Cultural heritage is the creative expression of human beings in the past that has been passed on to present generation.
It is comprehensive and covers both tangible and intangible assets. These comprise monuments and archaeological sites, museums, ecological resources, social-cultural practices, traditional knowledge and living experiences. Cultural heritage is constantly evolving through time and space with the embodiment of diverse and aggregated values such as aesthetic, historical, symbolic, spiritual, educational, scientific, social and economic.
Cultural heritage contributes to humankind in many ways, and its economic contributions are the easiest to identify. It constitutes an essential engine for economic development and growth. But, despite its wide contribution to social, economic and environmental benefits, it has been largely marginalized in the discourse of sustainable development goals. Cultural heritage, as an asset, lies in capital theory, which has been fundamental to the interpretation of production processes in economics. Within economics, capital assets have wealth and generate production for future consumption. Capital can be defined as durable goods that give rise to a flow of services over time that may be combined with other inputs such as labor to produce further goods and services. Economists conventionally recognise different types of capital, including physical or manufactured capital, human capital, and natural capital. Recently, natural and cultural heritage have been getting recognition for their importance and benefit and have been included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) as a major factor for sustainable development.
Thus, the concept of capital has been extended to cover the field of cultural heritage in an effort to recognize the uniqueness of cultural goods as capital assets. Hence, cultural heritage, which has been regarded in the past as less important for the economic development, has taken the new paradigm of capital theory. For this reason cultural heritage has played a substantial role in the growth of tourism. As capital treasure, cultural heritage sites have become important destinations for tourists and generate economic benefits to many countries. Heritage tourism is a broad category that embraces both eco-tourism and cultural tourism. It is a category of market segment that includes travel to historic sites, museums and forests.
Tourism today is one of the leading economic sectors in the world and represents a major source of income and employment. Visitors spend a lot of money for transportation services, restaurant and hotel services, resulting in considerable contribution to the growth of the national economy. In the context of economic development, cultural heritage is seen as an engine and a catalyst of economic and social development. This framework consists of three economic components: (a) the recognition of heritage as an economic sector separately, which uses resources, generates products and creates jobs and profits, (b) consideration of heritage as a development factor that catalyzes the development process by attracting financial operations and encouraging development activities and (c) the approach of heritage as a development instrument through identifying a historic site or region.
The question of cultural heritage value is a core issue in heritage tourism, economics and conservation. The economic value of cultural heritage is connected to the benefits generated by tourism. These benefits refer to two types of value: use value, which comes from the use of cultural heritage and non-use value, which refers to non-market benefits. For example, the use value of a heritage building is seen in domestic dwelling, offices and commercial purposes as an indicator of the building’s value in use. In the case of heritage buildings and sites that are visited by tourists, use values are reflected in the individual benefits that tourists enjoy as a result of their visit. Turning to non-use value, we can observe that cultural heritage yields public good benefits that can be classified in the same ways in which the non-market benefits of environmental amenities such as forests and marine parks are determined.
Three types of non-rival and non-excludable public-good benefits are presumed to exist for a cultural heritage asset, relating to its existence value (people value the existence of the heritage item even though they may not consume its services directly themselves), its option value (people wish to preserve the option that they or others might consume the asset’s services at some future time), and its bequest value (people may wish to bequeath the asset to future generations).
It is important to have a good understanding of the heritage value of a site, building or object, because this value is the major reason underlying its preservation and the basis for its economic benefits. When we talk about the economy of leisure and happiness, we are referring primarily to a large number of consumers who have income and time to spend for their entertainment and enjoyment through buying goods and services of cultural and creative nature. Although cultural heritage has received increasing attention as an instrument for sustainable development, there are some critics who consider their use as a threat to heritage owing to their subjection to commercialization and exploitation. But still the view that cultural heritage has economic value has been gaining momentum, with its lasting impact on sustainable development, as heritage preservation is likely to occur when heritage elements are in actual use because the revenue generated can in return be used for their preservation.
Nowadays, we find proponents of heritage use not only among economists and sociologists but also others such as archaeologists and anthropologists, who have traditionally been opposed to the idea. Unfortunately, due to lack of data the economic impact of the heritage sector has been underestimated. As a result cultural heritage has been largely ignored in public policy.
Eritrea is endowed with diverse natural and cultural heritage assets, with the potential to yield benefits in the tourism industry, which are waiting to be fully exploited. They include geological events, material remains, traces, records either in the form of sequences or events, structures, artistic or symbolic representations that have paleontological, archaeological and ethnological importance. These legacies that have been passed down through human history are priceless gifts to the present societies and future generations. The outstanding monuments of ancient civilizations, the ecological diversities, our old traditions and our fortress are part of our history and identity. But cultural heritage is fragile and if damaged it is irreplaceable. If we squander these gifts, we lose ourselves and our identity. And if we use these gifts wisely, they can drive economic growth and still be there for the benefit and interest of future generations.