Learning from the Best – Cultural Tourism

Examples of Best Practice

by Finbarr Bradley


The purpose this short piece of desk research was to provide 10 world-wide best-practice examples of cultural tourism success which use an indigenous language as part of their offerings. The ones I finally settled on, and of course those I did not select, may be a surprise. For instance, I might have included, but did not, Oideas Gael , a world-class cultural tourism venture which no doubt fits the criteria. However, my view was that this example might not be as instructive as a viable business approach within the Interreg IVA area since its Irish language courses constitute its ‘primary’ rather than being ‘part of’ its offering. Other ideal examples left out were I felt too close to home. These include Sabhal Mòr Ostaig , the path-breaking Gaelic college, involved in a number of cultural tourism ventures. I also did not include Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich , which promotes innovative Irish language initiatives while operating as an attractive cultural tourism venue and meeting place. However, I felt it was not appropriate to include these as the research itself was commissioned by ConnectG which has these organisations as partners. I also left out other excellent examples such as the French-speaking festival in the Acadie region of Canadian Atlantic states, Festival Acadien de Caraquet. In this case, I felt it would not be as useful since it involves a major world language, albeit one spoken by a minority in this particular region.

The following diagram summarises the 10 world-wide, lesser-used language examples I finally settled on. No single organisational structure, legal form or mission fits them all. Some are driven by government policy while others are community-based not-for-profit ventures or privately-owned profit-making companies. They include cultural venues, museums, art galleries, holiday resorts and education centres. All are best-practice examples from which valuable lessons may be learned. I felt the geographical range was about right as they come from the continents, Europe, Americas and Australia/Oceania. Admittedly, none feature from from Africa or Asia. Most are European, the most relevant region for the ConnectG segment ‘Sell our Story’.

Cnoc Suain - Language: Irish - Country: Ireland

Overview: Cnoc Suain, located outside An Spidéal, Co. Galway, is a ‘cultural campus’ that celebrates a unique people, place and heritage.

Owned by Irish speakers, musicians and natural scientists, Dearbhaill Standún and Charlie Troy, its core mission is to “present Irish culture and heritage with the sophistication and high standard which befits it, without compromising its integrity and authenticity.” Dearbhaill, an accomplished singer and fiddler, is a founding member of the all-female music group Dordán, acclaimed for their distinctive mix of Irish traditional and baroque music. Husband Charlie, a transplanted Dubliner, fluent Irish speaker, environmental scientist and secondary school teacher, is deeply interested in the natural history and archaeology of Connemara. Charlie and Dearbhaill developed Cnoc Suain as an authentically restored hill-village or clachán on a 200 acre private estate of wild pristine Connemara landscape. Located in this Irish-speaking area steeped in traditional music, song and dance, it is a place of natural wonders and cultural inspiration, married to carefully chosen modern amenities of a high standard (but without distractions like television in every cottage, etc.)

Cnoc Suain’s philosophy is to preserve this pristine natural environment while nurturing the unique culture and traditions of Connemara. It is a dynamic, living place; not a museum. Visitors participate in programmes of various lengths and are expected to be actively engaged rather than mere passive observers. Activities include Irish language workshops, a walk in the bog, workshops on local flora and fauna, sean-nós singing, a céilí dance, folklore evenings, literary programmes, seisiúin, and more. Many of these programmes are led by local people, experts who themselves are excited by the opportunity to pass along the cultural and environmental knowledge that they have acquired. Charlie and Dearbhaill have created programmes that appeal not only to the Irish diaspora and other overseas visitors, but to the “native” Irish as well, who visit Cnoc Suain to get a deep sense of place that re-grounds them in their own traditions and folklore. It is a robustly unique and authentic experience that bears little resemblance to those carefully choreographed Disney-ized versions of Irish culture and heritage often packaged for the consumption of tourists.

Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre - Language: Gaelic - Country: Scotland

Overview:  Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre is an award-winning museum and gallery which boasts a photographic collection, art and craft workshops, a sculpture trail, café and shop.

Located in the charming village of Lochmaddy on the Isle of North Uist, it explores the social, domestic, economic, cultural and religious life of North Uist, with a variety of fascinating artefacts mainly from the 19th and 20th centuries. There is a collection of Scottish and international art, and island based artist and craft pieces. Taigh Chearsabhagh hosts poetry events, a film club, and a print workshop and is a partnership between Comann Eachdraidh Uibhist a Tuath and the Uist Art Association who formed the Taigh Chearsabhagh Trust in 1993.

Taigh Chearsabhagh is located on the shoreline of a marine Special Area of Conservation. The ecology of the Uists, with miles of unspoilt beaches, ‘machair’ wild meadow, loch-strewn moorland, brackish lochs and some of the oldest rock on the planet, make it a unique place, rich in culture stretching back to Neolithic times. The sea and sky dominate in a western Atlantic environment that directly influences the artistic and cultural life of Taigh Chearsabhagh.

