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What are the opportunities for cultural tourism from Europe?

Takes 13 minutes to read

Europe is a well-established market for cultural tourism. European travellers are increasingly interested in discovering new destinations. Especially if these offer authentic activities that teach them about local culture. This makes cultural tourism a promising sector for developing country destinations. Offer flexible cultural components to appeal to both motivated and incidental cultural tourists. Internet presence is important, as European cultural travellers often book holidays directly.

1 . Product definition

Cultural tourism is international travel, directed towards experiencing local:

  • arts,
  • heritage,
  • landscapes,
  • traditions,
  • lifestyle.

It is a broad market, with many sub or niche markets. Exploring cultural heritage is the most common form among European cultural travellers.

Examples of cultural tourism activities are:

  • Architectural and archaeological
  • Historic or heritage sites, monuments and landmarks
  • Arts, sculptures, crafts and galleries
  • Museums and exhibitions
  • Botanical gardens
  • Music and dance activities
  • Castles and palaces
  • National parks and wildlife sanctuaries
  • Culinary activities
  • Religious venues, temples and mosques
  • Festivals or events


Traveller profile

Based on the level of interest in culture, there are two types of cultural tourists:

Motivated cultural tourist

This group generally consists of people with a:

  • higher education,
  • middle to high income,
  • high interest in culture,
  • high interest in social and environmental issues.

Experiencing and learning about local culture is their main travel purpose. Motivated cultural tourists like to be prepared before going on holiday. They study the destination thoroughly. They like to see and learn as much of a destination as possible. This group is quite demanding.


  • Focus on offering quality. For example, include quality accommodation and restaurants in your cultural packages.
  • Communicate that you know your destination and its history very well. Invest in good guides. Also provide a detailed programme of excursions and background information. Look beyond the highlights.
  • Offer packages with a wide variety of cultural activities.
  • Develop itineraries with a special cultural theme.

Incidental cultural tourist

This group likes to add cultural components to their holiday. However, they have another primary reason for their trip. They may participate in cultural activities that fit their plans.


  • Develop general packages that include optional cultural components.
  • Invest in on the spot promotion to reach incidental cultural tourists. For example, spread leaflets in hotels or restaurants.

Cultural tourists can also be segmented by stage of life. Each age segment has different interests:

Young and hip: 20-39

This segment mainly consists of couples and groups of friends. The majority of this group prefers sun and beach holidays. However, they are increasingly incorporating cultural elements. Women are generally more interested in cultural elements than men. Men prefer more action-oriented activities. Around a third of this segment is interested in holidays with an emphasis on culture.


  • Develop packages for younger people. Include some cultural highlights next to sun and beach activities.
  • Accommodation providers should offer night-time entertainment with local musicians.

Middle-aged: 40-54

This is the largest cultural traveller segment. They are often motivated cultural tourists.


  • For tips, see ‘motivated cultural tourist’.

Older generation

Europe has a relatively large generation of people between 55 and 70 years old. This generation generally has more time and money available than other groups. This segment is growing due to Europe’s ageing population. Often their children have moved out and/or they are entering retirement.

Cultural holidays are the most popular holidays among this group. They are often experienced travellers, generally traveling at least once a year. They value their annual long holiday and mostly travel in couples, with a full schedule of cultural activities. They prefer destinations they have wanted to see all their lives (bucket-list travel). Quality is important to them. They look for comfort, more so than the other segments.


  • Focus on quality (not necessarily luxury) and quiet surroundings. Provide plenty of background information about the cultural activities and local heritage.
  • Reassure elderly travellers that your country is safe to travel to. Refer to information from ministries of foreign affairs or embassies.
  • Older generation travellers like to know what to expect during their holidays. Provide a detailed day-to-day schedule.
  • Accommodation providers should focus on comfort. For instance:
    • storage for medication,
    • availability of sufficient medical support if needed,
    • regular toilet breaks,
    • comfortable beds,
    • luggage service.

Families with children: parents 25- 50

Many families combine a relaxing holiday with cultural activities. Parents want to introduce their children to other cultures. Both families with young children and families with older children are interesting segments. Health and safety at the destination is important to them. Convenience is a deciding factor.


Product requirements

Product requirements are aspects of the cultural tourism product that European cultural travellers find especially important. They come with tips on how tourism providers in developing countries can meet these requirements.


The attractiveness of a cultural destination varies greatly from person to person. Most European cultural travellers focus on the famous cultural attractions of Europe first. Then they consider travelling to famous sites further away.


