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Cooperativismo y Desarrollo

versión On-line ISSN 2310-340X

Coodes vol.10 no.2 Pinar del Río mayo.-ago. 2022  Epub 30-Ago-2022


Original article

Intangible cultural heritage: An alternative for tourism and local development in Pinar del Río?

Pedro Luis González Cruz1  *

1 Universidad de Pinar del Río "Hermanos Saíz Montes de Oca". Departamento de Historia. Pinar del Río, Cuba.


This article addresses the richness of the intangible cultural heritage in terms of sociocultural traditions and transmission of knowledge accumulated through time, which makes it a dynamic source of experience that is at the core of nationality and should receive the same treatment as other approaches to local development. It pursues the objective of analyzing the intangible cultural heritage as an alternative for tourism in Pinar del Río, taking into account its cultural tourist image as a destination, covering the intangible dimension of tourist identity, which would favor its tourist diversity, its cultural tourist image and the local development of the territory. Historical-logical, inductive-deductive and analysis-synthesis methods were applied to study the evolution of the concepts of intangible cultural heritage, tourism and local development. The empirical methods used consisted of collection and analysis of sources, structured and unstructured interview. As a result, it shows the main contributions of the intangible cultural heritage to tourism in terms of local development in Pinar del Río, indicating its wide possibilities for strengthening identity values, improving the standard of living of its inhabitants and several sectors of the economy, which serve as a basis for the process of local development in the province. As conclusion, it is verified the value of the intangible cultural heritage as an alternative for the implementation of strategic proposals for local development in Pinar del Río in the field of tourism, thus achieving a more integral vision of this process.

Keywords: intangible cultural heritage; alternative; tourism; local development; Pinar del Río


Cultural heritage is the set of tangible and intangible assets that constitute the heritage of a human group and that emotionally reinforce its sense of community with its own identity. Cultural heritage, as a product of human creativity, is inherited, transmitted and modified from individual to individual and from generation to generation.

The main components of cultural heritage are all tangible cultural assets that are an expression or testimony of human creation or the evolution of nature, which have archeological, anthropological, historical, architectural, artistic, scientific or technical value, such as buildings, paintings, sculptures, books, machinery, laboratory equipment, household objects, work objects and ritual objects, among others. Heritage is the cultural legacy received from the past, lived in the present and transmitted to future generations.

But cultural heritage is not limited to monuments and collections of objects. It also includes living expressions inherited from the ancestors, which constitute the intellectual heritage of a people and give it its social physiognomy, making it unique. Represented here are oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices related to nature and the universe, knowledge and techniques linked to traditional craftsmanship, literature, gastronomy, scientific and architectural knowledge, philosophy, music, dance, religion, rituals and patterns of social behavior.

Despite its fragility, intangible cultural heritage or living heritage is an important factor in maintaining and enriching the sense of belonging, individual and collective, which is not only limited to preserving the historical memory of a society, but also has a social function, such as driving and maintaining social and local cohesion, where the values of cultural identity are highlighted.

Because of its richness in socio-cultural traditions and the transmission of knowledge accumulated over time, intangible cultural heritage is at the core of each country's national identity, and should therefore be given the same attention as other possible approaches to local development.

Living cultural traditions, expressions and knowledge systems contribute to different aspects of local development and give meaning to localities. Despite its obvious benefits, intangible cultural heritage is often overlooked in the development field. Numerous studies, however, have shown that the practice of this heritage in communities is fundamental to addressing all development issues, from food scarcity and environmental change, to health problems, education or conflict prevention and resolution.

The General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) has played a relevant role in this regard and, since its creation, has promoted the multilateral perspective of culture, based on actions aimed at recovering and protecting the intangible cultural heritage, devastated by the wars of the 20th century, as well as stressing the need to incorporate it as a strategic element in national and local development policies.

