A Heritage Observatory?

BEFS Vice Chair, Ian Baxter, considers what the launch of a tourism observatory could mean for the heritage sector.

The Scottish Tourism Alliance, VisitScotland, Enterprise agencies, and the Scottish Government have launched a collaboration to develop a knowledge resource to provide tourism data and/or research to help businesses involved in the Scottish tourism and events sector.

They are conducting research via a short survey to provide a clear picture of the needs and wants for data and information from the tourism and events industry. Input from the survey will inform the design of the new resource.

This is a useful development in a sector closely allied to many heritage organisations’ activities. Tourism observatory functions have been set up over a number of years in different parts of the world and provide useful signposting to the disparate datasets, information sources, research and evidence that help with understanding the business environment for the sector and chart trends affecting the development of tourism.  Many of them also undertake specific research activities which help sector-wide strategic planning.

There has been much mulling over the years about equivalent observatory functions in the heritage sector (particularly of late in England in discussions with Historic England and the Historic Environment Forum), and colleagues may well have heard me banging on about this for what seems like forever!  There’s a clear relationship between an observatory function and the data we already gather within the sector for the Historic Environment Audit in Scotland, and Heritage Counts in England.

I’d argue still that we need to build on these to develop our own heritage observatory over time to make the connections and highlight the knowledge which supports our advocacy, prioritisation and policy development work within individual organisations and collectively as a historic environment sector. This development in tourism will hopefully galvanise us again to think about developing our knowledge management structures.