Heritage economics and the future of the past in the UK

I am off to the USA at the end of next week to deliver a conference paper at the University of Massachusetts. The conference is being organised by the Center for Heritage and Society, and will be looking at the economics of heritage.  It has been provocatively entitled ‘The Past for Sale‘, and should provide some interesting topics for discussion in a world of growing heritage tourism, but austerity in spending on culture and heritage conservation by  many government departments around the world.  My own paper is setting out to review the past decade in the UK and looking at the dichotomy of reality and rhetoric in the understanding of the heritage sector during this period.  The abstract of the paper (which I am writing right now!) is presented below.

The past decade in the United Kingdom has seen major change in policy, management, operations and visitor interactions within the heritage sector, and its perception within popular culture has shifted from remote and sterile toward inclusive and creative.  The wider business environment for the sector has contributed significantly to this change, and the paper will review some of the major drivers of the ‘strategic management turn’ which characterises the decade, such as attraction development, policy divergence within devolved nations of Scotland and Wales, social attitude change, and technological development for enhanced engagement.  Perhaps the most significant driver, economic, has played out through the demand for UK heritage tourism, and this will be considered in further critical detail. Whilst tourism impact is significant and important, there are wider implications of the heritage tourism successes for management as a whole within the sector.  It will be questioned whether heritage has been a potential victim of its own success when it comes to policy development and creation of new business models to date, where the ‘easy win’ via tourism may have hampered a better appreciation of the potential for heritage within British society and successful strategic planning and policy-making.  The paper will draw out some lessons from the specific geographic focus to help future-proof heritage management approaches in a rapidly changing global context.

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