Introducing Creative Tourism: what is this and why is it valuable for community empowerment

July 12, 2022

“I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”


Recall your last memories from the city or country you have been to. What would it be? I believe it is something intangible: the taste of national food, emotions evoked by random people dancing on the street, the smell of the sea or many other little but priceless moments your memory is constantly keeping from that experience. Imagine now, you are not there just to observe, watch or contemplate, you have a chance to participate, co-design and co-create those memorable experiences, whether they refer to cooking, dancing, or crafting. THE experience builds that strong emotional links with places you visit and with people who live there. And those links will encourage you to return to the places, to share the experience with your beloved ones, to distribute your emotions through social media as you are already somehow attached to those places.  Destinations are valued by their story, their symbolism, emotions they raise, and what they make us feel. This is how creative tourism works. This blog is to explore its concept, comparative advantages and possible application in Kyrgyzstan.

Сreаtivе tourism wаs for thе first timе dеfinеd in 2000 by Riсhards аnd Rаymоnd. Richаrds еmphаsizеs thе “significаncе оf crеаtivity in thе plаnning аnd dеvеlоpmеnt оf culturаl tоurism”. Crеаtivе tоurism оffеred nеw wаy оf rеdеsigning а nоn-intеrаctivе mоdе оf sight-sееing culturаl tоurism. In thаt sense, Richаrds аnd Wilsоns cоncеivе thаt culturаl lаndscаpе оf thе dеstinаtiоn including fеstivаls, culturаl rоutеs, musеums, culturаl hеritаgе cоuld bе rе-crеаtеd tо hаvе аn intеrаctivе rоlе аnd prоvidе bеttеr, аnd mоrе еngаging еxpеriеncеs cо-crеаtеd bеtwееn thе visitеrs аnd thе lоcаl pоpulаtiоn. In 2006, UNESCО determined creative tourism as “travel directed toward an engaged and authentic experience, with participative learning in the arts, heritage, or special character of a place, and it provides a connection with those who reside in this place and create this living culture.”

The OECD report underscores overall relationship between culture and tourism has been one of the key sources of tourism development over the last years. More recently, we started witnessing the increasing importance of creativity, which is supplementing conventional, more traditional models of heritage-based cultural tourism with new forms of tourism based on intangible culture and modern creativity. It also indicates that the creative industries offer diverse opportunities for the growth and development of tourism, including the potential to generate tourism demand, introduce new creative tourism products and enhance place quality and attractiveness, as well as support the creative industries and stimulate creative exports.

Why has creative tourism been chosen by cities as the key trajectory to harness its potential as a tourism destination and even encourage them to become “creative cities”?  Оnе оf thе reasons is that while dеvеlорing tоurism in lоcаl соmmunitiеs there is thе dаngеr оf соmmоdificаtiоn оf сulturе. Еxisting mоdеls оf culturаl tоurism oftеn sее сulturе аs а rеlаtivеly stаtiс prоduсt tо bе ‘sold’ tо tоurists. Вy cоncеntrаting оn lоcаl сreаtivе prоcеssеs, lоcаl idеntity аnd intаngiblе culturаl assеts, сreаtivе tоurism еmеrgеs аs а fundаmеntаl tооl fоr cоmbаtting thе nеgаtivе impасts оf trаditiоnаl mоdеls of culturаl tоurism. Вy аdding crеаtivity tо thе lоcаl аssеts, trаvеlеrs cаn еngаgе nеw еxpеriеncеs thrоugh hаnds-оn, соmmunity-bаsеd асtivitiеs аnd lеаrn thе uniquе chаrаctеr оf thе lоcаl pеорlе аnd sеnsе оf plаcе. Crеаtivе tоurism hеlps building cоmmunitiеs strоngеr аnd mаkе lоcаl pеоplе mоrе sеlf-rеliаnt, which аrе thе kеys tо thе crеаtiоn оf truе sustainаblе tоurism.

The Creative Tourism Network states that development of creative tourism encourages local communities to diversify tourism offers making small entrepreneurs more proactive as they become able to create new products without the need for much investment into tangible infrastructure but using its creativity to capture tourists’ interest. It also strengthens social cohesion in multicultural cities through the co-creation of meaningful storytelling and locals’ self-esteem; and accelerate development of the ecosystem between different sectors. Intangible tourism products might help the destination to prevent seasonality and promote geographical inclusion of the territories which are not usually included into conventional routes as well as stimulate introduction of more environmentally friendly tourism practices not applicable for massive tourism.

In addition, creative tourism provides substantial entrepreneurial opportunities for women, as there is a huge number of them working in tourism including those in informal sector; in 2020 was indicated that the share of women and youth each constitutes more than half of the employed  creative industries in Kyrgyzstan. But nothing is black or white. On the other hand, without proper management and balanced strategy, creative tourism may lead to exploitation of local communities by hampering them into narrow and traditional areas. Recent toolkit “Create Creative Tourism” published by the Network, they continuously argue that “creativity imbedded in tourism development could lead to more sustainable growth and increased wellbeing of local communities” and present successful realization of the development strategy in East Asian countries, though.

Thus, considering the abovementioned features of creative tourism, this trajectory looks like a promising platform for testing creativity as an impetus to revive a more traditional tourism sector in Kyrgyzstan. Now it is critical to comprehensively observe and define what territory has the most potential including the presence of a critical mass of the local creators and focused grassroots businesses and assess the baseline of the tourism development through the consultations with the local community. Please join @UNDPKG to keep explore with us.

From the author:

Hi! I am Vika, and I am the Head of Exploration of UNDP Accelerator Lab in Kyrgyzstan. As you might remember from my previous blogs, starting last year I am exploring the field of creative industries through the design and implementation of the portfolio of experiments aimed at unveiling the potential of creative economy for:

  1. Generating innovative and green employment opportunities with the focus on youth and women;
  2. Developing enabling environment for local creators and entrepreneurs;
  3. Harnessing digital technologies to involve into economic activities those usually left behind;
  4. Stimulating socially cohesive and inclusive sustainable development;
  5. Playing the role of a driver for more traditional economic sectors.

My experiments include but not limited to the launch and scale of the Women Creative Lab , first gender-sensitive coworking space in Kyrgyzstan with enabling environment for women pursuing their career in creative economy; and CREATE4 – a series of events with the flagship First Festival of Creative Industries in Kyrgyzstan aimed at accelerating branding of the creative economy, raising awareness among diverse communities and establishing a dialogue platform for creators and artists to foster mutually reinforcing collaborations. This year I am also keen to learn about urban development through the prism of co-creation by citizens and local governments for green urban planning and creative tourism as a cool combination of the traditional tourism and creative industries which add value to its products with the creativity and human-centric development.