Can a heritage museum be authentic as well as entertaining to the mass tourist market?
With tourism becoming more competitive and the general public becoming more demanding in terms of the experiences that they receive from visitor/tourist activities, the question about how this can work alongside providing authenticity, when it comes to heritage attractions, is a growing concern. Many of these heritage attractions provide not only a tourist attraction, but also historical information relating to the past; therefore, the concept of how such activities should be sold to the modern-day visitor is a real challenge for those in charge of attracting a strong visitor base.
The issue of tourism has not gone unnoticed over the years. As noted by Hewison, in 1987, there is a growing demand for theme park style experiences and those responsible for operating heritage museums as tourist attractions are now seen to be part of a wider industry referred to as the “heritage industry”. The question in this paper asks whether a heritage museum can retain its authenticity, as well as becoming part of this heritage industry and providing entertainment which is deemed to be suitable for the mass tourist market. Several of these themes will be looked at, in order to answer this question.
The first question which needs to be noted is in relation to this issue of what ultimately motivates tourists to visit a particular attraction. For example, when considering a heritage museum, it is likely that there will be different motivational factors that will encourage someone to visit the museum and these would be different to the factors encouraging a tourist to visit them a different type of location such as the theme park. By having a more detailed understanding of tourist motivation, it can be ascertained whether retaining authenticity within a heritage museum is, in itself, sufficient reason for tourists to visit the site in question, or whether the heritage aspect, on its own, would offer sufficient appeal to the mass tourist market (Greenwood, 1977).
Previous research in this area has indicated that individual motivation will be inherently linked to external factors, such as their demographic; therefore, by understanding these links, marketing of these heritage museums can be done in a much more targeted way (Yuan and McDonald, 1990).
A suggestion is made here, therefore, that a heritage museum is likely to target specific tourist motivations and, whilst this may not necessarily appeal to the entire tourist market, it does not actually need to, in order to be a viable tourist attraction. A similar analysis could be undertaken for any type of tourist attraction, for example, outdoor activities and pursuits which are run likely to appeal to a certain demographic of tourist and recognising the specific tourists who are likely to be motivated to visit the heritage museum will be the first stage towards achieving authenticity, as well as being an attraction which is able to compete within the mass tourist market (Jamal and Hill, 2002).
Evidence suggests that tourists will be motivated to visit a heritage museum largely down to the level and type of heritage which is being presented and the fact that they wish to understand more about their own past and to be educated in some way or are interested in a specific of the heritage on display. In this instance, a different set of motivations will be present compared with more entertainment based attractions such as theme parks (Poria 2003). It could therefore be argued that heritage museums will naturally attract a body of tourists who are already motivated by history and that there is no need, necessarily, to extend this to the mass tourist market, but rather to ensure that the broadest range of individuals interested in history are likely to visit (Redfoot, 1984).
Commodification of Heritage
The next theme which follows on from the discussion on tourist motivation is whether heritage and heritage museums can be modified, so as to attract a wider market and not simply to deal with those tourists who are already motivated by historical sites (Kelly 2006).
Attracting the mass market, when dealing with heritage museums, can take several different forms. One particular concern which has been raised by academics is that heritage museums may find themselves presenting a distorted view of history, so that only the aspects which are likely to appeal to the mass market are presented, with issues such as gender and social class being overlooked, in order to ensure that the mass market is still attracted to the site (Porter, 1988). There is also an argument to support the idea that the way in which these heritage museums are presented can be done in such a way that appeals to a wider market; for example, including interactive experiences which are not strictly necessary in order to deliver the information contained within the museum, but will potentially attract a broader range of visitors who would not previously have been interested, purely based on their own interest in history (Heitmann, 2011).
Analysis and Conclusion
By considering the two themes associated with tourist motivation and the commodification of heritage, certain conclusions can be drawn in relation to the initial question. Firstly, it can be argued that there will always be a body of people who will have a direct interest in heritage and will therefore be attracted to visit these sites. This, in itself, may be a sufficient target market. However, when extending this appeal to the mass market, a certain amount of modification is necessary, in order to attract a wider demographic. In undertaking this commodification, a degree of authenticity could potentially be lost, particularly when it is deemed necessary to overlook certain aspects of history, or to make more of certain historic events which are part of our heritage, in order to appeal to a broader range of visitors (Prentice et al, 1998).
Pulling these two themes together, it is concluded here that authenticity within a heritage museum can indeed be maintained, while also widening appeal to the mass tourist market. However, care needs to be taken to ensure that the messages being delivered and the information being provided is not unnecessarily altered or indeed entirely removed, as this could potentially reduce the appeal of the heritage museum for those tourists who have an inherent motivation to visit, as well as having a detrimental impact on the level of visitors, overall.
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