Taigh Chearsabhagh sees its creativity rooted in its own place, heritage and community, while developing activities with clear national and international significance. Inspired by the unique island location there is a vibrant and stimulating exhibition and outreach programme going on throughout the year. It’s a place where people meet, share ideas, learn new skills and experience cultural interpretation that is imaginative and stimulating. Its work is rooted in the Uist community and its strong creative and heritage sectors. It believes in the unique and extensive cultural value of the Outer Hebrides, and reflect and develop this whenever possible. It is committed to supporting Scotland’s National Gaelic Development Plan 2012-2017 and its own plan, ‘Our Place in the World 2013-2020’ underlines this in a significant and concrete way. In particular, it is attempting to achieve an increased profile for Gaelic in the heritage and tourism sectors and increased use of Gaelic in the interpretation of Scotland’s history and culture.

Galeri Caernarfon - Language: Welsh - Country: Wales

Overview:  Galeri Caernarfon, overlooking Doc Fictoria in the heart of Caernarfon, is a great example of a centre in which creative individuals working through the medium of Welsh meet, exchange and formulate new ideas.

It is a wonderful bi-lingual venue that caters to all sorts of tastes: art, film, dance, music while also providing a showcase for the creative skills of local schools and colleges.

Its success and confidence since being set up early in the new millennium has been stunning. A not-for-profit community-based enterprise, it operates as a Development Trust. Its vision is that “anything is possible…through creative thought and sustainable action.” To realise this vision the company attempts to “implement sustainable projects in a creative way to realise the cultural, economic and environmental potential of the local community and its environs”.

The Trust is responsible for establishing and implementing numerous projects and schemes within the local community, including property development, an arts project for children and young people, owning and running Galeri Creative Enterprise Centreand POSIB Consultancy Services which shares expertise in regeneration projects, project management and training.

Its numerous awards and achievements include the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) ‘Award 2005’, Menter a Busnes (Business and Enterprise) ‘2005 Eisteddfod Award’, Gwynedd ‘Business Bilingual Business Award 2011’ and ‘Social Enterprise of The Year Wales 2013’.

Kafe Antzokia - Language: Basque - Country: Spain

Overview: Kafe Antzokia, which opened in 1995 in downtown Bilbao, was formerly known as the San Vicente Cinema. The cinema’s refurbishment involved the removal of all seats and the installation of a kitchen and four bars, in order to become a multi-purpose venue.

Promoted by the Zenbat Gara cultural association, the project was started by a group ofBasque language teachers. In a city where Basque speaking people are not the majority, there was a lack of places in Bilbao for students to practice speaking the language outside the classroom in a natural way. It was also designed as a meeting point for native and student speakers alike. Placing it in Bilbao was important in order to strengthen the Basque speaking community of the city stimulated by an economically self-sustaining project.

Since its foundation, Kafe Antzokia has become a renowned meeting point for Basque speakers but it is also open to foreign visitors, while hosting a number of activities from both Basque and international artists. Its chefs set a balanced and tasty lunchtime menu that serves for around 200 people. After each night’s concert, Kafe Antzokia is bursting with people dancing and drinking until late. Its music selection features Basque and international rock, pop, reggae and other styles of music, generally not mainstream.

Kafe Antzokia also hosts Bilbo Hiria Irratia, a Basque-speaking community radio station that broadcasts for the metropolitan area of Bilbao and a Basque language academy,Euskaltegi Gabriel Aresti. With around 1500 students, the latter is the main Basque teaching centre for adults of the Basque region. Also tied to Zenbat Gara, this academy organizes many of its activities in the venue such as conferences, workshops, festivals, theatre shows, etc. Following the opening of Kafe Antzokia, it opened another Kafe Antzokia in Ondarroa in 2002, with a similar focus on Basque culture and language. There, the Zenbat Gara association organizes several activities such as Lagun Artean Kantari, an open sing along session of Basque traditional and contemporary songs,Urbeltzen Dantza Ganbara for Basque traditional dances and Ane MonnaOskola eta Karramarroi, a theatre group for children.

Museo de Pobo Galego - Language: Galician - Country: Spain

Overview: In the Museo do Pobo Galego (“Museum of the Galician People” in English), Galicia’s cultural heritage is on display in the former Convent of San Domingo de Bonaval.

