How to articulate tourism development and conservation of architectural heritage

<span class ="caption"> Castle of Monterreal or of the Count of Gondomar, currently Parador de Baiona (Pontevedra), and the Illas Cíes, part of the National Park of the Atlantic Islands. </span> <span class ="attribution"> <a class= Shutterstock / Fran Villalba ” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTYxNi42NjY2NjY2NjY2NjY2/–~B/aD05MjU7dz0xNDQwO2FwcGlkPXl0YWNoeW9u/″ data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTYxNi42NjY2NjY2NjY2NjY2/–~B/aD05MjU7dz0xNDQwO2FwcGlkPXl0YWNoeW9u/″/>Monterreal or Count de Gondomar Castle, currently the Parador de Baiona (Pontevedra), and the Illas Cíes, part of the Illas Atlánticas National Park. Shutterstock / Fran Villalba

The Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan (PRTR) proposed by the Government of Spain to face the economic and social impact produced by the pandemic contemplates objectives at three scales: in the short term, recovery; in the middle, a structural transformation; and in the long run, a more sustainable development.

In this framework, we are interested in dealing with the chapter that is dedicated to the “Plan for modernization and competitiveness of the tourism sector”, taking into account the significant investment planned (500 million euros in three years) and the repercussions that the actions to be undertaken may have on conservation of architectural heritage.

With this Plan, aimed at a sector so heavily affected by the COVID-19 crisis, a favorable situation can be opened to review imbalances – which are on everyone’s mind – between the growing phenomenon of tourism and the social function of conserving architectural heritage.

Spain, first power in the tourism / heritage binomial

The starting point: Spain is the first world power in the tourism / heritage pair of forces (second country, after France, in tourism; and third, after Italy and China in sites declared by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites). Therefore, a vigorous cultural tourism policy should be something of structural importance for the State and its public bodies.

This has not always been the case, so that in Spain the so-called “sun and beach” tourism has clearly predominated over the “patrimonial” (Italy, for example, the fifth tourist power, has a much more favorable proportion of cultural tourism).

The current government proposal points to a progressive and desirable adaptation: to ensure that tourism, instead of agglomerating on the coast and some outstanding points of the interior, is open to the entire national geography.

The transition from the current “mass tourism” industry to a more specific and widespread tourism practice requires a more than convenient renovation of concepts; something that, in addition, would be favored in Spain given the richness, diversity and good territorial distribution of both the cultural and natural heritage.

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Spread the tourist load

This new distribution of the tourist load would be helpful with other objectives of the PRTR; among them, those that take care of ecology and those that try to reduce depopulation in inland areas, the “emptied” Spain. There is also, as a derivative, a good occasion for the conservation not only of the “great monuments” but of an architectural heritage as relevant and as varied as that of popular architecture.

Here, together with this opportunity, a question arises to take into account. A plan for the modernization and competitiveness of the tourism sector, called to have a direct impact on the built heritage, should also contemplate well-defined criteria on what is to conserve –and how to intervene in– the values ​​of pre-existing architecture. This conceptual background cannot be lost sight of: is it inappropriate to remember that economic development, in many parts of Spain in the second half of the 20th century, could have had more devastating effects even than the negligence of the times? For this reason, the regenerative attempt of the Plan requires considering all the convergent variables, without bordering any.

Sustainable but nuanced conservation

Let’s take an example of the challenges and objectives highlighted by the PRTR: the search for energy efficiency in the “rehabilitation of historical heritage for tourist use.” This end is indisputably necessary. But it would be convenient to clarify the how; how to adhere to the formal and constructive peculiarities of each case. Because a coded application does not fit here, as if it were a new construction site. In this sense, the guide for the sustainable conservation of heritage that the PRTR proposes – and budgets – is a good and hopeful principle: as long as it is a guide to good practices and not a formula for finding quick solutions.

The task, however pressing, is not easy. Heritage conservation and tourism are called not only to coexist but to do so as a symbiosis. In our days, when in some historic cities the term “tourismophobia” has already been coined, we can see the conflict between both vectors.

The case of Paradores

Faced with the position of those who see in the current scale of tourism an inherently harmful agent is that of those who pursue the tourist patrimonialization of the property, seeing it as an economic resource that should not be curtailed.

The way forward is none other than that of a balance between both poles; an adjustable gait in each case. A line in reality not far from the one that started in Spain, almost a hundred years ago, the Network of Tourism Paradores: a pioneer in the world, as a state initiative, of tourism promotion (in particular, for automobile tourism) in parallel to heritage conservation.

The PRTR, which foresees actions on some of these Paradores, can drink from these and other sources, widely rehearsed, given the great opportunity – and with it, also difficulties – that is opening up to us at this time.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.

Javier García-Gutiérrez Mosteiro does not receive a salary, nor does he carry out consulting work, nor does he own shares, nor does he receive financing from any company or organization that can benefit from this article, and has declared that he lacks relevant links beyond the academic position cited.

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