AI fakes worry heritage experts

SINGAPORE, 2 October 2023: Heritage tourism experts grappled with complex issues of presenting culture and heritage to tourists at an international gathering held last week in Valencia, Spain.

Dozens of delegates from 30 countries debated the latest issues, trends and opportunities affecting the sector, which accounts for 40% of all tourism activity, according to UNWTO data.

The role of technology, not least artificial intelligence, was centre stage at the summit, where presenters shared the latest cultural and heritage tourism insights from Iceland, Belize, Finland, Spain, Morocco, Ras Al Khaimah in the UAE, and other destinations.

Certain issues unite all destinations

“We should be more worried about artificial intelligence than climate change,” said Visit Oulu, Finland CEO Yrjotapio Kivissari.

He admitted that while many operators, including his organisation, use artificial intelligence, the technology is being abused by destinations which were happy to mix fake images with real ones in their marketing.

However, he predicted that AI would quickly remove language barriers in cultural tourism settings.

Also, on technology, Wanderlust magazine revealed 3D headsets which allowed destinations to show 360-degree immersive visual and sound experiences. To great effect, Wanderlust executives used samples from Petra, Fiji, the Norwegian fjords and the Holi festival of colours from India to show how immersive headset technology is transforming destination marketing.

Delegates learned that new technology can serve traditional local artisans and communities. For example, ResiRest has established itself as a social enterprise that helps 9,000 families in 50 countries by connecting them with tourists who want an authentic destination dining experience with a local family in their house.

Similarly, the Tuzmo website allows tourists to meet local artisans such as wood carvers, weavers and sculptors and makes it easy for them to order and ship any artefact they buy from the artist.

On attention span issues, delegates said museums and built attractions needed to convey a narrative story with emotion and empathy, preferably with multiple access points to the story. Stephen Ryan, heritage design director at Freeman Ryan Design, Australia, told the audience that the average time duration for museum video clips was always decreasing.

Heritage tourism is worth around USD570 billion per year, said SWA Development president Scott Wayne. Within the sector, 51 to 70-year-olds generate 60% of its revenue. However, 73% of millennials were interested in visiting cultural and historical places.

On heritage tourism finance, delegates admitted that the fight for adequate funding was perpetual. It was imperative for governments and donors not to just think about ROI in terms of money. It should also be expressed in job creation, a sense of ownership and pride, training and employability, cultural value, environmental gain and social inclusion.

Closing the summit, WATCH CEO  Nigel Fell announced Johannesburg in South Africa as the host city for the 2nd WTACH Global Leaders Summit, which will be held in September 2024.

WTACH chairman and founder Chris Flynn concluded: “ We will build on the success and take the important work of culture and heritage in tourism to the next level in Johannesburg next year.”


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