Discussion paper

Built heritage and the visitor economy: the case for adaptive re-use of heritage assets

15 Jan 2017

Iconic heritage buildings play an important role in attracting visitors to tourism destinations with a number of Australia’s visitor precincts home to heritage assets such as The Rocks in Sydney, Salamanca Wharf in Hobart and the Old Treasury Building in Melbourne. While heritage assets can be significant demand drivers in the visitor economy, it is also important to recognise the role that tourism can play in supporting the conservation of our nation’s heritage buildings and sites.

Conservation is an integral part of the management of places of cultural significance and should be an ongoing responsibility. This paper seeks to build the case to better leverage value from heritage assets through their adaptive re-use for tourism purposes and the recommended principles for effectively doing so. The paper is guided by the Australia ICOMOS Burra Charter 2013 and the Australian Heritage Strategy 2015, and specifically considers historic places with cultural values as opposed to natural or Indigenous places of cultural significance.

Visiting sites of historical importance – or better yet, getting to spend the night in them in some cases – can play a key role in the choice of travel destination. These sites are a critical element of the visitor economy. They attract visitors, create reasons to stay longer and add depth to the visitor experience. Visitors to cultural and heritage sites are a high yielding segment as they are known to spend more and stay longer than the average traveller .

In the year ending December 2015, over 2 million international visitors visited an historic/heritage building, site or monument, representing 33.3 per cent of all visitors to Australia. In addition, domestic tourists made 4.9 million overnight trips and 4.1 million day trips to a historic/heritage building, site or monument during 2015. Trips which include heritage tourism elements enable visitors to incorporate authentic, cultural experiences into their itineraries, likely to improve their overall visitor experience.

Aside from benefitting the visitor economy, the adaptive re-use of heritage assets can achieve a number of economic, environmental and social objectives for the public and government. These benefits include conservation outcomes, greater return on public and private investment, environmental sustainability, reduced expenditure, place revitalisation, community engagement and in some cases additional accommodation supply.

The value of heritage assets often lies not only in their preservation, but also through adaptation and ongoing use by local communities and visitors. The adaptive re-use of heritage assets in a tourism context has been a key area of interest for the Tourism & Transport Forum Australia (TTF) for many years. TTF believes that the true value of heritage buildings to the visitor economy has, in many cases, not been fully leveraged by governments to date. Consideration of the best use of heritage buildings should be undertaken, with any evaluation processes focusing on the context of visitor engagement, and the cultural and historic value of these sites. Heritage buildings that are not accessible to the public are a missed opportunity in better celebrating their cultural significance and further enhancing the visitor economy of a destination.

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