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Through our community-based approach, we design tourism experiences to support tradition-bearers and to ensure their communities benefit from having their cultural heritage shared with the world.

The Cultural Heritage Tourism Initiative uses research and presentation methods from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival to curate engaging, inclusive, and sustainable community-based tourism experiences. We help hosts convey their heritage by working together to create extraordinary experiences—both immersive and unforgettable—instilling a sense of place and leaving travelers with enduring memories.

Our process prioritizes an equitable relationship in order to ensure communities directly benefit from sharing their cultural heritage worldwide. Our work in tourism leverages other synergistic initiatives, such as the Center’s work with artisans and the Festival. Activities include cultural heritage documentation, participatory community engagement, destination assessment and asset inventory, experience design and product development, workshops and trainings, enterprise development, market access and linkages, policy reform, and strategic planning.

Guiding Principles
  • Cultural Heritage Representation

    Our approach to product development is research-based. We work with local and community scholars and researchers to identify, document, preserve, and ultimately present cultural heritage to diverse audiences of tourists.

  • Community Benefits and Ownership

    The needs of communities drive our work. Their well-being and perspective are at the core of our approach to program design. We develop a shared vision among stakeholders and implement community-centric solutions that maintain a destination’s integrity while eliciting its distinctive qualities that make it a place people want to visit. We do this by engaging both the private and public sectors to create environments that enable community empowerment and equitable economic opportunities.

  • Market-Driven Approach

    We ensure that solutions align with market demand and enhance competitiveness. This holistic approach integrates and harnesses the private sector in order to create and strengthen linkages across the spectrum of the tourism industry. With the right priorities, it is possible to be both responsible and economically viable. We help find that balance.


Projects

A man dressed in a traditional, white Tunisian turban and garb bends over the sand as he spins bread dough between his hands. A group of onlookers surrounds him in the desert.

Tunisia

At the nexus of North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, Tunisia is a confluence of history and culture. Thousands of archaeological and cultural sites, including UNESCO-recognized Carthage, El Jem, and Kairouan, are a visual testament to its diverse heritage. Tunisia’s living culture is also vibrant, from medinas bustling with artisanal production to the traditional practices of Indigenous Amazigh communities. However, despite this abundance of cultural heritage, tourists visiting Tunisia seldom leave its low-cost Mediterranean beach resorts.

In 2021, we launched a partnership with the USAID Visit Tunisia Activity to research and document Tunisia’s living culture and develop equitable and sustainable models of community-based cultural heritage tourism. Our work includes training, mentorship, and exchange for local festival organizers and research-based product development to share Tunisia’s living culture with visitors and the world.

A young woman with long brown hair stands on a scenic village hilltop with her arms outstretched. She wears traditional Bosnian dress which includes a white veil, dress, and green vest, all with colorful embroidery.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Situated in southeastern Europe, where Eastern and Western cultures meet, Bosnia and Herzegovina has a rich history of religious, natural, and cultural diversity. We partnered with USAID Turizam to highlight the contemporary cultural life of Bosnia and Herzegovina—experienced through music, dance, food, and craft. In 2021, we led workshops for more than a hundred cultural festival organizers, sharing best practice and case studies from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. In 2022, we led workshops for more than a hundred tourism enterprises to share our approach to community-centered, research-based cultural heritage tourism product development, incorporating cultural practices into tourism experiences that promote cultural sustainability and exchange.

Visitors and vendors speak across table laden with pastries or bread, bottled drinks, stuffed animals, and flowers, underneath red and yellow tents.

Armenia

Prior to 2015, most visitors to Armenia stayed in the capital and ventured out only to visit iconic natural landscapes and built heritage sites. This model limited interaction and exchange between visitors and local people and concentrated tourism spending in the capital, Yerevan. With USAID Armenia, we co-created the My Armenia Cultural Heritage Tourism Program, a seven-year program that piloted a new, community-centered, and research-based approach to experiential tourism. The program concluded in December 2021, but the impact remains—a radically different approach to tourism and more than 150 resilient tourism and artisan enterprises.


Donors & Local Partners


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