Greece: A Future in Heritage

Last week at the invitation of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation I participated in a conference on youth unemployment in Greece. The first day featured leading labor economists defining the scope and depth of the problem, which is quite staggering in a nation where youth unemployment reaches 60%. The keynote was by Jeffrey Sachs, who discussed the particular place-based challenges of youth unemployment and the challenge of technology, especially robotics. He proposed focusing on export, which includes tourism. A variety of other scholars and professionals also spoke, including Alan Krueger and Richard Freeman, who proposed that Greece target the growing Chinese tourist market. Many, including Robert Lerman, talked about how to train or educate youth for the next economy.
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Day Two was more upbeat, beginning with a keynote by Mike Lazardis, who invented the smartphone and enthused us all about the connection between research and economic growth. Next up were plenaries discussing where the problem could be addressed, including Agriculture, Entrepreneurship and Cultural Tourism. It was my role to respond to the potential for addressing unemployment through cultural tourism, which is precisely what we do at Global Heritage Fund.
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I described GHF’s mission – to save threatened heritage sites – and how sustainability only comes through stewardship. How do you create stewardship and ownership? By insuring that the heritage site redevelopment benefits the local community, the only long-term stewards.
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Heritage practice gives us a process, following the Burra Charter, to integrate the community into the planning process from the beginning. I talked about community based tourism and the challenge of revenue capture – how do you keep the money in the local community? heshui meeting0

The Foundation, the Initiative for Heritage Conservation and the Ministry of Culture are working together on pilot projects at Kerameikos, the ancient cemetery of Athens, and Brauron in Attica. The two sites take advantage of existing touristic infrastructure. At the same time, I warned about distinguishing between types of tourism – they are focusing on high-end, which is good, because not only is the return better, but the impact on the site is less than mass tourism. I also advised that they insure a long-term entity to maintain the site through captured revenue, otherwise the effort will simply create another unsustainable state subsidy.
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My cultural tourism bottom line? Capacity, control and capture. Identify your market, your site capacity and critical mass; control the process to insure the site gets saved; and capture the revenue so it benefits the local community. Plenty of obstacles, but the right goal.

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