Intervention at the WCC General Assembly (Metsovo Greece, 3 June 2004)

Cultural, Creative Industries, Op-Ed, Organisations, Institutions, Movements, Policy

Intervention at the WCC General Assembly (Metsovo Greece, 3 June 2004)

Vencatachellum, Indrasen


 “Tourism is like fire, it can cook your food or burn your house down” Robbin Fox..

It is common practice among intellectuals, art historians and other critics to complain about the degrading influence of tourism on ethnic arts and crafts. Epithets such as “tourist kitsch” and “airport art” witness to this tendency. On the other hand, we know of the sometimes simplistic enthusiasm with which developers and planners advocate the promotion of crafts for tourism as a source of income for people whose other resources are dwindling under demographic or ecological pressures.

I know how converted you all are to the need to promote quality crafts in your respective countries. I am also aware of the difficulties you often encounter to obtain the proper support and funding for your activities and projects. Rather than going into an endless debate on the pros and cons of tourism, I submit that it is more urgent and useful to examine the deeper implications of the relationships between crafts development policies and tourism.

After a brief presentation of some current and future trends in these relationships, I will signal some experiences in crafts promotion for tourists which can serve as inspirations or models. Finally, I will introduce the UNESCO Crafts/Tourism Index as one possible tool for planning and funding crafts development programs.


New motivations for tourists
According to surveys carried out by the World Tourism Organization (WTO), two significant travel trends will dominate the tourism market in the next decade

  • Mass marketing is giving way to one-to-one marketing with travel being tailored to the interests of the individual consumer.

  • A growing number of visitors are becoming special interest travellers who rank the arts, heritage and/or other cultural activities as one of the top five reasons for travelling.

The combination of these two trends is being fuelled by technology, through the proliferation of online services and tools, making it easier for the traveller to choose destinations and customize their itineraries based on their interests.

These trends represent a significant shift in the motivations of tourists: tourism has moved from the 3S (sun, sex and sea) to the 3E (entertainment, emotion and education). Tourism today is a powerful factor in the mixing of peoples and in mutual knowledge just as yesterday traditional commerce favoured exchanges between cultures.

While the WTO adopted in 1999 a “Charter of ethical tourism”, the concept of “fair trips” is becoming widely accepted, for example in Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire or in the Ganges Delta in India. The tourist guide acts more and more as a facilitator, an intermediary between two cultures. In this same spirit, we can evoke the “Tourism for Development” (TFD) Association initiated by an Egyptian ship-owner: in exchange for the TFD label, tourism professionals donate part of their profits (1% of the price of a night stay) for development projects, such as building wells in Madagascar, installing hydraulic pumps in Peru or fighting malnutrition in Mauritania.

Eco-tourism and cultural tourism constitute another trend that takes account of other people’s cultures. This represents an appealing market which, according to WTO, is projected to grow globally at an annual rate of 15% through 2010. It is noted more and more that tourism changes perspectives and is motivated much by the discovery of nature as by the tangible culture (monuments, historic sites) and the intangible (art, performing arts and crafts) manifestations of the cultural heritage of the country visited. The profile of these eco and cultural tourists can be summed up as follows:

  • They tend to combine cultural with non-cultural experiences.

  • They tend to look for learning experiences.

  • They seek a sense of people and place.

As regards the relevance of this new trend for craftspeople, it is interesting to note here a direct result of globalization: since all sorts of crafts are now available on all markets, tourists are looking for original authentic items and their place of origin. Hence the need for a greater distinction in tourist purchases between gifts without authenticity to be given away (t-shirts, coffee mugs, key chain) and souvenir items which help to recall a trip over and over again. They are looking for something to see, taste, experience and take home with them. They want “souvenirs” that reflect the essence of the place they have visited. Craftspeople are uniquely suited to provide that essence.

Increasing awareness of the role of crafts

Sustainable development and poverty eradication

In parallel with this evolution of the tourism industry, we have been witnessing a greater awareness of the role of the crafts sector in the struggle against poverty and for sustainable development. The use of local renewable resources and of techniques transmitted from generation to generation constitute the added value and distinctive element of crafted objects. The cultural, social and economic dimension of crafts is gradually being more recognized by the authorities, cooperation agencies and funding sources. Thus, within UNESCO we have observed over the years an increasing number of requests by Member States for assistance towards the development of their crafts sector.

