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Publicado por A CASA em 8 de Outubro de 2015
Por Indrasen Vencatachellum

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International Congress on “Innovation Dimension in Arts and Crafts”
Tabriz, Iran 8-15 May 2015


According to the latest UN World Tourism Organization Barometer, the number of international tourists in 2014 increased by 4.7 % compared to 2013. This is the 5th consecutive year of growth since the 2009 economic crisis. Over the past years, tourism has proven to be a surprisingly strong and resilient economic activity, generating billions of dollars in exports and creating millions of jobs worldwide.

The economic and social importance of arts and crafts has been voiced in all parts of the world by the promoters of this sector during decades. However, their voice has not generally been heard by decision makers and funding agencies because, among other reasons, this importance is not easy to demonstrate with facts and figures.

Likewise, the linkage between crafts and tourism has not always been fully taken into account in development strategies owing to a simplistic approach in which tourism is qualified, at best , as an “angel” providing a source of income for artisans or, at worst, as a “devil” destroying the creativity and cultural heritage of these artisans. 

Rather than going into a sterile debate on the positive and adverse impact of tourism, I submit that it is more fruitful to examine the deeper implications of the relationships between crafts development  policies and tourism. We should, therefore, concentrate our attention on the prospects for a better recognition of the economic role of crafts and for the development of mutually beneficial links between crafts and tourism.

After a presentation of some current and future trends in these links, this paper reviews some interesting experiments worldwide in crafts promotion for tourists and in the collection of data to demonstrate the economic and social importance of crafts. These case studies can serve as models, if not as useful references for other interested countries.


1.   New motivations for tourists

According to surveys carried out by the World Tourism Organization (WTO), two significant travel trends will dominate the tourism market in the next decade:

·        Mass marketing is giving way to one-to-one marketing with travel being tailored to the interests of the individual consumer.

·        A growing number of visitors are becoming special interest travellers who rank the arts, heritage and/or other cultural activities as one of the top five reasons for travelling.

The combination of these two trends is being fuelled by the internet  through the proliferation of online services and tools, making it easier for the traveller to choose destinations and customize their itineraries based on their interests. At the same time, the citizens of the “high tech” society are desperately in search of human contact which a new form of “high touch”, cultural tourism, can satisfy.

These trends represent a significant shift in the motivations of tourists: tourism has moved from the 3S (sun, sex and sea) to the 3E (entertainment, emotion and education). Tourism today is a powerful factor in the mixing of peoples and in mutual knowledge just as yesterday traditional commerce favoured exchanges between cultures.

While the WTO adopted in 1999 a “Charter of ethical tourism”, the concept of “fair trips” is becoming widely accepted. The tourist guide acts more and more as a facilitator, an intermediary between two cultures. In this same spirit, we can evoke the “Tourism for Development” (TFD) Association: in exchange for the TFD label, tourism professionals donate part of their profits (1% of the price of a night stay) for development projects, such as building wells in Madagascar, installing hydraulic pumps in Peru or fighting malnutrition in Mauritania. Since its foundation in 2001, the Association has funded some 65 development projects in 27 developing countries.[1]

Eco-tourism and cultural tourism constitute another trend that takes account of other people’s cultures. It is noted more and more that tourism changes perspectives and is motivated as much by the discovery of nature as by the tangible culture (monuments, historic sites) and the intangible (art, performing arts and crafts) manifestations of the cultural heritage of the country visited. The World Tourism Organization (2008) estimates that cultural tourism represented about 40 percent of international tourism in 2006, making it one of the highest growth sectors in the world.

Another increasingly important segment of cultural tourism is religious tourism which has led to the creation of very sophisticated infrastructures in pilgrimage sites and varied tourist itineraries. In the case of the Muslim Hajj, which lasts up to 45 days, some tourist agencies propose a variety of cultural excursions in combination with visits to holy shrines.

The profile of these eco and cultural tourists can be summed up as follows:

·        They tend to combine cultural with non-cultural experiences.

·        They tend to look for learning experiences.

·        They seek a sense of people and place.

