reality. Maybe what is needed is to make available their research as open source for managers and people responsible for World Heritage Sites. It is necessary to establish mechanisms to channel constructive feedback and to guarantee applied research, to reinforce the technical capacities and assistance, and the development of group projects whereby analyse, for instance, comparable data. I think we lack synergies among the different stakeholders and interested parties in the research, conservation and management of World Heritage sites. This was one of the objectives of the participation of Universitat de Barcelona in the UNESCO Chair for Culture, Tourism and Development, encouraged by the Université Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne in collaboration with UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre.
Finally, although we could extend for days with these topics… What do you think is the main problem that cultural tourism is facing in our country (Spain)?
For Spain, I think that one of the main problems has been the lack of articulation. There is not a clear policy or strategy for cultural tourism, despite of the fact some basis were set in 2002 due to the Year of Cultural Tourism and the celebration of Salamanca as European Capital of Culture. We could sum up that there is a need of governance, both public and private, which lacks an organizational structure too. Defining the real offer of destinations, products, and services for cultural tourism is crucial to define its specific market. Also promoting a real plan to boost cultural tourism and its products, with real objectives and actions, and with the involvement of all stakeholders; Promoting clear funding programs to support the creation and commercialization of cultural tourism products, our main Achilles’ heel; Never forgetting communities which are the stakeholders of the traditions and the cultural managers in this process; and finally, encouraging studies of comparable indexes and data for the impact of cultural tourism and its products at all levels (i.e. cultural, social, educational), not only the economic.
Tresserras Juan, J. (2003). Patrimonio, turismo y desarrollo local: Situación y perspectivas. In Portal Iberoamericano de Gestión Cultural [Available online] Last accessed Dec 3rd
UNESCO (2013): The Hangzhou Declaration. Placing Culture at the Heart of Sustainable Development Policies. [Available online] Last accessed Dec 3rd