Cultural tourism – why bother?

Project Director Sarah Dance makes the case for cross-sectoral working and the huge benefits it can bring to local economies.

I feel extremely privileged to have worked with Turner Contemporary and Visit Kent  (Go To Places) on the Culture Kent project for the last three years and now England’s Creative Coast. The project has the potential to really change the cultural tourism landscape across the South East.

But before we go too much further, I just want to take a little step back and reflect on why we are doing this?  Why are we bothering?

Exterior 13 - Credit Visit Thanet - 1500px

Well, for a start, 37% of world travel is undertaken by ‘cultural tourists’[1], and it’s a continually growing area. The UK is one of the world’s leading cultural destination with a fantastic global reputation.

44% of visitors to Britain are motivated by cultural attractions and the economic impact of cultural tourism is substantial – in 2016 alone overseas visitors spent £889m on Museums and galleries in the UK[2].

And as for Kent and the South – well 37% of visitors to the South East visit the coast or beach and 14% of all overseas visits to the UK include a stay in South East England[3] – along which many of our iconic galleries are sited.


An example of one such iconic, and impactful, gallery is Turner Contemporary in Margate. Opened in 2011, it’s welcomed a phenomenal 2.6 million visits and generated a staggering £67 million into the local economy through tourism and inward investment. This really is cultural tourism at its most impressive.


So we believed it really was worth bothering and developed (and got funding for) our project Culture Kent –

The main aim was relatively simple:

To reposition Kent as the UK’s top creative county outside of London

We wanted to:

  • Showcase Kent’s cultural assets and extend its reach (we knew we had some fantastic offers)
  • Create new strategic relationships between cultural and tourism sectors – often the sectors speak different languages (visitors vs audiences for example), work on different timescales e.g. planning six months ahead versus several years ahead for the travel trade, and some of my work was about breaking this down and really showing that we were all working to the same aim (who knows what the difference between a visitor and an audience is – there isn’t really one!) and deliver transformation through cross-sectorial working

And then of course there is no transformation without collaboration and no collaboration without knowledge and understanding so it was really important to me to

  • Develop the information, data and knowledge core

Working with Visit Kent and with Canterbury Christchurch University we really explored what worked and what didn’t during the last three years as we piloted a variety of ways of working as well as developing a greater and deeper understanding of cultural tourists.

Jeremy Deller, Sacrilege, 2012, photographer Matt Wilson - 1500px

What did we learn?

Well for me a couple of the most important things to note that is not only is Kent now recognised as a key UK Cultural destination but actually this pays economic dividends for the county. We discovered that a higher proportion of our existing Kent Cultural tourists are more likely go on short breaks or mid-length breaks than existing leisure tourists.

51% go on short breaks

21% go on mid-length breaks

What else did we learn?  Well it may sound obvious to you but I’m not sure it was to me or to the sector – visitors don’t make a culture and heritage distinction – they don’t think “Oh I’m visiting a castle now which is heritage and a contemporary gallery now which is cultural”.  They just want to visit and be immersed in both the contemporary and historical culture of a place to feel that they understand and know it better.

And interestingly though we might think that cultural tourists are older or middle aged people, 36% of Kent cultural tourists are aged 25 – 34 years (which is higher than the national average).


So as part of this work we have developed a new definition of a cultural destination –

“A cultural destination is a networked space delivering a total experience to visitors that helps them understand a location and its people, through history and contemporary culture”

I really believe that a successful cultural destination is a networked place, that it is by not working in glorious isolation, and by working together with a holistic offer of a place that we can attract more visitors and encourage them to stay longer and spend more.

There are I believe huge benefits of collaborating. By collaborating we can encourage visitors to explore more of the destination to develop a greater sense of that place. And of course there is the added benefit that by immersing themselves in a place they will develop a long lasting memory that they can share with their friends, colleagues and families – becoming our very own ambassadors.

And of course collaboration also brings exposure to new markets, new visitors that businesses may not have been able to reach before.

You can read the full Culture Kent research reports and case studies here.

Summer of Colour - from web

So I’m absolutely delighted to be working on England’s Creative Coast, where we’ll be developing new cultural adventures with world-class art and geocache technology (if you don’t know geocaching, think of a mixture of Pokemon Go and traditional treasure hunting).

It is about making the most of our established and iconic Creative Coast across the South East, growing the international market (particularly for French and Dutch visitors but also domestic visitors) and linking to those new visitor trends such as health and well being (exploring the great outdoors with treasure trail or cycling from space to space), everyone is now their own travel agent (we’ll be developing bookable products from where to stay to where to eat etc) and immersive and authentic tourism. (we’ll be working with the galleries and their local communities to develop work, real or virtual, which talks about what it is to live in that local place) and of course most importantly we’ll also be developing some great art.

Folkestone Artworks (Credit Visit Kent) (1).jpg

We aim to drive 3% growth in the visitor economy, to create a real legacy and an outstanding cultural reputation for high quality world class art and enjoyable and immersive tourism.

I look forward to working with you on this.

[1] Culture Kent research, July 2017
[2] VisitEngland Discover England:  summary insights on overseas visitors to England’s regions, August 2016
[3] Inbound tourism to Britain’s nations and regions | September 2013

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s