However, we cannot underestimate the risk inherent in cultural tourism: that of turning cultural practices and expressions into ‘folklore spectacles’, reducing them to mere objects to be discovered – and ‘consumed’- rather than permitting them to be subjects of intercultural dialogue.  It is partly to reduce this risk that we observe the development in recent years of a new trend towards “creative tourism”, the transition from mere observation to participation in the cultural life of other peoples. Thus, for example, while the cultural tourist will only visit a ceramic workshop, the creative tourist will participate in this workshop and discover the materials and techniques used through demonstrations by the artisans. The philosophy behind creative tourism can be summarized as follows: “I listen and I forget; I see and I remember; I practice and I understand”.

As regards the relevance of this new trend for craftspeople, it is interesting to note here a direct result of globalization: since all sorts of crafts are now available on all markets, tourists are looking for original authentic items and their place of origin. Hence the need for a greater distinction in tourist purchases between gifts without authenticity to be given away (t-shirts, coffee mugs, key chain) and souvenir items which help to recall a trip over and over again. They are looking for something to see, taste, experience and take home with them. They want “souvenirs” that reflect the essence of the place they have visited. Craftspeople are uniquely suited to provide that essence if they can offer authentic, high quality items at a competitive price.

 2.   Increasing awareness of the role of crafts

In parallel with this evolution of the tourism industry, we have been witnessing a greater awareness of the role that the crafts sector can play   when situated in a broader context, namely that of  the struggle against poverty and for sustainable development. The use of local renewable resources and of techniques transmitted from generation to generation constitute the added value and distinctive element of crafted objects. The cultural, social and economic dimension of crafts is gradually being more recognized by the authorities, cooperation agencies and funding sources. Thus,  the  2008 ‘Creative Economy Report’[2] identifies  arts and crafts as a key source of employment, income and livelihood development. In particular, the crafts sector, in all its diversity, plays a leading role in supporting marginalized and vulnerable groups in the rural areas.

The new approach to development, a greater concern for the environment and the need for cultural diversity are among the global factors that can explain this evolution. There are signs that the trend towards greater awareness of the impact of crafts will be on the increase, especially in the context of the economic and financial crisis. The sector will also benefit from some of the situations inherent to the globalization process. I will briefly indicate how two elements of this process which seem contradictory are actually valid when applied to crafts:

·        “The bigger the world economy, the more powerful its smallest players are”: the growing role of the entrepreneurs, of local businesses and small sized companies will dominate the global market. We have observed how major development and funding agencies, including the World Bank are now convinced that “Small is beautiful” and are giving growing importance to crafts enterprises in the developing world.

·        “The more choices, the more discrimination in choice”: the more we integrate the world, the more we differentiate our experiences. This explodes markets and market niches. The term “glocalization” has been ascribed to this coincidence of global economy with a localization of production. The global market offers, indeed, a rare opportunity for the promotion of authentic local products using natural, sustainable materials. The Crafts Sector is ideally situated to respond to these needs and demands.

However, this positive presentation calls for two strong reservations. First, we must admit that the awareness of the potential strength of this sector has, generally, not given way to well defined policies for crafts development. Craftspeople still lack the deserved support whether for their skills upgrading and product adaptation or for the promotion and protection of their works. This is due, to a large extent, to the absence of data on the direct and induced effects of the craft sector on the national economy, namely through direct sales to tourists. Secondly, the tourism industry and the crafts sector are both developing in parallel and we know that parallels do not meet! This can be explained by the absence of coordination and cooperation between the ministries/departments in charge of crafts and tourism. It is, however, worth noting that, since 2006, the World Tourism Organization has taken some interesting initiatives to stimulate more links between these two sectors, namely with the adoption of the “Teheran Declaration on Crafts, Tourism and Poverty Reduction” (2006).

Still, there remains an urgent need to develop and illustrate the vertical, cross-cutting links between Crafts and Tourism, in quantitative and qualitative terms.


The innovative experiments carried out worldwide are either rare or not sufficiently known. These identified can be grouped in 4 main categories: crafts itineraries, artisans at work, heritage crafts and quality labels.

·        Crafts itineraries: the idea is to put at the disposal of all visitors a map or leaflet inviting them to discover the categories of crafts available in each particular district or region. The map also includes on its reverse side the names and complete addresses of craft persons by categories (from musical instruments to marine crafts).  It is a simple and economic system for bringing together what can be offered to visitors by different communities in the same geographical area. The success of this initiative depends, nevertheless, on the full participation of the concerned artisans and their readiness to receive visitors, or to organize demonstrations of techniques. Some notable examples are the ‘Map of Tourist routes in Puerto Rico’, the ‘Craft Route in Guanajato, Mexico and the ‘Craft Paradise Route’ in El Salvador.  In the same spirit but in the broader  framework of a ‘Guide for Rural Tourism’, visitors can discover the variety of craft forms in the Region of Salamanca (Spain). These  replicable examples show how crafts can be promoted through the dissemination of information materials to tourists.