The new approach to development, a greater concern for the environment and the need for cultural diversity are among the global factors that can explain this evolution. There are signs that the trend towards greater awareness of the impact of crafts will be on the increase and the sector will benefit from some of the contradictory situations inherent to the globalization process described by John Naisbitt, American Trend forecaster, in his book “The Global Paradox”. I will briefly indicate how two of these statements apparently contradictory are actually valid when applied to crafts:

    • “The bigger the world economy, the more powerful its smallest players are”: the growing role of the entrepreneurs, of local businesses and small sized companies will dominate the global market. We have observed how major development and funding agencies, including the World Bank are now convinced that “Small is beautiful” and are giving growing importance to crafts enterprises in the developing world.

“The more choices, the more discrimination in choice”: the more we integrate the world, the more we differentiate our experiences. This explodes markets and market niches. The term “glocalization” has been ascribed to this coincidence of global economy with a localization of production. The global market offers, indeed, a rare opportunity for the promotion of authentic local products using natural, sustainable materials. The Crafts Sector is ideally situated to respond to these needs and demands.

However, this bright presentation calls for two strong reservations. First, we must admit that the awareness of the potential strength of this sector has, generally, not given way to well defined policies for crafts development. Craftspeople still lack the deserved support whether for their skills upgrading and product adaptation or for the promotion and protection of their works. This is due, to a large extent, to the absence of data on the direct and induced effects of the craft sector on the national economy, namely through direct sales to tourists. Secondly, the tourism industry and the crafts sector are both developing in parallel and we know that parallels do not meet! This can be explained by the absence of coordination and cooperation between the ministries/departments in charge of crafts and tourism.

There is therefore an urgent need to develop and illustrate the vertical, cross-cutting links between these two sectors both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

The innovative experiments carried out worldwide for the qualitative development of crafts are either rare or not sufficiently known. These identified can be grouped in 3 main categories: crafts itineraries, artisans at work and heritage crafts.

  • Crafts itineraries: the Tourism Department of Puerto Rico puts at the disposal of all visitors a map inviting them to follow the “Crafts Routes” with an indication of the categories of crafts available at each stop. The map also includes on its reverse side the names and complete addresses of craftspersons by categories (from musical instruments to marine crafts). In the same spirit but in the broader framework of a Guide for Rural Tourism, visitors can discover the variety of craft forms in the Region of Salamanca (Spain). These two replicable examples show how crafts can be promoted through the dissemination of information materials to tourists.

  • Artisans at work: an innovative concept to develop the links between crafts and cultural tourist is that of ECONOMUSEUMS launched since 1997 in Canada-Québec. The artisan’s workshop is the focal point and is accompanied by areas for the interpretation of the production. These areas are designed to explain to visitors of all ages both the techniques and the production process, so enabling them to compare the traditional product with the contemporary vision. The sales of products on-site ensures the financial independence of the ECONOMUSEUMS while enabling visitors to obtain both an experience and a product. This experience has proved so popular with tourists that, since 2000, regional societies have been created to promote the concept outside Québec and gradually outside Canada, with the establishment in the long run of an International Network of ECONOMUSEUMS (see http//

  • Heritage crafts: some notable efforts have been made to attract visitors to Museum shops where both replicas of historical works and contemporary crafts can be purchased, for example in the “Museo de Oro” in Bogota, the Museum of Folk Art in Mexico or the National Museum in Beirut (Lebanon). The case of the training and production workshops of the “Chantiers-Ecoles” in Cambodia deserves a special reference as it illustrates how crafts can be promoted in an historic site which is highly touristic. Set against the backdrop of the magnificent Angkor Temple Complex, the “Chantiers-Ecoles” offer a guided tour which takes visitors through the production of bas-reliefs beginning with the stone carving up to the colouring stages. In another tour, visitors can see the various stages in the production of the reputed Cambodian silk textiles. In 1998, a workshop-studio was opened in the Grand Hotel of Angkor to allow for interaction between hotel guests and artisans.

The extension of these initiatives, and some others such as that of the village of Metsovo (Greece), to other countries and regions can no doubt contribute to highlight the mutually beneficial links between crafts and tourism. However, to ensure the relevant support of the crafts sector, this type of demonstration must absolutely be backed by quantitative data.


The need for data collection to demonstrate the economic and social importance of crafts has been often expressed and repeated over the years. It is worth recalling that this was the first objective of the “Ten-Year Plan of Action 1990-1999 for the development of Crafts in the World”. Considering the slow progress in obtaining the desired data, this objective is still very pertinent.

An interesting development took place in 1997 when the participants to the UNESCO/ITC International Symposium on “Crafts and the International Market” (Manila, Philippines – 6-8 October 1997) highlighted the importance of statistical information showing the specific links between tourism (local and foreign) and craft development. This Symposium recommended to UNESCO to formulate a standard questionnaire on tourists’ expenses in crafts which would allow for advocacy at the national level and analytic comparisons at international level.

