News and Insights

Culture-led projects: supporting regenerative tourism

October 17, 2023

On a recent trip to Vietnam, I was staying in the outskirts of Hoi An. One Sunday afternoon, my companions and I heard beautiful melodies reverberating across the neighbourhood: our neighbours were singing their hearts out with a karaoke machine. They spotted us watching them and, without hesitation, invited us to join in.

We sang Brit-pop classics to the rapturous applause of our new friends. When it was their turn again, we watched in awe as they sang Vietnamese pop songs with passion. We ended up staying with them all afternoon – singing until we were hoarse.

Communal singing is one of the most treasured art forms worldwide: whether it’s K-pop, choral music, or at a festival. The joyful feeling of singing with someone whom you’d never normally be in the same room with is just one example of how cultural bonding can support local communities. Our musical experience in the suburbs of Hoi An was memorable for everyone.

Regenerative tourism and sustainability

Regenerative tourism is now, thankfully, rapidly gaining popularity among both travellers and the travel industry. It seeks to make travel a force for good, forging a two-way relationship in which both travellers and locals benefit from a meaningful exchange. To put it simply, it’s the idea that tourists should leave a place in better condition than it was before.

It’s no surprise that sustainability is now at the forefront of the conversations that we at FINN Partners are having with our clients and journalists, and we’re constantly striving to encourage and better communicate client initiatives in this area. While environmental concerns have naturally been at the core of these discussions, a truly sustainable travel experience impacts not just the climate of a destination, but the livelihoods of its residents.

Our globalised and social media-influenced world means each of us has a window into the lives of fellow humans across the planet. This increased exposure to locations and cultures has sparked demand for experiences that consciously energise and revitalise destinations, rather than simply benefitting the traveller alone. To be responsible travellers, we need to be informed, and the arts offer an opportunity to aid this education.

The role of arts and culture in regenerative tourism

The arts have always been key to authentic and fulfilling experiences while travelling. From Paris’s Louvre to Rio’s carnival, cultural activity can encourage tourists to become conscious travellers, to go beyond the walls of their hotels or cruise decks and make valuable contributions to communities.

However, simply ticking a cultural sight off a bucket list is not enough to facilitate regeneration. We must look at ways in which destination-based culture can actively involve host communities and act as a catalyst for successful international relations.

As a universal language, art and culture can transcend borders, inform, entertain, and forge lasting connections. For example, art activities can help promote local traditions and preserve a cultural identity that might otherwise diminish as a result of globalisation.

This notion of arts as a tool for social cohesion is not at all new, demonstrated through the continuous success of large-scale cultural events, from Eurovision to the European Capital of Culture programme. A Eurobarometer survey found that 74% of people believed that cultural participation enhances social cohesion.

Of course, budgets cannot always allow for initiatives of this scale, but there are endless ways for travel clients to create budget-friendly cultural initiatives that not only generate monetary value for local businesses but also social value for residents. Tourist boards can generate shared joy for visitors and locals by organising art-based regeneration projects, cultural tours and trails, screening films by local creators, creating art fairs, and educational workshops. The possibilities are endless, as unbounded as creativity itself.

For hotels, culture-led regeneration could be as simple as developing activity with the community in mind. This could include murals that highlight local artists, storytelling events, music festivals celebrating local musicians, or on-site markets displaying local arts and crafts.

From a PR perspective, if these initiatives are effective, they can generate significant press attention, which in turn increases visitor numbers, enabling reinvestment, and enriching the cultural experience. Cultural activities are also often visually arresting, which can inspire both journalistic storytelling and social media engagement. Collaborating with local artists can also help create captivating marketing content that highlights the artistic aspects of the destination.

FINN Partners’ clients leading the way

The Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority organises an annual art week to showcase the best of local artists and “bring increased national, regional, and international attention to their talent”. By layering studio tours, competitions, and interactive classes on top of the exhibitions, the event bridges the gap between resident creators and foreign visitors, creating a truly immersive experience for all.

Next year, Malta’s inaugural biennale will host exciting cultural encounters in the country’s heritage sites that allow for a deeper engagement with its rich past, through a celebration of its contemporary talent.

Iceland has many festivals that celebrate its rich cultural scene, including Airwaves, a festival for new music that attracts people from all over the world to discover Icelandic and international musicians. DesignMarch sees artists from across the country head to Reykjavik each year for an explosion of creative expression, while the popular Iceland Noir festival embraces the legendary dark nights of the Icelandic winter through an eclectic mix of talks, readings and screenings.

At the newly opened Raffles and Fairmont Doha, internationally acclaimed art critic and CEO of Artlink, Tal Danai has curated a series of arresting installations across the properties. The interactive collection includes works by Qatari contemporary artists which weave local stories into the hotels’ narratives, while regular exhibitions and events allows guests and artists to engage with each other.

The art doesn’t have to be local to inspire and benefit local residents. For example, The Dolder Grand hotel in Zurich boasts an impressive collection of over 100 artworks from world-renowned artists from Dalí to Miró. While these serve to enhance the stay of guests, the majority of them are also available to the public, meaning anyone can enjoy them and embark on the self-guided QR tour.

Another of FINN’s clients, Silversea Cruises, has presented some exciting and innovative ways of using culture to ensure locals can also have a positive experience of tourism. Their recent South Side Story World Cruise saw an immersive cultural experience on Kalanggaman Island in the Philippines, showcasing the talents of over five hundred locals. In addition to the euphoric cultural exchange, the event enabled the local economy to benefit and involved structural renovations that will improve the destination’s tourism infrastructure going forward.

Other excursions on the programme included a performance at the Manaus Opera House in the Amazon, a traditional dance performance on Champagne Beach, Vanuatu, a fire dancing display in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, and a folklore event in the Cave of Descending Dragons, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. By working with host communities to facilitate cultural activity, instead of only providing onboard entertainment, Silversea’s voyages make positive contributions, both economically and socially, to the homes of the places they visit.

The future of culture-led regenerative tourism

Although there are many cases where positive engagement between tourists and host communities occurs organically, there remain, sadly, examples of tourism negatively impacting destinations.

With that in mind, the travel industry must continue to develop strategies that can encourage both regeneration and social cohesion, ensuring that locals benefit from visitors and that visitors come away with a profound understanding of the cultures and customs they’ve experienced.

In this way, culture-led activity is one of the best tools for aiding regenerative tourism. The travel industry needs only to be creative in its approach to make lasting, positive impacts for destinations and the communities they belong to.

Find out about FINN Partners’ travel practice here.

POSTED BY: Anna Beketov

Anna Beketov