·        Artisans at work: an innovative concept to develop the links between crafts and tourism is that of International Exhibitions of Artisans at Work, launched by IRCICA in 1994, in Islamabad.  During these sales exhibitions, visitors of all ages and origins- nationals, foreign residents and tourists-  can see the techniques and the production process, so enabling them to compare the traditional product with the contemporary vision. The sales of products on-site ensure financial returns for the artisans while enabling visitors to obtain both an experience and a product. This experience has proved so popular with nationals and tourists that similar exhibitions have been organized over the years namely in Doha (2010) and Muscat (2011 and 2012).

·        Heritage crafts: some notable efforts have been made to attract visitors to Museum shops where both replicas of historical works and contemporary crafts can be purchased, for example in the “Museo de Oro” in Bogota, the Museum of Folk Art in Mexico or the National Museum in Beirut (Lebanon). The case of the training and production workshops of the “Chantiers-Ecoles” in Cambodia deserves a special reference as it illustrates how crafts can be promoted in an historic site which is highly touristic. Set against the backdrop of the magnificent Angkor Temple Complex, the “Chantiers-Ecoles” offer a guided tour which takes visitors through the production of bas-reliefs beginning with the stone carving up to the colouring stages. In another tour, visitors can see the various stages in the production of the reputed Cambodian silk textiles. In 1998, a workshop-studio was opened in the Grand Hotel of Angkor to allow for interaction between hotel guests and artisans. 

·        Quality labels: One negative effect of globalization is the proliferation of typical craftworks which are being mass-produced in other countries, with other materials and finishes. This weakens or destroys the image of the original product, with the consequent drop in price and loss of cultural identity. It is therefore indispensable to design distinctive systems whereby the value of the craft product is closely connected with the concepts of geographical origin, authenticity and exclusiveness.

In this connection, two initiatives can be highlighted. First, the UNESCO Award of Excellence established in 2001 to support small craft businesses and creative craftspeople in the global market, encourage innovation and develop links between crafts and tourism. The Award serves as a quality-control mechanism and as a marketing device that guarantees the quality of handmade, traditional and innovative craft products from the region. The Award plays the role of a “stamp of approval” which certifies that a handicraft product or product line meets the highest standards of quality and has been produced with careful regard to cultural authenticity and environmental conservation. To receive the Award, products must not only be of high quality but also combine traditional skills with innovation in material, form and design – thereby encouraging the continuation of traditional skills but in creative ways so as to be marketable in the contemporary world.

After all, what we call “tradition” today is good innovation of yesterday!

The second initiative concerns the label of geographical indication. As previously mentioned, tourists are more and more on the look- out for crafts produced in a particular place and has certain desirable qualities that are only found in that place. Geographical indications add a dynamic marketing power to craft products while promoting and protecting a specific element of the national cultural heritage. For example, Cambodia is the first to use this label for its special silk from the region of Siem Reap. Other examples are the ‘Talavera pottery’, hand made in the town of Puebla, Mexico and the  ‘Jablonec  jewelry’ from the region of Jablonec in the Czech Republic. In India, the ‘Geographic Indication Act’ implemented since 2002 has led to the registration of over 100 crafts.

The extension of the above quoted  initiatives to other countries and regions can no doubt contribute to highlight the mutually beneficial links between crafts and tourism. However, to ensure the relevant support of the crafts sector, this type of demonstration must absolutely be backed by quantitative data.


·        Crafts and Economy

The need for data collection to demonstrate the economic and social importance of crafts has been often expressed and repeated over the years. It is worth recalling that this was the first objective of the “Ten-Year Plan of Action 1990-1999 for the development of Crafts in the World”. Considering the slow progress in obtaining the desired data, this objective is still very pertinent.

Despite the relative lack of data and research in the field, the economic importance of the craft sector is demonstrated by the following  examples quoted in the UNESCO World Report 2009[3]:

-      In Colombia, craft production represents an annual income of roughly US$400 million, including some US$40 million in exports;

-      In Tunisia, 300,000 craft workers (two-thirds of whom work part-time) produce 3.8% of the country’s annual GDP, or annual income per family of US$2,400;

-      In Morocco, crafts production represents 19% of its GDP, including exports estimated at US$63 million;

-      In Thailand, the number of craft workers is estimated at 2 million (out of the 20 million workers in the informal sector), almost half of whom can be regarded as full-time workers.

