Heritage interpretation is the "art" of revealing
in situ the
meaning of the natural and cultural legacy to the public
who visits those places in his
spare time''

This time they asked me to write about the Tourmaps Maps, which in summary is the experience of a whole family motivated by the care, appreciation and respect of the natural and cultural legacy. These maps made from Puerto Montt, southern Chile and the main tourist distribution center of Chilean Patagonia, are part of what has been a development for more than 20 years, but which can be traced back to a longer history. My main reference: a family tree dedicated to hospitality, entrepreneurship, services, travel and tourism for at least four generations.

Today we can say that with the time invested in interpreting, listening, translating and applying, we have been able to discover its great potential as a tool for the management of tourist destinations in the world (mainly Australia, Chile and Europe). Therefore, it is important to clarify that thanks to the experience of traveling and observing the same phenomenon, we have also been able to find a particular methodological path applied to hospitality and tourism, whether as guides, landscapers, marketing specialists and, in my case particular, also as a facilitator in heritage interpretation and expedition guide in Patagonia.

Experience in doing has shown us that the team that participates in an "interpretive map" (regardless of its technical specialty) must be part of a transdisciplinary circle, and therefore it is as important to identify its "human quality" as its personal vision. and technique of each member, committed to simple but multiple and transcendent objectives, such as: implementing environmental education in an operation or managing heritage tourism in a tourist destination. Regardless of whether they are professionals from a university or from the public or private sector, they are all involved in creating this result.

In order to obtain the desired result, in this work of interpreting a territory of cultural and/or natural interest, observing the domain of the experiential-experiential remains very relevant to achieve the desired quality in a particular design, and thus obtain the expected work, with thematic messages that manage to be clear and impact a non-captive audience (Sam Ham, 2014). Therefore, not all maps need to be "interpretive". Everything has a context or an audience, and this is the first thing we should know when talking about a design or a tool of this nature (as an interpretive product).

Heritage Interpretation (PI) has been a path shared with many "tourists" throughout my career as a guide and planner in the public and private sectors. By observing this phenomenon (which we abbreviate as IP) I realized that thanks to these "interpretive maps" that we have developed over time (as a family business and also in my private consultancies), we can apply a discipline that goes beyond art, communication or the inspiring beauty of naturalism: with them we can strategically communicate essential aspects of a tourist product (meanings associated with language and also with the symbolic and/or archetypal aspects of a tourist destination) beyond information pure and simple that we can obtain in a topological map, answering not only questions like where is it? or what do I find there?, but to key questions such as what is the most relevant here?, what is the topic?

Today we can also clearly state that not all our maps have been able to fulfill the difficult task of interpreting a natural and/or cultural legacy under the eye of "this" interpretation. That goal is always ambitious and the margin of error and success are always very close to each other.

Happily, these very particular features of the natural and cultural heritage have also managed to give new meaning to their value in a collaborative work methodology that has helped us achieve better and better results. Years of successes and also "blunders" have allowed us to define three key points of the "know how" of the interpretive maps that today we share with everyone who wants to join this task:

  1. When we speak of an interpretive map, we refer to “this” interpretation. Therefore we must carefully observe the TORA methodology, developed by Sam Ham and widely observed by interpreters around the world (this interpretation must be thematic, orderly, relevant and enjoyable). Otherwise we can talk about other specific objectives associated with an infographic, circuit, destination, etc.
  1. Defining the tourist route(s) and theming them is essential for drawing up a map of a tourist destination. Therefore, although knowing the initiatives and planning of tourism resources (at the governance level) is essential to obtain a good referencing of each information point that seeks to be highlighted, addressing visitors, we must first be clear about the idea of that “big topic” that you want to address that particular destination, not just “my topic” or “my project”; our legacy becomes universal from the connection with the local gaze and then with that of the visitor to that site of interest.
  1. Thematization as an interpretive methodology, framed in a sequential process, allows us to extract a central message (introduction) and a development (subthemes) that provide us with possibilities to generate good conclusions (or closures). For this reason, this work is managed with the strategic objectives provided by the planning of a tourist destination, where we can see in the IP a specific tool for the proposal to coordinate a guided or self-guided experience and to be consistent with the service proposed within the previously established strategic guidelines. The concept of tourism product is an important key, understood as a set of services intended to be consumed as part of an experience by the visitor. Every good interpretive product always has a good theme.

That is why in an interpretive map that seeks to develop "this" interpretation, as a basic philosophy:

  1. It invites to provoke the thoughts of visitors and potential visitors to develop attitudes of appreciation, care and respect for our heritage. Considering that in the IP there are proven and concrete principles, it is in them where we must add all our creativity.
  2. It reflects that the potential visitor is identified as a responsible tourist (archetype), considered in the use of an adequate symbology even in the application of the ethical approaches of the receiving community of the associated messages (hosts). The vision will seek to be holistic, communal and mainly respectful of the "sense of place" (sense of place and its cultural context in which it is applied).
  3. They will create interpretive messages of a thematic nature based on the TORA methodology (Sam Ham, 2014). This allows us to adapt to planning and its various levels of coordination and communication: community, integrated and endogenous (Castaing & Pacheco, 2014) . With this we can evaluate its stage of development and the most appropriate resources for its implementation.

To meet the specific objectives of each "interpretative map", in "this" interpretation it will be essential to have "refined" primary information, and for this we have defined the concept of "interpretation circle":

1) The circle of interpretation is interdisciplinary (and/or transdisciplinary) and uses both interviews with the target actors of the territory, aimed at finding meanings (which will allow defining relevant cultural and/or natural features), as well as other participatory methodologies, without remain in the mere exercise of participatory research/action. We seek to create a territorial product that summarizes the critical thinking of a community and/or coordinated work team.

2) The synthesis, translation and thematization of the primary information contrasted with secondary sources occurs in a space of respectful exchange (without imposing the objectives of the project in question). We seek warmth and familiarity in our conversations; We don't like to limit ourselves to technical terms, although over time we have acquired some that could be of use to us depending on the stage of the process that we are developing.

3) The circle of interpretation will always look for the intangible concepts most loaded with meaning, at the same time that it will assume compliance commitments (promises to deliver the information) in a Gantt chart designed for a particular project. There is a time to dialogue, another to create, propose and of course another to comply. Each one is very important to obtain the expected result.

If you want advice or quote us an interpretative map project, do not hesitate to contact us. We will be happy to help you and provide a proposal of tools suitable for your needs.

With the faith and hope that this 2022 will be full of actions and new proposals in favor of the appreciation, conservation, protection and care of our cultural and natural heritage, we invite you to be part of our great Tourmaps family.

Juan C. Castaing v.d. Hundt
IP facilitator, advisor and expedition guide

(Association for the Interpretation of Heritage, 2021)

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