Its 32nd Convention, held in Paris from September 29 to October 17, 2003 for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, aims to conserve this fragile heritage, ensure its viability and optimize its potential for sustainable development. At this meeting (Unesco, 2020), it is defined as:

Intangible cultural heritage is understood to be the uses, representations, expressions, knowledge, and techniques, together with the instruments, objects, artifacts, and cultural spaces inherent to them, that communities, groups, and in some cases individuals recognize as an integral part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, which is transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups according to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, giving them a sense of identity and continuity and thus helping to promote respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.

Cultural heritage has acquired great economic importance for the tourism sector in recent years in many countries. According to the World Tourism Organization, the leisure industry has become one of the most important contributors to local development. But the specialization of localities is a limiting factor in consolidating tourism as a development alternative at the territorial level. For the tourist destination to occupy a privileged position within the set of places that are presented to the tourist in the process of choice, the development of a positive image in the markets is required. This is the only way to increase the probability of achieving a competitive position in relation to competing destinations.

In Latin America, as a consequence of the same cultural heritage, a similar development model and identical tourist infrastructure, in addition to the lack of differentiation in the increase of supply, have led to intensified competition among tourist destinations. This situation becomes more complex if it is added the decline of traditional sun and beach tourism, due to climatic changes, and the rise of other modalities, including cultural tourism. The inherent complexity of the concept of culture makes cultural tourism a phenomenon that is difficult to define (Rodríguez Basso et al., 2021).

The World Tourism Organization defines it as the movement of people, related to cultural motives, such as study trips, trips to festivals or other artistic events, visits to sites or monuments, trips to study nature, art, folklore and pilgrimages. The vast majority of scholars who are referents when it comes to defining cultural tourism propose a conceptual definition based on the way in which tourists consume culture and establish various classifications for its study.

In this region, there are tourist destinations that, due to their heritage resources, are the center of attention of visitors in search of cultural tourism, as is the case of Mexico, which is in first place with 27 sites declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, followed by Brazil with 12 and Cuba in third place with 8.

Achieving a tourist image associated with cultural heritage and developing a differentiated product would be advantageous for Cuba, which would allow it to diversify the destination's tourist offer. Cuba's World Cultural Heritage Sites are Old Havana and its fortifications, in the capital, declared in 1982; the Historic Center of Trinidad and the Valle de los Ingenios in the province of Sancti Spíritus, in 1988; the San Pedro de la Roca Castle in Santiago de Cuba, in 1997; the Desembarco del Granma National Park, in the province of the same name, in 1999; the Viñales Valley, in Pinar del Río, in 1999; the Ruins of the coffee plantations of French colonists in southeastern Cuba, in 2000; the Humboldt Park, in the province of Guantánamo, in 2001; and the Historic Center of the city of Cienfuegos, in 2005.

If cultural heritage is analyzed as a tourism product, not only as visits to places and monuments, but also the behavior of residents, the type of society, the way of life, traditions, beliefs, art, religion, etc., then Cuba's cultural offer is competitive. The Historic Center of Havana is the main destination for cultural tourism in Cuba, receiving 48% of the country's demand, as registered by the National Office of Statistics and Information (Onei, 2019).

On this aspect, research has been carried out that has shown the need to diversify Cuba's tourist offer, taking into account that as part of the Caribbean, its tourist development has been based mostly on the sun and beach product, where they propose cultural tourism to try to turn this situation around. Studies have also been made on the tourist interest in Havana as a cultural destination in the Spanish market, which establish advantages and disadvantages to consolidate in this market, with respect to important competitors in the region.

The Viñales Valley in Pinar del Río, due to its natural conditions, receives international visitors, whose interest is natural tourism or also known as ecotourism, whose purpose is to visit natural parks and get to know the natural wonders of mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, caves, hot springs, etc., so the tourist development of Pinar del Río, in general, has been based on the product of nature, which has generated a strong image associated with this tourist destination. Although there are other classifications in studies that conceive the cultural in integration with the rural (Cardoso Carreño et al., 2019).

These ecotourists sometimes take a tour of the historic center of the municipality of Pinar del Río, where they visit some places of cultural interest, such as civil or religious buildings and production centers, but in this excursion the image of Pinar del Río as a cultural tourist destination is not conceived, encompassing both the tangible and intangible dimensions of Pinar del Río's cultural heritage, which causes a scarce development of tourist diversity, which does not favor the local development of the territory.

