Who Are Cultural Tourists?

Sheila Johnson

In January, I had the opportunity to attend a six day intensive workshop on Cultural Tourism presented by the University of Victoria. Cultural Tourism will dominate the tourism market for the next two decades and will have a profound impact on our visitation at Fanshawe Pioneer Village. Given its importance, Cultural Tourism will be the theme of my articles for the 2010 season.

“By the year 2020, the combined Canadian/U.S. population between the ages of 55 and 74 will swell to 83.5 million - a 39 percent increase from 2008. This is the Canadian/U.S. baby boom - the most affluent and educated generation in North American History. Boomers are driving the market for cultural tourism today. Once retired, they will drive it for years to come.

In Canada today, Tourism is a 75 billion dollar industry and 80% of that is generated by Canadians touring Canada. Two developing factors are changing the demand for tourism products. First, as indicated in the opening quote, boomers in North America began to have more leisure time commencing in 1992. With this freedom, boomers with means are travelling more, but the purpose of their travel has changed from escapism to enrichment. A growing majority are travelling to experience and learn from different cultures, generating an increased demand for cultural products. Tourists travelling primarily for cultural reasons are called cultural tourists and they can be divided into four cohorts according to their primary motivation for travel. They are; Heritage Enthusiasts, Visual Arts Enthusiasts, Wine & Culinary Enthusiasts and Performing Arts Enthusiasts. The four cultural cohorts will grow by 35% over the next decade and demand for heritage experiences will lead the way. Demand for cultural experiences will far exceed person trips for sport, casino or theme park visits in Canada over the next decade.

The second dramatic change to the tourist market is the decline in American visitation to Canada. As a direct result of 9/11 and related border controls, Americans are not travelling outside of their country as often as they did in the previous decade. The world situation indicates that this trend is unlikely to change in the decade ahead.

The demographic described as the Cultural Tourist is well-education, well-to-do and specifically interested in cultural experiences . They tend to be mature (baby boomers and the 60+ market), retired, (20% vs. 16% of regular tourists) have higher education (33% university graduates vs. 28% among other travelers), have managerial or professional occupations (31% vs. 24% among other travelers) take longer trips (5.1 nights vs. 3.4 nights) tend to shop more, spend more per trip and spend more in the destination they visit. Not only is the Cultural Tourist the largest and fastest growing segment of the tourism market, but cultural tourists tend to stay longer and spend more money in their chosen destination. Where once the family defined the travelling market, the adult visitor as singles or couples seeking cultural experiences will dominate the tourist market for the next two decades.

Museums and living history sites are the highest visited tourist draws because cultural tourists are keenly interested in authentic, quality learning experience. They seek these experiences because knowledge of other places helps them develop and refine who they are. Museums provide windows to the past and visitors seek these experiences to help them understand themselves and the culture they are visiting.