WIT Press

Accelerating cultural heritage tourism in San Antonio: A community-based tourism development proposal for the missions historic district


Free (open access)


Volume 10 (2015), Issue 1



Page Range

1 - 19

Paper DOI



WIT Press




Cultural heritage tourism is a proven economic stimulus that creates jobs and direct economic benefits to locals. Heritage zones promote conservation of historic resources and can incubate small businesses, revitalize commercial districts, generate local jobs and foster positive change in a community. The social benefits are many, yet long-term retention of the benefits requires deliberate planning. The prosperity brought by the tourists tends to destroy the experiences they seek. Heritage tourists seek experiences of authentic cultural heritage. Yet, the economic prosperity of tourism can swiftly alter a region.  Business and real estate development pressures increase as the tourist market expands, bringing changes that occlude and displace the local heritage. This paper posits that attention to cultural sustainability can mitigate negative impacts and correlate to a robust heritage tourism economy. Sustainable development practices can support cultural heritage tourism in a manner that sustains the local culture. The San Antonio Missions and potential development in South San Antonio are reviewed here as an economic development tool designed to attract visitors to an area based on the unique aspects of the locality’s history, landscape and culture. The heritage tourism market needs cultural heritage in order to grow and retain the economic prosperity over time. This research investigates and analyzes the potential of the San Antonio Missions Historic District toward community-based cultural heritage tourism. The connections of Missions to the river will feature historic and artistic interpretations of the story of the missions and highlight their social and cultural importance to the area. This will reinforce the importance of the river to the missions and encourage visitors to circulate between the Mission Reach and the river. Accelerating tourism in Missions Historic District will be a considerable economic and social benefit through the workforce, income and infrastructure developments. This research provides a legacy of positive development within the Missions Historic District, especially as San Antonio moves toward World Heritage designation. World Heritage designation brings international attention and increased tourism with both positive and negative impacts. Cultural heritage tourism can bring many benefits to a local economy but it can also disrupt the quality of life of the local inhabitants. This research also investigates how to prevent gentrification and the loss of authenticity while tourism in the district accelerates. This paper also promotes cultural and environmental sustainability at the local or neighborhood level, and highlights the potential benefits for small business owners to connect to the growing heritage tourism economy of the San Antonio Missions Historic District. Prosperity for residents of the district is a viable path to sustaining the community’s cultural heritage, identity and authenticity.


Authenticity, community-based design, cultural heritage tourism, management, sustainability, World Heritage designation