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An International Symposium on Heritage, Tourism, Planning and Design, Utrecht, NL, 11./12.10.2007 PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Joachim Willms [Managing Director]   

visiting the past, meeting the limes

an international symposium on heritage, tourism, planning and design practices

11-12 October 2007 | Central Museum, Utrecht, the Netherlands


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Without any doubt, artefacts from ancient times are highly attractive for the tourism sector. Because of their uniqueness, archaeological sites, historical ruins, monuments, landscapes and their narratives all figure on the itineraries of tour operators and are therefore widely, if not massively, visited by tourists.

Although the interest of such a large audience has become an accepted fact and phenomenon, debates between the disciplines related to heritage on one hand and the industry of tourism on the other are becoming all the more intense, if not conflicting, as to how to interpret heritage and to integrate it socially, historically and economically in our contemporary societies. That is why Wageningen University, the University of Leuven and the Dutch Project Organization Limes, with the cooperation of GAIA-heritage, are organizing a two-day symposium entitled ‘Visiting the Past, Meeting the Limes’.

Aim | The aim of the Symposium is to gather experts from a wide disciplinary background and to acquire, through presentations, discussions and workshops, a better knowledge and understanding of the multiple meanings and uses of heritage today. The various stakeholders, whether tourists, planners, local residents, archaeologists, historians, local and international entrepreneurs, or landscape and urban designers have different interpretations and make different usage of heritage. For some, it is a subject of scientific research, for others a means of livelihood, a symbol of identity, of belonging, etc.

The conference intends to explore and debate the ways in which planning and design practices can optimize meanings and uses, thereby satisfying stakeholders’ diverging interests. In addition, this event aims at producing an interdisciplinary research agenda on tourism and heritage and to create a professional network to promote further research and knowledge sharing.

The Limes | To support the theoretical, policy, and practice presentations, special attention will be granted to the archaeological remains of the Limes, the defense lines at the borders of the Roman Empire. The Limes runs from the United Kingdom, through North and Central Europe, and resumes in the Middle East and North Africa. They offer interesting contrasts across countries for the purpose of the Symposium. In the Netherlands, for example, very little is still visible; barely more than a ‘landscape narrative’ carefully embedded in landscape design and linked to recreational policies and place-making. By contrast to the Dutch Limes, the remains in Jordan are substantial but isolated in the desert close to the Iraqi and Syrian borders. Despite their importance, they lack proper conservation measures and adequate tourism infrastructure. In the United Kingdom, the Hadrian Wall is a top-end tourist attraction and is intentionally well integrated into the landscape.

As historical landmarks of the past and tourist sites of the present, the Limes remains highlight a wide spectrum of protection practices and valorization methods for tourism use of common heritage sites that are of a similar nature and type but located in different regional, cultural, political, economic, and scientific protection conditions and contexts. In turn, the Symposium, through the presentations, discussions and workshops, will explain the differences in meaning and consequently suggest and explore measures and methods of protection and presentation to tourism. This comparative approach will provide debate topics to understand and explore further optimal matches between tourism and heritage.

Background Information

Tourism and heritage experts | The relationships between heritage and tourism experts are not entirely unproblematic and more often than not tainted with mutual skepticism. Representing different communities of practices and professional milieus, and thus varying interests, they do not always work hand in hand.

For professionals involved in heritage conservation and protection, mass tourism is perceived as a threat because of the negative impacts on sites as well as the simplistic or biased representation and interpretation of the place, its history and present signification(s). Nevertheless, given its enormous economic weight, the tourism industry, the largest in today’s global economy, provides the economic, but also political and social legitimacy for heritage protection, presentation, and use. Indeed, the sector of tourism generates the revenues necessary for funding further excavations campaigns, restoration works, and adopting conservation measures. Although most benefits and revenues are indirect, the conservation and presentation of heritage in this context are seen as an investment to attract tourists and their expenditures.

By analyzing the relationships between tourism and heritage, the Symposium aims to bring the spheres of heritage conservation and tourism closer to one another and to develop synergies among them. Planning and design practitioners should conceive and use heritage as a cultural, social and economic asset whilst striving to protect and enhance it.

The multiple meanings of heritage | Heritage, like history, is a socio-cultural and, sometimes, a political construction. What is deemed “valuable” heritage is always defined as such by certain segments of society and influenced by social, political, and scientific practices and contexts. Within these practices, a selection process operates according to a set of defined and undefined criteria. In all contexts, even the most regulated, this process does not go on uncontested and undebated. Except for a few truly unique sites, the final selection is often a compromise that fits into the criteria and that satisfies the different interests represented and lobbied for.

As such, the valuation of heritage is a process which will always be subjected to scientific as well as political, economic and local sensibilities and therefore various interpretations. Consequently, those conflicts and dilemmas are found again when planners and designers wish to integrate heritage and tourism. Different questions emerge, and it is the role of the Symposium to address them:

¾    Does the tourism representation of heritage lead to simplistic “thematisation” and popularization of the site and thereby the loss of the sense of place?

¾    What aspects of experts’ knowledge are actually communicated to tourists and how?

¾    How can the distinct values, multiple meanings, and uses of heritage be translated in planning and design practices?

¾    If tourism is an important social demand and at the same time a source of income for heritage, how can heritage specialists and decision makers reach the adequate balance between the protection of heritage, its values and the tourism use of a site?

¾    Et Cetera

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