The museum is situated on a hill outside the walls of the historical city, Santiago de Compostela, beside the road used by pilgrims to enter it in the 17th-18th century. The museum brings together, conserves and studies within its rooms examples of spiritual and material culture. The museum’s permanent collection is divided into themed rooms representing the sea, trades, the countryside, clothing, music, habitat, architecture, and so forth. There are also separate sections dedicated to archaeology and painting and sculpture. Apart from its permanent collection, the museum regularly organises other activities such as exhibitions, courses, congresses and the publication of texts. Different temporary exhibitions are regularly organized on a variety of subjects. The selection and organisation of pieces attempts to create a vision of synthesis between the different facets that define Galician culture.

There is an amazing triple spiral staircase by Domingo de Andrade that connects the cloister with the different floors of the building. The convent church, occasionally used for temporary exhibitions, contains the Pantheon of Famous Galicians where famous people in Galician culture such as Rosalía de Castro are buried. The visitor is very much exposed to the Galician language as the signs and posters used throughout the museum are monolingual although the Guía do Visitante can be bought in other languages. The downside is that some foreign visitors may find their exposure to Galician culture reduced to viewing the objects behind glass cases.

Folkshegeskoalle Schylgeralân - Language: Fryslân - Country: Netherlands

Overview:  The Folkshegeskoalle was set up in 1948 as an education centre and meeting place for Frisian people. The meetings enabled them to experience their own language and culture and discuss social issues.

The Folkshegeskoalle is built on the foundations of World War II bunkers in friendly Scandinavian style. It offers accommodation for up to 100 people and hosts some 35 courses and activities. Schools find the accommodation appropriate and attractive but many people just come to savour its atmosphere during their daytrips to the beautiful island of Terschelling.

Today, guests take courses and workshops in nature painting, singing, sculpture, photography, theatre, poetry, telling stories, meditative dancing and the Frisian language itself. These are divided into four categories: creative courses, nature, meditation/contemplation and Frisian language/culture. The Folkshegeskoalle’s roots are still visible, as in its courses on Frisian language and culture. For more than half a century, people came there to live, to meet and develop their identity. They still come to discover themselves, develop their creativity and experience nature. TheFolkshegeskoalle retains this strong Frisian identity. It is a bilingual setting so in many bedrooms, a Frisian or Dutch poem is present, with a translation. It also does this through exchange programmes and contact with minority language groups in Europe.

Ecotourism is now of paramount importance to the Folkshegeskoalle. Since 2010, it has met the requirements for the environmental label ECEAT (European Centre for Eco and Agro Tourism) and is listed in the Green Holiday Guide which ideally suits the Folkshegeskoalle with its unique location in the woods.

Sámi Cultural Centre Sajos - Language: Sámi - Country: Finland

Overview: The Sámi Cultural Centre Sajos, located in Inari, Finland, is the centre of culture and administration for the Sámi people while also operating as a convention and event space.

It is a very modern building using the latest in conference technology, an exotic natural on the shore of Lake Inari, a variety of activities from relaxing to energetic, and an unhurried learning environment. The building was completed in January 2012 and inaugurated in April 2012. It is dark outside while the inside is white pine. Plentiful use of wood was an easy choice for a building seeking to express Sámi culture. The Centre is formed roughly as a cross, creating different yards facing natural or man-made attractions in the vicinity and connecting the building to its environment. The shape was carefully plotted to avoid harming old trees on the plot, as these grow very slowly at these latitudes. While Inari is a small urban area, it also has a world class Sámi museum Siida and this design icon building Sajos.

The purpose of the Centre is to create better possibilities for the Sámi indigenous people in Finland to preserve and develop their own language, culture and business activities as well as manage and develop cultural self-government and the development of general living conditions. Different functions are packed on their respective wings, leaving a large, flowing space as a lobby in the middle, strongly characterised by the large, round volumes of the parliament hall and the auditorium. The building is used to its full potential, as it provides many services for Sámi people to live and develop on the foundation of their own linguistic and cultural background, and generates income to offset running costs as the largest conference and events venue in northern Lapland. TheSámi Cultural Centre houses the Sámi Education Institute, the Sámi Library, the Sámi Archive, Lapland Regional State Administrative Agency, Finland’s Sámi Duodji Shop, SámiSoster ry, the Galla restaurant, conference and event services, all in addition to the Sámi Parliament. Interestingly, it is named Sajos (meaning a site on which people camp for a longer time) rather than Sámediggi (Sámi Parliament). The fact it is a multi-functional building has important lessons for how indigenous communities everywhere should design buildings to support and promote their cultures.

Kapawi Ecolodge & Reserve - Language: Achuar - Country: Ecuador

Overview: Kapawi Ecolodge & Reserve opened in 1996 as a unique partnership between Canodros, an Ecuadorian tourism company, and the Achuar people.

Each partner shared a vision of building an economically sustainable project that would contribute to the preservation of the cultural and environmental riches of Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest. Canodros transferred the ownership of Kapawi Ecolodge & Reserveto the Achuar in 2008. The project is now operated by the Achuar through the tour operator CEKSA (Complejo Ecoturistico Kapawi Sociedad Anonima), a legal structure in charge of the ownership, operation and management of the lodge.