According to a report in 2014 by  Iran’s National Carpet Centre (NCC), 2 million weavers are employed in the production of handmade Persian carpets, the sales of which benefit 10% of the population. However, the exports of these carpets have decreased in the past years, due to economic  crises and international sanctions (UN, EU and USA), from US$ 560 million in 2011 to US$ 427 million in 2012.

Besides these direct effects of crafts on the national economy, we must also take into account the induced effects. In addition to the figures of craft sales and crafts people involved, the following have to be accounted:

(a) all those who participate in preparing the raw materials and equipment necessary for the production; (b) all those who transport and store craft items and (c) all those who sell crafts, in wholesale and retail shops. For example, in Thailand, more than 200.000 people are involved in retail sale alone, which generates revenues of about US$ 350 million.

·        Crafts and Tourism

The benefits from the interaction between these two industries are two-sided. On the one hand, the tourists travelling to a destination constitute an affluent demand for local creative goods. On the other hand, these goods are a selling argument for the tourism industry which tries to attract visitors to a destination by marketing its cultural uniqueness. However, the economic significance of this relationship is difficult to establish in the absence of data on the volume and nature of craft purchases by tourists. The statistics published by the World Tourism Organization indicate mainly the number of visitors to a country, the number of nights spent as tourists (resident and non resident) and their global expenses (tours and accommodation, food, cultural events and souvenir items).  As a UNESCO survey (2002) showed, even many  developed  countries and highly touristic destinations cannot quantify the income derived specifically  from the sales of craft items to tourists. The economic importance of crafts is too often examined only from the point of view of exports while the income from tourists’ purchases is ignored.

This state of affairs can be explained by two main reasons: the absence  of  a standard methodology for data collection and the lack of awareness of the importance of these data. On the one hand, it is indispensable to develop a system encompassing a series of variables: the origin of the tourist (local, regional, international); the sex, age and social status; the craft categories (textile, jewellery, pottery-ceramic, basketry....) and the total value of products purchased by each tourist. A standard questionnaire including all these variables has been established by UNESCO since 2002[4] but has not been implemented so far by the Member States. Yet, significant data can be obtained quite rapidly and without great financial means by using this simple questionnaire to ask departing tourists (at airports, ports and hotels) what  kind of crafts they bought and how much they spent.

On the other hand, collected data can serve as a decision-making tool for craft promoters: detailed information on the length of stay of tourists and the categories of craft products purchased by order of preference allows us (a) to better examine how to increase tourists’ crafts-related spending; (b) to determine in which area action should be taken in order to ensure this increase (product adaptation, marketing, promotion, etc.). More broadly speaking, the statistics gathered are essentials for policy makers when determining the level of priority that should be given to funding of crafts development programmes. 

It is my wish that this International Congress in Tabriz recommends the implementation by craft and tourism promoters of the UNESCO standard questionnaire on tourists’ expenses in crafts which would allow for advocacy at the national level and analytic comparisons at international level.


I said at the beginning that the voice of Craft promoters has not been well heard so far. Perhaps this is due to the fact that too often we preach to those already converted to the value of this sector. The defence and illustration of the socio-economic importance of crafts call for continuous, relentless demonstrations with facts and figures. Tourism with its opportunities and challenges is an ideal platform for sensitising all stakeholders – local, regional, national and international – on the need to support crafts for the benefits of all communities of craftspeople. There is, indeed, no reason why craftspeople should continue to be service providers and not beneficiaries in the foreseen, spectacular growth of the tourism sector in general, of cultural tourism in particular.

For crafts to achieve its full potential with regard to tourism, a concerted, coherent and complementary approach is indispensable. While the various public and private institutions, organizations and agencies involved can and should play individual roles in the development process, it is important to link their activities in a comprehensive programme adapted to the on-going trends in the crafts and tourism sectors.

[1] See project descriptions in the site www.tourismfordevelopment.com

[2] Prepared by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and  the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

[3] « Investing in Cultural Diversity and Intercultural  Dialogue » , UNESCO Publishing

[4] See model  herewith enclosed