  • Invite European tour operators to visit your destination. Show them the cultural opportunities it has to offer.


Health and safety measures

Health and safety are important to European cultural travellers. They often inquire about the safety of their destination. Especially safe driving can be a concern. They want to know about drivers and testing of equipment. Lacking cleanliness of rooms and smoke detectors are an annoyance at the destination. This might result in bad reviews after their holiday.


  • Pay attention to health and safety measures. Make sure you:
    • regularly check vehicles and equipment
    • place smoke detectors and fire extinguishers
    • have a first aid kit available
    • invest in good drivers.

Political stability

Safety is important to European travellers, especially because some developing countries are politically unstable. Most commercial tour operators don’t offer holidays to countries that their Ministry of Foreign Affairs has declared unsafe. This has led to a drop in tourism arrivals to destinations such as Mali, Egypt and Venezuela.


  • Keep (potential) customers updated on changes in the safety situation in your area, for example through your website and through your staff.
  • Share safety experiences from customers on your website. Let them write about how safe they felt, because people value the experience of other travellers.
  • If your region is ‘unsafe’, commercial tour operators will most likely not go there. In this case, focus on volunteer organisations and individual travellers. Check your country’s current safety status on the website of your target countries’ Ministries of Foreign Affairs, like those of the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Value for money

Cultural holidays are often subject to price changes. To save money, European travellers look for cheap deals and shorter holidays. However, this is not so much the case for cultural holidays to Developing Countries. Travellers understand that these holidays are more expensive. They would rather pay more for a quality experience.


  • Emphasise the authentic historical and heritage sites of your destination.
  • Be transparent in product pricing. Avoid unpleasant surprises for customers, like charging more than the advertised price.


Tourism providers’ eco-friendly activities are increasingly important to European travellers. However, only some actually choose a tourism provider based on its sustainability policy. Cultural tourists value sustainability less than Community-Based, nature or wellness tourists. However, they do appreciate it when you offer sustainable elements.


  • Incorporate sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, like:
    • water saving taps and showers,
    • working with local products,
    • using solar power.
  • Accommodation providers can encourage their guests to act responsible. For inspiration, see the Green Hotel Attributes at Environmentally Friendly Hotels.

Flexible offerings

European cultural travellers look for flexibility. They increasingly want to compose their own holidays by combining separate components. Tour operators can offer flexible holiday packages with standard and optional components. With these components, customers can create a unique holiday.


  • Tour operators should be flexible. Offer different types of activities and accommodation that customers can combine. Most cultural travellers like a small part of the trip to be relaxing.
  • Beach breaks are popular in combination with a cultural holiday.

2 . Which European markets offer opportunities for cultural tourism?

The World Tourism Organisation UNWTO estimates cultural tourism to account for about 40% of global tourism. For statistics on European source markets and destination countries, see What is the demand for tourism services in developing countries?.

3 . What trends offer opportunities on the European market for cultural tourism?

Interaction with locals

European cultural travellers like to interact with locals. They are interested in locals’ ideas and opinions about everyday topics. Cultural travellers do not want to just passively experience culture. This means rather than being shown, they prefer open communication about locals’ daily lives. This trend of interaction with the locals is expected to continue in the coming five years, at least.


  • Offer opportunities for interaction with locals. Emphasise these opportunities in your marketing activities.
  • Depending on their respective languages, European travellers may need an interpreter to communicate with locals. Day Translations discusses the role of interpreters in tourism, as well as some tips for successful interpreting.


In recent years, authenticity has become a major factor in tourism. This is not expected to change anytime soon. Cultural tourists have a relatively high standard for authenticity. They like aspects of culture that the local population supports. There is demand for both authentic and more ‘packaged’ cultural experiences.

Here, authentic means that individual tourists visit/arrange cultural activities themselves. For example, excursions to sites that tourists don’t visit much. It can also mean individual visits to popular cultural activities.

‘Packaged’ cultural experiences are generally conducted by tour groups. Here, the cultural experience is part of the travel package.


  • Focus on the authenticity of your destination. Explain that travellers can experience the daily life of local people.
  • Accommodation providers can give accommodation the look and feel of the local surroundings.
  • Give examples of authentic experiences that contrast with your visitors’ daily lives. Explain than there will be room to interact and participate. For instance:
    • learning how to cook a local dish with a local family,
    • attending a cultural festival,
    • attending a religious ceremony.

Historical and heritage sites

Cultural tours focussing on historical and heritage sites dominate the cultural tourism market.

