Creative and cultural industries have, for hundreds of years, been an inspiration for locals and travellers looking to explore the intangible and tangible heritage of their destination — architecture, music, film, art, gastronomy. Now, more than ever, amidst economic and planetary crises and with human development on course to decline, creativity and innovation is vital.
The ratification of the 2021 United Nations Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development was a major achievement for the industries — putting a spotlight on the potential of the “orange economy” to diversify economies and power inclusive, transformative development. Globally, the creative and cultural industries add approximately 30 million jobs, and the rapid growth of these sectors holds promise of generating youth employment opportunities.
For small island developing states (SIDS), many of which rely heavily on tourism — accounting for more than 30 % of GDP in most island states — cultural heritage is one of their most valuable assets.
For example, the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival attracts more than 30,000 foreign visitors for a two-day event. Visitor spending during that time amounted to nearly 400 million Trinidad and Tobago dollars in 2019 and represents a significant local economic impact. These industries are of vital importance to achieving the SAMOA Pathway objectives and Sustainable Development Goals.
New innovations in the creative and cultural sectors offer SIDS even greater opportunity for transforming tourism and gaining a competitive edge amid COVID-19. For instance, the introduction of “screen tourism,” allowing fans of popular films and TV shows to visit their filming locations, has contributed significantly to revenue in other countries. In the UK, the value of screen tourism to the economy annually is more than £150 million.
With intentional investment, SIDS can reap the benefits of this growing trend — and it’s already starting to show potential. In fact, the recent Star Wars film “Rogue One” was partly filmed in the Laamu Atoll in the Maldives, and now, tourists can take a Star Wars tour of the filming locations on those islands.
While tourism’s recovery from the pandemic may be highly variable and unpredictable, what is certain is that competition for revenue will be more intense than ever. National tourism boards, resorts and tour operators will be looking to engage customers early in the decision-making process and offer outstanding experiences once they arrive.
The World Travel and Tourism Council has asked national governments to support the industry with increased budgets for promotion, and it is here that digital creative and cultural industries can play a new and expanded role: supporting value creation and sustainable practices through innovation.
This industry expansion will increase the resilience of the industry in two ways, as an attractive pitch to reach new audiences and a more sustainable tourism product:
- An enhanced, fully immersed visitor experience before and during travel
The growth of creative content, delivered through augmented, merged and virtual realities, presents a significant opportunity to enhance visitor experiences, engage new audiences and increase the marketing reach and penetration of place-specific attractions. In a time of increased competition and supressed travel markets, virtual worlds, when monetized successfully, are becoming central to the success of the tourism industry.
With these technologies, hotels can take guests on virtual tours of rooms, restaurants and spas, while airlines can showcase their cabins, lounges and flight experiences. In-lounge and in-flight VR experiences can also be tailored to any destination to be responsive to the guest’s navigational desires. Through immersive technologies, customers can feel like they are in a location in real time, no matter how remote.
2. Biodiversity preservation and education through digital tourism
SIDS are home to rich but fragile ecosystems that are vital not just to island livelihoods and economies but the world at large. While the tourism industry has often worked in opposition to conservation efforts, the near “global pause” in tourism can allow SIDS to transform the industry towards more sustainable models. Digital creative and cultural industries can help propel this change.
There have already been numerous uses of augmented reality technology to enhance visitor experiences in heritage tourism, where immersive technology applications have engaged with places, artefacts and events to overlay educational or experiential content onto real scenes. Using tools like this, visitors can experience and learn about vulnerable marine and land-based wildlife without physically disturbing their habitats, ensuring that these resources are available to visitors for generations to come.
As one example of this dual benefit offered by the digital creative and cultural industries, the non-profit company Hydrous has created “open access oceans,” that allow users to go on a virtual dive into marine environments through an app. This includes a guided tour of the beautiful coral reefs of Palau, where virtual divers can explore the islands’ marine wildlife, including sea turtles, manta rays and sharks.
This kind of highly immersive experience offers an opportunity to showcase island states’ rich and unique biodiversity to new audiences and customers around the world — expanding their tourism product while raising awareness and reducing harm to these ecosystems.
For SIDS, the promise of a gradual return of foreign exchange revenue as tourism recovers must be seen in the light of growing competition for that revenue. It will necessitate new technologies in destination marketing, along with technology enhanced experiences and the protection of natural resources. During this year of the “orange economy,” SIDS can look towards these industries to drive the shift towards an adaptive, diversified tourism industry.
Authors: Riad MEDDEB, Senior Principal Advisor for SIDS, United Nation Development Program (UNDP) and Peter Rudge, Associate Professor of Motion Picture Industries, Staffordshire University