Why should the tourism sector work with the cultural sector? They have much in common – they can create positive memories for an ‘audience’, they are both visitor-facing with much to gain through good customer care.  Without culture, tourism destinations would not have a reason for visitors to visit. Without tourism, cultural organisations would not have a constant flow of audiences and visitors. They rely on each other – and can benefit greatly from working together.

Over three years, through our Culture+ programme we explored ways these two sectors can work together for the benefit of both. We have looked at the importance of arts, culture and heritage to tourism strategies, and vice versa – including:

  • placemaking, 
  • attracting visitors and 
  • creating lasting memories

We did this using the county of Dorset, and its neighbours Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch as an example. And what we learned is contained in this toolkit, so that other destinations with a strong cultural element can see what we did.

Who are cultural tourists? 

Over the course of our project, Culture+ Tourism worked with three types of cultural tourist in mind:

  1. The first decides to visit for a specific cultural reason – to visit a festival, enjoy an artistic short break, to see a show or go on a walking holiday. This type will spend the most money while they are here on accommodation, food and travel as well as the event itself.
  2. The second type comes for a non-cultural reason. They visit friends or relatives or come for a family/beach holiday. While they are here, they will look for cultural experiences, particularly if the weather is not good enough for the beach. These activities include visiting indoor heritage sites or museums, art galleries or theatres. 
  3. The third type are  somewhere for a non-cultural reason, to study for example. The UK is the second most popular destination for international students to study English after the United States. 

Did you know that Bournemouth and Poole contain one of the highest concentrations of English language students in the country?

Watch this video for an overview of why cultural tourism is important in Dorset

What did the Culture+ Tourism project focus on in Dorset? 

We explored how culture and heritage helps to define the different regions of Dorset, giving each their own ‘brand’, and creating an expectation for visitors.  You can see the results of this work in Chapters 2-3. 

We took a single town in Dorset – Sherborne – and tested how bringing the tourism and culture sectors together sparked new ideas and resources for both.  You can see how we did this in Chapter 4. We also ran customer care courses for local organisations to show how keeping a visitor happy is good for overall business.

We commissioned three major Dorset Festivals to create a signature event – Dorset Moon – and monitored how such an event can create lasting memories of an event and a town. You can see the results in Chapter 6 here.

We looked at the importance of the visitor experience to both sectors, and you can see examples of how do this as a town in Chapters 7-9.

Culture and heritage makes people want to visit, spend more money, tell others of their experiences and come back.  It is vital as an economic driver, and good for business!

What current trends does cultural tourism affect? 


Cultural tourism has a positive economic and social impact (you can see the Culture+ Social Impact toolkit here). It is vital to placemaking as a place can have a ‘brand’, a brand that enhances its image and makes it easier to market. People travel expecting the ‘brand’, the perception, traditions and places, that they have been ‘sold’. No one expects high rise contemporary cities in Dorset for example. They do expect beaches, thatched cottages and a beautiful landscape. Visitors whose expectations are met will spend more in local businesses, because they want to take advantage of the local experience and create memories. 

 It is all part of creating a positive visitor experience, and we will look at the steps you can take to do this in the final chapters. If excited about what they might experience from a place, they will visit. If satisfied with what they experience, they will stay, and they will spend money.

In Dorset, each part offers something different.  Most visitors come to Dorset because of the landscape – coastal and rural; with urban areas full of shops and nightlife a bonus.

Economic impact 

In 2017, figures from VisitBritain have revealed that almost 400,000 tourists came to Dorset in 2017, contributing more than £226m to the local economy. This was a four per cent increase on 2016, with many businesses and tourist attractions feeling the benefit.

  1. See here for an illustration of how tourism benefits the rural Dorset economy.
  2. See here for an illustration of how  tourism benefits the whole of Dorset economy.
  3. See here for an illustration of how tourism benefits Bournemouth and Poole 
  4. See here for an example of how a heritage project can affect a town, the economic and social impact of ‘Dippy on Tour ‘in Dorchester, Dorset.  

Health and well-being 

Many organisations, from Arts Council England to the NHS have published reports on how arts and culture improves health, well-being and quality of life for everyone, and you can see some of the reports here

Accessibility and the arts 

Those with physical impairments or illnesses express themselves through art. Older people want to keep active mentally and physically through artistic activities. Young people seek new experiences to widen their understanding of the world. Older people, who may have recently retired seek new experiences, or simply want to indulge themselves by enjoying hobbies and skills.  

Arts, heritage and cultural organisations are in a good place to provide opportunities for these, particularly if they partner with tourism organisations that also want to offer opportunities and grow.   Therefore considering arts holidays as part of your offer is good for business. Packaging different artistic activities with accommodation and food is a good example of a cultural tourism offer for a small business. 

For more information on Arts Council England’s research into the arts and health and well-being, see here

International tourism 

What attracts an international visitor to Dorset? Arts and culture! They like visiting castles and stately homes, and recognisable landmarks. They want to learn about local history and culture and enjoy going on coastal walks. They are also keen to have information in their own language. 

It is important that cultural organisations promote themselves to international visitors. Those with positive experiences then recommend Dorset to friends and family. Knowledge of English coastal areas is low among international visitors and there is much that cultural organisations can do to promote the beautiful areas in which they are situated. They run stately homes, maintain beautiful gardens, enhance a town’s offer with theatres and galleries produce large and small scale festivals and other cultural delights. You can access a series of blogs on this subject here.

Our definitions 

Tourism is travelling to and staying in a place outside one’s usual environment.  This can be for leisure, business, staying with friends and relatives – and includes day visits.

Culture includes the arts, crafts, family history, festivals and events, galleries. It includes gardens, historic buildings, landscape, literature, maritime history, museums, music, and parks. Food and drink is an important complementary area. 

We use the county of Dorset, a UK tourism hotspot with a rich mix of urban, coastal and rural settings. Just to the east of Dorset is the coastal conurbation and tourism destination  of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, and we include this in our work too.

We define cultural tourism is attracting visitors through a cultural offering, inspiring what may be a different audience for a place. For example, those with spend potential may visit a town if there is a reason to do so, such as a festival. Some visitors are looking for a new experience, or need something to do if the weather ruins their original plans. Offering a cultural aspect within the tourism offer can only strengthen it. This is what Culture+ Tourism set out to demonstrate.

What will we look at in the next chapter?

Tourists want to make new memories, new experiences.  They want to share experiences online, and by word of mouth. Cultural organisations have every advantage in this and become stronger in the process. In the next chapter we will look at how arts and cultural organisations can make the visitor experience the best it can be. So let us find out a bit more about the customer/audience/visitor in Dorset – what do they want?