Other popular cultural related activities are:

  • sightseeing tours,
  • visiting religious venues,
  • visiting museums and exhibitions,
  • visiting castles and palaces.

These activities are expected to remain popular in the future.


  • Make an inventory of all interesting historical and heritage sites your destination has to offer. Also make a list of activities in your area. Present these lists to European tour operators and on your website.

Growing market for study tours

Study tourism is a growing niche market expected to continue increasing in the coming years. Gaining cultural knowledge is the main purpose of a study trip. These tours provide in-depth knowledge of the destination. Scholars, like archaeology teachers, generally lead them.


  • Know your destination and its cultural heritage thoroughly. Invest in excellent guides. Study tour travellers have good background knowledge of your destination.

Increasing use of online research

European cultural travellers increasingly research and plan their trip online. Especially motivated and inspired cultural travellers. To gather information and share experiences they use:

  • peer review sites, like Tripadvisor and Holidays uncovered
  • travel forums, like Responsible Travel
  • social media, like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Personal recommendations from family and friends are also important. Online research is a trend that has increased exponentially over the past five years. Although growth has peaked, the use of internet to research tourism will continue to increase. It is predicted to remain the most important research channel for years to come.


  • Maintain a strong internet presence and online marketing strategy. Also include social media. Photos and videos help travellers virtually explore your destination and product. They can bring your story alive.
  • Use current customers as ambassadors for your company and area. Encourage them to share their experiences, photos and videos on social media. They can also write blogs and reviews.

For more information, see Which trends offer opportunities on the European tourism market?.

4 . What requirements should your cultural travel product comply with to be allowed on the European market?

For information on requirements, see What requirements should my services comply with to attract European tourists?.

5 . What competition do I face on the European market?

UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Sites

Cultural World Heritage Sites can give cultural tourism destinations a great competitive advantage. UNESCO now has a World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism Programme to protect the heritage while developing tourism.


  • If your product is related to a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site, promote this clearly. Emphasise that this site is unique to your destination.
  • For more information and best practices, see the UNESCO World Heritage Sustainable Tourism Toolkit.

Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index

The number of UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Sites is included in the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI). The TTCI gives you insight into the competitiveness of your country as a tourism market. It is based on:

  • Enabling Environment
  • Travel & Tourism Policy and Enabling Conditions
  • Infrastructure
  • Natural and Cultural Resource

The TTCI tells tour operators which countries/regions are attractive as new tourism destinations. Pillar 14 ‘Cultural Resources and Business Travel’ is a good indicator of a destination’s cultural attractiveness. It gives you insight into your cultural competitiveness.


  • Identify and focus on your country’s key competitive advantages over other countries. Differentiate travellers’ unique experience in your country.
  • Use the TCCI to compare your country’s performance to others. In which areas does it score well? Emphasise this in your marketing message.
  • Go to the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum for more detailed information per country.

For more information, see What competition do you face on the European outbound tourism market?.

6 . Through what channels can you get your cultural tourism products on the European market?

For an overview of the trade structure for tourism, see Through what channels can you attract European tourists?.

Selecting smaller specialised tour operators

Smaller European tour operators specialised in cultural tourism or your destination offer the best opportunities. You can identify them via trade associations, events and databases.

Some examples are:

  • ECTAA - national associations of travel agents and tour operators per European country.
  • ITB - annual tourism trade event, March, Berlin.
  • Top Resa - annual tourism trade event, September, Paris.
  • Tourism Review - tourism portal with international tour operator directory.
  • World Travel Market - annual tourism trade event, November, London.

Generating direct sales

European cultural travellers increasingly book their holidays directly with service providers at the destination. To increase your chances of direct sales, you can promote your product on (cultural) tourism websites/portals.

For instance:

7 . What are the end-market prices for cultural tourism products?

Travellers have many destinations and types of holidays to choose from. This makes tourism a relatively price sensitive and competitive industry. The price of a long-haul trip consists of three dimensions:

  1. The exchange rate between the currencies of the country of origin and the destination country.
  2. The costs of transport to and from the destination country.
  3. The price of goods and services the traveller consumes in the destination country.

European tour operators are not open about the purchasing prices of their tourism products. According to industry experts, their margins vary between 10-25%. Prices of holiday packages vary widely, as they depend on many factors such as:

  • availability
  • destination
  • modes of transport
  • period of travel
  • number of travellers
  • length of stay
  • type of accommodation
  • activities included


Please review our market information disclaimer.