Can heritage tourism be a catalyst for community development in Ireland?
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Objectives Orwell wrote that whoever controls the past controls the future, and whoever controls the present controls the past. (Orwell, 1949) Elements of this quote will be addressed in relation to heritage tourism and specifically in relation to community based tourism. These tourism sectors have received limited academic attention in Ireland at the micro-scale. This research intends to bridge that gap in the tourism research in Ireland and give a voice to the communities involved in tourism initiatives. Firstly, this paper will evaluate the relationship between heritage tourism within a community development context. Given that the social aspect of the theory of sustainable development places strong emphasis on the concept of community, it is this element that will be explored in relation to the case-study of an urban-based museum, the Hunt Museum, Limerick and its community outreach programmes. This will be achieved by assessing the motivations for the various stakeholders, such as local volunteers and the museum, to engage in community projects. This paper will explore how community engagement is achieved through the collaboration of this institution with local regeneration communities in Limerick city. Secondly, this paper will investigate how communities can capitalise on their heritage resources as heritage is unique to a community. It will analysis the potential economic, social and cultural impacts on a community. Consequently, it is anticipated that this paper will contribute to increasing research concerning the influence of community initiatives within a context of heritage tourism. More specifically this paper will assess the extent to which (if any) heritage tourism is a catalyst for community led initiatives in Ireland. To progress this assessment, an investigation of a small, new, rural-based community heritage project, the Kilfenora Timeline, in Co. Clare will be conducted. Methodology This research will be conducted within the framework of an integrated research paradigm as it will use both quantitative and qualitative techniques of research. Integration of data collection techniques and analysis strengthens the validity and quality of the data analysis and research findings. (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill 2009) In this way a deeper knowledge and understanding of the various issues will be gained from the aspect of the visitor, such as visitor attitudes towards heritage, and from the aspect of the community, such as the enticements for volunteering in community projects. In this regard the paper will take a similar approach to other studies such as Quinn (2011) and more specifically to heritage tourism studies such as Kiely (2009) and Hamilton & Alexander (2013). An objective of this study is to assess the economic, social and cultural impact of heritage tourism by utilising a comparative case study but it also investigates a number of issues identified in the literature review such as attitudes towards heritage and attitudes towards heritage tourism. This is best garnered through a visitor survey from the case study areas. The visitor questionnaire, however, posed difficulties in relation to the response rate as many visitors to the case-study sites did not have proficiency in the English language and therefore could not complete the questionnaires. Qualitative research methods in the form of a series of structured interviews are utilised to assess the success of such community collaborations with regard to the type of community engagement achieved and the resulting benefits for the individual involved and for the community. The strategies employed by this paper include grounded theory, ethnography and the case study. Grounded theory is an approach utilised in a number of studies on heritage tourism including Kneafsey’s (1998) examination of the varying aspects of the relationship between tourism and place. Macdonald (1997) uses ethnographic approach to investigate the heritage centre and how communities can become objects for research. Hamilton and Alexander (2013) use ethnographic methods to explore the community’s role in the regeneration of social places for local tourism. Ballesteros and Ramirez (2006) found ethnography the most suitable tool in which to highlight the effect of social identities and the role of the symbolic community in the development of heritage tourism. The use of case studies is the most common strategy in use in heritage tourism studies. Grounded theory and ethnographic and case study strategies, therefore, would suit this study that is examining case studies of different types of communities and their possible relationship with heritage tourism. Results and Conclusion This study has articulated the central role of the community in sustainable tourism strategies. As such it has become apparent that understanding the relationship between heritage and community development is important to the study of heritage tourism as an instrument for community development but there are limited studies carried out on the role of the community in relation to heritage tourism specifically. The findings of this study are similar to the positive findings of the final report on the outcomes of the government initiative ‘The Gathering’ (2014). Both case-studies had numerous positive effects such as strengthening of community spirit and civic pride. It also resulted in building connections both within and outside local communities and promoted networking. Other positive impacts experienced were the enhancement of skills of community members, the development of a strong sense of place, local ownership over community projects, the identification by communities of the importance and potential of tourism in their area and the development of a local resource into a tourism product. The results of the research demonstrate that community engagement and ownership in a project is essential for its success. Consequently, it is anticipated that this paper will contribute to further understanding the role heritage tourism plays in community development which is particularly relevant given that relatively few such studies have been conducted at a micro-level in this area.
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