Local development is a process of economic growth and structural change leading to an improvement in the standard of living of the local population, in which three dimensions can be identified. An economic one, in which local entrepreneurs use their capacity to organize local productive factors with sufficient productivity levels to be competitive in the markets; a socio-cultural one, in which values and institutions serve as a basis for the development process; and a political-administrative dimension, in which territorial policies make it possible to create a favorable local economic environment, protect it from external interference and promote local development.

In the sociocultural dimension, intangible cultural heritage can be an important element for the development of tourism, especially cultural tourism, and can serve as a basis for the local development process to achieve a diversified range of economic and social objectives within the territory. It can enable the local community to increase the human development index, improve the quality of life and make it possible to meet its expectations.

Based on these considerations, the present research aims to analyze the intangible cultural heritage as an alternative for tourism, in terms of the local development of Pinar del Río, if its cultural tourist image as a destination and the intangible dimension of tourist identity are taken into account, which would favor the improvement of its tourist diversity, its cultural tourist image and the local development of the territory.

The study carried out, since research oriented to the analysis of the intangible cultural heritage of Pinar del Río, in terms of its image as a cultural tourist destination is also very scarce, could extend the knowledge and expand the research that already exists on this subject. With this analysis, it will contribute to a more integral understanding of local development, a more complete approach to the development of the province and could improve the diversification of the tourist offer of the destination towards Pinar del Río, as well as the commercialization of this market, which would undoubtedly favor the promotion of the intangible cultural heritage as an alternative for tourism in function of the local development of the territory and would allow the country to have another cultural tourist destination and thus diversify Cuba's tourist image.

Materials and methods

For the realization of this research, the author carried out the application of methods and techniques adjusted to the objective. The theoretical methods were based on the historical-logical, the inductive-deductive and the analysis-synthesis methods, aided by the method of compilation and critical analysis of the sources, in the process of selection and interpretation of the information, with the intention of specifying the nature, degree of reliability, class and institutional interests and the real transcendence of the sources, which made it possible to study the evolution of the concepts of intangible cultural heritage, tourism and local development, as well as the limitations and successes in their formulation, in order to support the alternative of intangible cultural heritage for tourism in terms of local development in Pinar del Río.

Structured interviews were carried out with members of the management of the Training Center of the Ministry of Tourism, Party and Government authorities, ecclesiastics of the Cathedral and parishes of Pinar del Río, as well as unstructured interviews with various members of the population of different ages, religious cults and social backgrounds, to obtain different points of view in relation to the topic, which processing through statistical programs made possible the interpretation of the results obtained, thus achieving a more complete vision of the possibilities of the intangible cultural heritage as an alternative for tourism and local development. Observation was also applied to the manifestations of the intangible cultural heritage as an alternative for tourism and local development in Pinar del Río.

Results and discussion

Cultural tourism is the movement of people from their usual places of residence to those of cultural interest, with the intention of gathering new information and experiences that satisfy their cultural needs, in a practice that highlights the cultural heritage offered by a given tourist destination, be it a small town, a city, a region or a country. Cultural tourism has gained certain relevance in those areas that have seen limited other types of tourism to visit towns or cities, see their monuments and participate in different activities, which not only covers the consumption of cultural products of the past, but also of contemporary culture or the way of life of a town or region (Espeso Molinero, 2019).

The concept of what is understood by cultural tourism has been changing in recent years. Whereas in the past it was related to historical and artistic heritage, today it is much broader and encompasses both tangible and intangible elements, including, for example, the history of the regions, the way of life and idiosyncrasies of the inhabitants, popular festivals, traditional dances, handicrafts, local gastronomy, textile or agricultural techniques. Given this variety of tourism offerings, different market areas have also been defined, such as heritage tourism, urban tourism, rural tourism, community tourism, religious tourism and ethno-tourism, among others.