As a follow-up to this recommendation and in the light of the evaluation of the Ten-Year Plan of Action in 2001, UNESCO took the following initiatives:

  • Dissemination in 2001 of a test questionnaire on “Data necessary to improve the importance for the national economies of crafts purchases by tourists”. The questionnaire called for data to be collected in collaboration with the various Ministries/Departments concerned: crafts, tourism, trade, economic affairs, social affairs, etc…

  • Organization in January 2002 in Fez (Morocco) of an International Workshop concerning data collection on “Crafts and Tourism”. The participants from the 5 geographical regions agreed on a standard questionnaire to serve as a basis for an index of average daily expenses for crafts per tourist. The aggregate results of such a survey should lead to the regular publication of a global UNESCO Crafts/Tourism Index.

  • Request to all Member States to fill this standard questionnaire in 2002-2003 through surveys at the departure points of tourists, especially in airports.

A synthesis of data collected as a result of the two above-mentioned questionnaires has been prepared in April 2004 by Mr Dominique Bouchart, UNESCO Consultant, and will be broadly disseminated in all the Member States and at all regional and international meetings related to crafts.

Preliminary results
As recognized in the report, the replies received were insufficient (from 21 countries only out of 189) and often incomplete. Still, some useful conclusions can be drawn and lessons derived for future action in this key but neglected area of crafts and tourism.

Among these interesting conclusions, the following three can be highlighted:

  1. Sales to tourists can equal or even exceed craft exports: for example, the exports of crafts by Malaysia in 2000 amounted to US$ 84 million whereas the sales of crafts to foreign tourists totalled US$ 134 million !

  2. Both the direct and indirect effects of crafts on the national economy should be taken into account (which is not the case up to now). Beyond the figures of craft sales and craftspeople involved, the following have to be accounted: (a) all those who participate in preparing the raw materials and equipment necessary for the production; (b) all those who transport and store craft items and (c) all those who sell crafts, in wholesale and retail shops. For example, in Thailand, more than 200.000 people are involved in retail sale alone, which generates revenues of about US$ 350 million.

  3. Collected data can serve as a decision-making tool for crafts organizers: detailed information on the length of stay of tourists and the categories of craft products purchased by order of preference allows us (a) to better examine how to increase tourists’ crafts-related spending; (b) to determine in which area action should be taken in order to ensure this increase (product adaptation, marketing, promotion, etc.). More broadly speaking, the statistics gathered are essentials for policy makers when determining the priority areas for funding. We now have an idea of how impressive can be the aggregate figures on the number of crafts employed and the total income derived from exports, tourists and domestic buyers.

However, there are still some obstacles to be overcome in the way towards the desired Index of Crafts and tourism Expenditures. Among these, mention should be made of (a) the lack of coordination between the Ministries in charge of tourism and crafts; (b) the absence of a representative sample of replies proportionate to the number of tourists in each country and (c) the lack of a clear methodology applicable to all countries as regards interviews and interviewers, analysis and processing of survey results.

Pilot project in five geographical regions

In order to overcome these obstacles and to ensure the multiple effect of the expected results, a pilot project has been prepared for implementation in five countries (one country for each geographical region). A detailed description of the different phases of the project over a period of 16 months can be found in the final part of the Report by Dominique Bouchart.

I wish to lay emphasis on the following components of the project:

  1. National concertation: the initial phase is devoted to the selection of a project leader by the ministries/departments concerned in order to ensure their full participation and cooperation in the subsequent phases.

  2. An inter-regional workshop to define, with the five national leaders, a common methodology for the survey preparation, organization and processing.

  3. On the basis of the general synthesis of the results, guidelines for the creation of the UNESCO Index for Crafts and Tourism will be disseminated in all the Member States.

The overall cost of the project (about US$ 40,000 per country) is more than modest compared to the estimated income derived from craft sales to tourists and exports. Consequently, the identified countries, as well others interested, should not find it difficult to obtain funding from national or international sources.

The defence and illustration of the cultural and socio-economic importance of crafts call for continuous, relentless demonstrations with facts and figures. Tourism with its opportunities and challenges is an ideal platform for sensitising all stakeholders – local, regional, national and international – on the need to support crafts for the benefits of all communities of craftspeople.

There is, indeed, no reason why craftspeople should continue to be service providers and not beneficiaries in the foreseen, spectacular growth of the tourism sector in general, of cultural tourism in particular. Now is the time for all of you, believers in the cultural and socio-economic role of crafts, to preach to the non-converted policy makers in your respective countries !




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