Kapawi Ecolodge & Reserve is one of the most remote, ecologically responsible and cultural sensible Amazon ecolodges. A visit contributes to sustainable socio-cultural communities and the protection of a unique environment. It is a remote and pristine region, untouched by logging, mining or petroleum extraction. It is designed as a tourist destination to develop sustainable services in environmentally friendly practices, quality and international standards that allow a complete experience for its visitors and the socio-economic development of the Achuar community who are kept fully informed of the activities of their company.

Hotel Taselotzin - Language: Nahuat - Country: Mexico

Overview: In the late-1980s the cooperative, Maeseualsiuamej Mosenyolchicananij (indigenous women working together), was set up by a group of indigenous (Nahua) women.

The women came from the municipio of Cuetzalan, in the Sierra Norte of Puebla, 180km from the City of Puebla, Mexico. They educated themselves and encouraged use of their native tongue among themselves as they recognized signs of abandonment and deterioration. It was around the mid-1990s that the idea for an ecohotel was born. They decided this would be rustic, cater to ecotourism, and be representative of their ethnic heritage. Their main interest was to offer more than just a place to sleep but a novel and alternative tourist package that incorporated the environment that surrounded them and their cultural heritage. The women received funding from several national and international organizations and with an initial investment from their own pockets they bought land to construct a beautiful hotel.

In September 1997 they opened the hotel, the first ecohotel owned and managed by a group of Nahua women. Hotel Taselotzin preserves Nahua cultural heritage, traditions, and language while ensuring financial viability. Its slogan is “meeting nature and our roots again.” After opening the hotel, many of the women took courses so they could offer mini-courses and workshops to students and other visitors. They agreed to develop an integrated programme that would include information about their heritage, customs, traditions, culture, and language as well as telling the hotel’s story. The main objective of these courses was to bring about an awareness and appreciation of the natural environment and to share information about the Nahua culture. Offered as an additional service to visitors, natural medicine is one of the hotel’s strengths as Sierra Norte de Puebla is a hub for medicinal plants with several communities of indigenous women cultivating and distributing herbs from the plants for a living.

Today, Hotel Taselotzin is run entirely by its 44 women members. In exchange for their work at the hotel, the women benefit from the profits to support their families with food, clothing, and soap. They take what they need and share the rest: the Nahua society maintains a strong sense of cooperation. The hotel welcomes Mexican national tourists seeking an escape from the bustle of the cities, as well as international tourists who enjoy the packed market days on Cuetzalan’s cobblestone streets, finding it very attractive and in sharp cultural difference to Spanish-speaking Mexico. The ecohotel recycles its organic waste, has a collection system for rainwater harvesting, uses composted organic matter to fertilize the garden, has dedicated green spaces to ensure clean air and prepares meals made with locally grown vegetables. The lush gardens on the hotel grounds grow herbs for the restaurant’s menu, rose petals for the handmade soap, and orange blossoms for its tea. Staff are careful to lessen their impact on the land as caring for the earth is an important Nahua custom. Its architectural design is discreet, maintaining a balance with nature. Using their traditional knowledge and culture, these indigenous women are leading the way to the sustainable development of their communities.

Potiki Adventures - Language: Maori - Country: New Zealand

Overview: Potiki Adventures is a Maori owned and operated tourism company, designed to help visitors explore the Auckland Region and/or Waiheke Island from a Maori perspective.

It was founded in 2004 with the vision of providing products and services to overseas visitors at the highest possible level whilst providing employment for Maori people in an environment that celebrates living and working by Maori customs, values and culture. Tourists visit stunning locations while gaining an understanding of the Maori way of life, contemporary and traditional art practices and ancient stories relating to the land, people and culture. The company allows visitors to Aotearoa/New Zealand to engage with Maori people in a way that celebrates Maori culture for its history, survival through assimilation and colonisation right through to how it is living and breathing in today’s society. A Potiki Adventures tour allows an insight into Maori culture that otherwise had been inaccessible to tourists. The Island Maori Experience, Specialised Auckland Day Tour and Marae Stay are the most popular tours currently offered. For local and international groups, the Marae Stay focuses on educational culture based workshops and outdoor adventure activities.

Potiki Adventures is also well known for the work done within Maori communities, running programmes for young people through community-based marae. Each year the company works with approximately 300 young Maori people, using outdoor education as the medium. This work is a very important part of the company as it is investing in the future health and leadership of Maori people and communities. Potiki Adventures has been nominated for and won several tourism and business awards including the Maori Women’s Welfare Incorporation Best Maori Women in Business Award and Her Business Magazine Business Awards.