Cuba, as of 2005, is visited by slightly more than two and a half million international tourists. The main outbound market of tourists to the country is Canada, which contributes about 37% of international demand; the second is made up of Cubans living abroad, mostly from the United States, which represents 17%; in third place is England, which contributes between 7 and 8% and then followed by Spain, Italy and Germany with a share of between 4 and 5% each (UNWTO, 2018).

Ninety-five percent of tourists travel to Cuba for leisure purposes, generally for the sun and beach product, such as Varadero in the province of Matanzas, the main tourist destination in this modality. Havana concentrates half of the country's demand, where cultural tourism, congress and event tourism, sun and beach tourism, nautical tourism and health tourism, among others, are developed. However, cultural tourism is the main tourist product of the Cuban capital, where the Historic Center of Havana has a variety of cultural resources that reflect the history of the area, around which the cultural tourism offer is centered.

In Pinar del Río, the tourist offer is concentrated in the municipality of Viñales due to the attractiveness of its natural wealth, which is why it is visited by international tourists with ecotourism as a destination, who occasionally take an excursion through the historic center of the provincial capital.

The tourist resources of the historic center of the municipality of Pinar del Río, where this tour takes place, which constitute its tangible cultural heritage, can be grouped into religious and civil constructions. Among the religious buildings that attract the most visitors are the San Rosendo Cathedral and the Nuestra Señora de La Caridad church, and among the civilian buildings are the Guash Palace, the Palace of Justice and the Palace of Marriages. To these resources must be added the museums, parks and theaters, of which the Provincial Museum of History, the Independencia Park and the Milanés Theater are among the most visited in these tours, in addition to the production centers such as the canned candy factory "La Conchita", the tobacco factory "Francisco Donatién" and the rum factory "Guayabita del Pinar". The cultural tourism offer of Pinar del Río, supported by the aforementioned patrimonial resources, is based on the proposal of these excursions, where guided tours are made through museums, architecture, tobacco and rum production, as well as the conservation and renovation projects of the historic center of the provincial capital.

In interviews with members of the management of the Training Center of the Ministry of Tourism, it was possible to verify the coordination with different entities, which objective is the analysis of this tourist offer, but in practice this coordination has not materialized. Therefore, it is necessary to make an effort to incorporate more innovative initiatives in terms of cultural offer, where a structured project is conceived for the image of Pinar del Río as a cultural tourist destination, which includes not only the tangible cultural heritage, but also the intangible dimension of Pinar del Río's tourist identity and that integrates in a multidimensional way, this Center of the Ministry of Tourism, members of the Party and the Government that attend these spheres, the Cultural Heritage Center, the Office of the Historian and the University of Pinar del Río, among other factors. If advantage is even taken of the proximity to the capital, which, as has been said, concentrates almost half of the country's cultural tourism demand, it could facilitate cooperation with Havana in this sense and favor the tourist diversity of the province and the country.

The attractiveness of tourist cities is also based on a series of traditions and events, such as parties, festivals, exhibitions, etc., which make up the cultural heritage in the non-material dimension of the tourist identity of each locality. In Pinar del Río, many of these activities are carried out with the capacity to attract international visitors, such as the International Book Fair in the province, with publications of Pinar del Río authors in all genres, such as poetry, literature and history, among others, handicraft and plastic arts exhibitions of local artists and traditional popular festivals, such as labor, immigrants, carnival and peasant festivals, the latter two thanks to the efforts of the Provincial Government and the population to revitalize them, are held in almost all the municipalities of the province, which could be used as tourist offerings.

Another tourist attraction of the province could be the religious festivals of Hispanic origin, such as the Cross of May, Christmas Eve, Christmas, Midnight Mass and New Year's Eve, which are currently celebrated in Catholic churches and in the houses of localities throughout the province and are part of our Spanish cultural heritage (Salazar Rosabal et al., 2016), so it could also be offered as a cultural tourism product, even aimed at religious tourism and tourist interest in Pinar del Río as a cultural destination in the Spanish market.

