This article describes a project investigating the potential and constraints to developing cultural heritage tourism opportunities as a pathway for sustainable development for local communities in the Pacific. Two case studies were selected: Samoa and Madang, Papua New Guinea (PNG). A total of five field trips were completed between August 2017 and November 2018.
The results of the study have been complex due to the very different nature of the two case studies. Brief results can be summarized as follows:
Local communities supported community based tourism ventures, as tourism provides important economic gains for community groups which could be fed back into the community to support schools, medical needs, and other community activities. In particular, tourism was seen by younger members of the community as a way to access employment while also being able to remain in the village.
Local communities were less aware of the concept of cultural heritage tourism. While many tourism operations incorporated cultural heritage to different extents within their tourism products, it was important to note that the term ‘cultural heritage’ was unfamiliar which is not surprising considering it is very much a western concept emerging from the heritage sector and academic studies. Once communities were informed as to what cultural heritage was, they agreed that this was an important avenue for future growth.
Advantages of cultural heritage tourism activities are that, compared to other types of tourism it requires low levels of investment in capital and infrastructure, and builds upon an already known asset – their own cultural heritage. Cultural heritage tourism was therefore seen as an industry which could be readily and sustainably incorporated into communities’ current livelihoods. As cultural heritage is often associated with a particular place, it also encourages tourists to visit rural and remote communities, thus allowing these communities to earn economic opportunities within their home location. Other advantages were seen as the opportunity to share culture and the ability to strength and continue cultural traditions.
At the same time, numerous constraints were noted, including a need for further investment by government at all levels to provide finances, resources and training to the communities who need assistance with infrastructure (including basic community infrastructure around transport, health and education), capacity building, product development, marketing and guide training in order to design engaging, authentic and, from a long term perspective, sustainable tourism experiences.