Heritage means looking forward

Greg Yeoman of the Tourism Society urges the industry to combine forward thinking with nostalgia in the promotion of Britain’s heritage tourism.

In the UK we seem to spend a great deal of time looking backwards. Enjoying a good dose of nostalgia is a national characteristic, thinking of past times, usually on the basis that they were better (maybe with fully operational public transport systems…), the weather was warmer and the days longer.

We certainly have a great catalogue of destinations and attractions as a stimulus for memories and imagination to help us indulge.

But while nostalgia does not rely on tangible reminders of the past (quite the opposite in some cases – “I can remember when all this was fields…”) heritage thrives on them: the stately home; the castle; the historic town centre; the art collections.

Being able to visit, see and touch artefacts, remains, ruins and remnants helps bring history to life and develop the story that leads out of the past and connects to now.

But to be more than fine examples of old buildings, two things need to happen: their history needs to be presented using innovation and imagination to make this connection and its relevance explicit; and the heritage sites need to be incorporated into current activity and storytelling – from a personal point of view, this should not necessarily include bathing everything in coloured lights.

Loyd Grossman is quoted in the Tourism Society journal saying: “Heritage is part of the fuel that propels us forwards.”

We don’t want to be stuck in the past. We need to present the past and work it into the future by celebrating the achievements of previous generations, their architecture, machinery, decoration and design, conserve them for the future and use them as a backdrop for today’s cultural fulfilment.

‘Heritage and Innovation’ are the topics of this year’s Tourism Symposium in Edinburgh on June 5-6 – the event is part of the Tourism Society’s 40th anniversary celebrations. Speakers will look at how the tourism industry collaborates with heritage and cultural organisations to ensure continuing access and appeal for visitors, together with development of new talent in the workforce.

The Society itself will be looking into the future – partly as an interesting exercise in trying to imagine what the world of travel will look like in 2057 but also to see how it can continue to offer its members the services and benefits they want and need.

Heritage is something that the UK does extremely well and tourism does well out of it. Supported by it, we must look forward and evolve, and not just reminisce.