The patron saint festivities of Catholic and Hispanic origin, celebrated every year in many municipalities of Pinar del Río, could become a tourist-cultural offer, even as a product for religious tourism. These include in their program a first part dedicated to religious worship, such as novenas, dianas, masses and the image of the patron saint taken in procession through the streets of the towns of the province. Some of them include popular celebrations known as verbenas, free of religious overtones, held in the streets and squares of the territory.

Although nowadays, in many Spanish-speaking regions, these celebrations have transformed and incorporated different interests and benefits to the communities (Arias, 2011), in Pinar del Río they maintain their religious character, the most frequent being those corresponding to La Candelaria, celebrated in five municipalities, Minas de Matahambre, Viñales, San Cristóbal, Los Palacios and Consolación del Sur. San Rosendo and the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre are also celebrated in the municipality of Pinar del Río and San Juan Bautista in San Juan y Martínez. To a lesser extent, those dedicated to San José, San Pedro and San Pablo are held, followed by those of La Virgen del Carmen and Nuestra Señora de las Nieves.

Another celebration with possibilities of cultural tourist attraction are the festivities of African origin such as the Bembé to several orichas, among them, to San Lázaro and Santa Bárbara, that of the Congos and Las Veladas, which are practiced in some places of the province, as well as that of the kinfuiti drum and the yuka drum, which is carried out in the area of El Guayabo in the municipality of Pinar del Río.

These festivities, both those of Hispanic origin and those of African origin, have become popular traditions of the people of Pinar del Río that reproduce, in new conditions, the socio-cultural legacy that during the 17th to 19th centuries had its greatest presence in Pinar del Río, which are part of the intangible cultural heritage and strengthen the features of Pinar del Río's identity and local belonging.

In the interviews made to ecclesiastics of the Cathedral and parishes of Pinar del Río, as well as to several subjects of the population of different ages, religious cults and social extraction, it was possible to verify the lack of knowledge by the people of Pinar del Río, about most of these festivities and local celebrations, which makes the popular participation in these events poor, although many elderly people remember that in their time they had great popular acceptance. The authorities of the Party and the Government, which could also be verified in interviews, state the absolute disposition to support these celebrations in the rescue of the traditions of the people of Pinar del Río.

Many of these festivities are no longer in force; in the case of the patron saint festivities, currently only a few are celebrated, most of them in areas of the Catholic churches of the territory. The procession, the main rite, ceased to be public, as well as the other activities of popular participation, being limited to the enclosure of the churches. Currently, activities are carried out inside the parishes, where, in addition to the religious acts, the basket party and the sale of food and clothing are organized (González Cruz, 2018). Those of sub-Saharan origin are only celebrated in the houses of some localities.

The dissemination and planning adjusted to their calendars and events would allow them to be in function of improving the tourist diversity of the province, in terms of its cultural tourist image. In addition, as has been expressed, they would serve as an offer with ample capacity to attract international visitors with religious tourism objectives.

Supported by the provincial and local governments, private producers, self-employed workers and new economic actors, in terms of handicrafts, painting, sculpture, music, dance and gastronomy, among others, could generate new offers for cultural tourism, a large number of jobs for the population and high economic income for the territory, which would help the local community to increase the human development index, improve the standard of living and provide great possibilities for local development.

An element of vital importance, in the intangible dimension of the cultural heritage of the tourist identity of Pinar del Río, is the particularity of the history of the province in its conformation as a historical region, regardless of the state restrictions to which it has been subjected, which distinguishes it from other regions and makes it different from the rest of the country.

These particularities, such as the non-application of the colonization method used in the rest of the island in the early years of this process, the late foundation of parishes by the Catholic Church starting in 1688, which gave rise to the first settlements, and the non-establishment of the Possession of Government until 1774 (Hernández Pérez & Ramírez Pérez, 2021), the result was that the region fulfilled the function of political and religious subordination to the capital of the country and from the economic point of view it was for a long time the most important agricultural reserve for the city of Havana, a condition that continues until the republican era.

