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This review article traces the development of cultural tourism as a field of research over the past decade, identifying major trends and research areas. Cultural tourism has recently been re-affirmed by the UNWTO as a major element of international tourism consumption, accounting for over 39% of tourism arrivals. Cultural tourism research has also grown rapidly, particularly in fields such as cultural consumption, cultural motivations, heritage conservation, cultural tourism economics, anthropology and the relationship with the creative economy. Major research trends include the shift from tangible to intangible heritage, more attention for indigenous and other minority groups and a geographical expansion in the coverage of cultural tourism research. The field also reflects a number of ‘turns’ in social science, including the mobilities turn, the performance turn and the creative turn. The paper concludes with a number of suggestions for future research directions, such as the development of trans-modern cultures and the impacts of new technologies.
This brief review has underlined the rapid growth in cultural tourism scholarship, which has developed into a well-defined field encompassing multi-disciplinary perspectives. The optimism expressed in the future growth of cultural tourism demand in the UNWTO report (2018) makes it almost certain that this field will continue to expand. In some senses, this growth may undermine the coherence of cultural tourism as an object of study, as lines of enquiry continue to diverge, tracing the fragmentation and diversification of cultural tourism demand and supply. To some extent, cultural tourism research has already spawned a number of extremely fruitful sub-sectors, such as cultural heritage tourism, film-induced tourism and literary tourism. This opens up new opportunities for cross-fertilisation with new academic fields, but it may also harbour the danger of removing the study of cultural tourism from its original social science base. The relative infrequency with which reference is now made to some of the cornerstones of cultural sociology, such as Bourdieu's (1984) study of the role of taste in consumption, is one sign of this.