In this sense, this historic region becomes an exceptional space, with characteristics that are impossible to find in any other region of the island. This rich history of the region from colonial times to contemporary times, which also makes up its intangible cultural heritage, with the support of the Office of the Historian of the province and the Department of History of the University of Pinar del Río, could become a valuable cultural product of tourist offer for international visitors in the territory, which would allow it to improve the tourist diversity of the province, as far as its cultural tourist image is concerned, which would favor the local development of the region.

In addition to the aforementioned tourism resources, which have a considerable weight in the attraction of the destination, there is an element that cannot be forgotten: the local population. Visitors whose main motivation is to know the way of life and the way of being of the local residents, which is a fundamental part of their non-material cultural heritage, known as tourism specific to the place, value positively, meeting a friendly population and, in this sense, the people of Pinar del Río are hospitable and supportive. The identity of the Pinar del Río people is by nature and tradition affable and friendly, which is a favorable element for the tourist destination.

The possibility for international visitors to be able to interact with the hospitable vegueros (people who work in tobacco plantations) from Pinar del Río, to learn about aspects of their life and the art of growing the best tobacco in the world, harvested with the highest quality in the vegas (tobacco plantations) of the municipalities of San Juan y Martínez and San Luis, to observe directly and receive information on production, from the beginning of the agricultural phase to the industrial phase, would be a very important intangible cultural heritage resource for the tourism offer of the territory, which would make an indisputable contribution to endogenous development.

In conclusion, in terms of local development, sociocultural aspects, including intangible cultural heritage, define its role in relation to the economy and development, hence its importance as a driver of development and social cohesion.

Political decisions, economic and financial initiatives and social reforms are much more likely to be successful if the sociocultural perspective is simultaneously taken into account to address the aspirations and concerns of society. In local development strategies, this dimension should be included, not as an accessory dimension to human development, but as an intrinsic part of society and an integral part of the concept of human development in development plans.

If the cultural tourism product is analyzed not only as visits to sites and monuments, but also as the behavior of residents, the type of society, the way of life, history, traditions, beliefs, art, religion, etc. and if the dimensions of endogenous development are taken into account, in terms of socio-cultural, where values and institutions serve as the basis for the process of local development, the intangible cultural heritage can be an important element for local development, can serve as a basis for achieving a diversified range of economic and social objectives within the territory.

The intangible cultural heritage allows the local community to increase the human development index, improve the quality of life and make it possible to meet their expectations. It can serve to expand the network of sociability of the localities and also as an offer product for cultural tourism, which could improve the tourist diversity of the province, which only receives ecotourists.

As it is made up of the oldest events in the region, it can increase income and disseminate culture through gastronomic activities and musical shows. In this sense, it can be an event that attracts people to the communities, which generates development and income, therefore it should be analyzed to what extent this would be advantageous.

It also helps to raise the self-esteem of the population and can be more profitable due to the authenticity and conservation of cultural roots. The possibilities of the intangible cultural heritage are ample, since it is advantageous for the strengthening of Pinar del Río's identity values, for the improvement of the standard of living of its inhabitants and for several sectors of the territory's economy, which serve as a basis for the local development process.

Therefore, it is necessary to create tourist offers that highlight the aspects of the intangible cultural heritage in Pinar del Río and improve its promotion, mainly through the Internet and television. Likewise, its image as a quiet and safe destination should be reinforced, since it constitutes an important element of differentiation from the Cuban city. The affection that international visitors perceive for the people of Pinar del Río and their way of life should be the pillar for developing a highly differentiated cultural tourism that promotes interaction with the local population and follows the guidelines for sustainable tourism growth.

This study shows that Pinar del Río can aspire to diversify its offer with a tourist product beyond nature tourism, cultural tourism, having as an alternative the cultural-immaterial heritage and that it could be for Cuba, the point of continuity, due to its proximity to Havana, of a competitive cultural product according to the current demand.

The intangible cultural heritage plays a fundamental role as an alternative both for the development of cultural offers and for their promotion and commercialization. This would improve the development of Pinar del Río's tourism diversity, taking into account its cultural tourism image as a destination, expand the intangible dimension of tourism identity and put cultural tourism in a better position to favor local development of the territory.

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Received: February 23, 2022; Accepted: July 21, 2022

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